Nathan Cokel

[Obituary which was not read at the service]

Nathan Victor Cokel, age 27 of Burlington, Iowa, died at 8:42 a.m. Tuesday March 23, 2010 in Burlington. He was born May 6, 1982 in Carthage, Illinois, the son of Jerry and Janice Neff Cokel.

Nathan was a 2001 graduate of Southern High School in Stronghurst. He had been employed at COBO International in West Burlington for the past four years. He loved fishing and trap shooting. He had played in a softball league at the West BurlingtonRecPlex. He enjoyed photography, socializing, family gatherings and trips with his uncle Chuck. He especially loved his nieces and nephews and his two dogs- Harley and Cooper.

Survivors include his mother and stepfather- Janice Neff and Darrell Link of Stronghurst, his father and stepmother – Jerry and Bonnie Cokel of Media, IL., one brother – Jerame (Brooke) Cokel of Altona, IL., three sisters – Amy Cokel of Peoria, IL., Melinda (Derek) Perry of Galesburg, IL., Rachael (Tony) Gibb of Stronghurst, three step brothers – Paul and Ben Miller of Burlington, Michael (Maggie) Link of Blandinsville, IL., two step sisters- Denise Williams of Little, York, IL., Natalie (Paul) Britt of Wyanet, IL., two step grandmothers- Betty Link of LaHarpe, IL., and Betty Butts of Media, IL., and several nieces, nephews, and close friends. He was preceded in death by one brother in infancy-Alexander J. Cokel and his grandparents.

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We gather this morning very much aware of the tragic death of Nathan Victor Cokel. We find ourselves filled with pain, confusion, perhaps a little anger, some guilt and a truckload of sadness. Words cannot take away these feelings. We cannot answer the many questions that all start with the word “Why?”

It is easy to be so overwhelmed by how Nathan died that we forget how he lived. This morning we want to say some things that need to be said, but more importantly we want to remember the vibrant life that Nathan lived. Let’s ask God for His help.

Father we bow before you in our confusion and our pain. We ask for your comfort and your strength. We also ask You to help us remember the life that Nathan lived. Remind us of what we have to be grateful for even in the midst of our sadness. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

 Nathan was usually wearing a smile. He enjoyed life and while so many of us grow up and lose that sense of wonder, Nathan never did. He was as happy catching a fish through the ice as an adult as he would have been as a child. If the kids were playing on a trampoline . . Uncle Nathan would soon be jumping on it too.  When the kids were enjoying the bounce house Uncle Nathan made it even more fun when he joined them.

If we were to poll people today we would find a large group who considered Nathan to be their “best friend”. He was a loyal guy who liked to have fun and would do anything for you.

Nathan had a special relationship with his brother Jerame. When they were young they were constantly fighting (Nathan was kind of “mouthy” when he was younger) but they also loved each other. As they got older they always “had each other’s back”. If you went after one of them you were going to have to deal with both of them. They became the best of friends. They loved to work side by side either on Jerame’s home or Nathan’s home (doing siding, flooring, roofing, insulation, or landscaping) or Jerame’s car or Nathan’s car. Each of them knew that they could call on the other for any problem they might be having. They were in synch with each other (although it should be noted that Nathan was good at “keeping score” if he spent more time helping his brother than his brother helped him, then Nathan would remind him with words such as “Remember the time . . . “) The two boys worked hard and long together and cherished every minute.

Jerame and Nathan also had great fun together. Whether it was trying to tip a canoe with their dad or pulling a toboggan with a snowmobile or going out on the jet ski and whipping an inner tube around behind it. They loved having fun.

When Jerame got married to Brooke it was like Nathan was giving his brother away. The tears revealed how special Jerame was to Nathan. It wasn’t that he didn’t want him marrying Brooke; it was that he knew this was a new transition in their relationship with each other. Many people rightly think of Jerame and Nathan as a team.

Nathan loved his mom, his dad, his sister, his brother, his step parents, his step brothers and sisters, his nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, and he loved his dogs Harley and Cooper.  He was a family kind of guy. He had great friends. Nathan could get along with children or people who were elderly. He would be comfortable in any setting. It didn’t matter. He was warm and caring no matter who you were.

Nathan was protective of his family. When Aunt Carol was with them on the river she fell behind in her tube and Nathan paddled back to her just to make sure she wasn’t alone.

He was a tender-hearted guy. He was always aware of others. He gave great gifts because gift giving to him was not the fulfilling of an obligation; it was an expression of love. He took time to find out what others wanted and he listened carefully to the things people said to get clues for gifts.  I get the sense that his willingness to pitch in with whatever you needed help doing was also his way of showing you that he cared. It didn’t matter how hard (or disgusting) the job might be, he didn’t complain . . . he pitched in to help until the job was done.

Nathan was real close to his uncle Chuck. They were like kindred spirits and did many things together.

Nathan always put other people first. He would do whatever needed to be done and was always willing to help someone with a project. He wasn’t afraid of hard work. He loved fish and loved setting up fish tanks. He enjoyed photography, trap shooting, family gatherings and being with people. He loved life.

He was “frugal” yet generous. He hated spending money he didn’t have to spend. If he ever had to borrow money he wouldn’t rest until he paid it back (and expected others to do the same when he lent them money). He paid his bills on time. He had a solid (and refreshing) work ethic. He did his job at COBO and always sought to do it well. He was a man of integrity and character.

Because of his tender heart he didn’t want to burden people. These last six months he didn’t feel right. He knew something was wrong because he was having trouble focusing. Somewhere in his confused thinking on Monday night and early Tuesday morning I am sure that Nathan thought he was helping others by taking his own life.

There will always be some people who believe that a person who commits suicide cannot go to Heaven. Suicide is never a good idea but matters of eternity are left to God to decide.

The Bible says there is an unpardonable sin.  But that unpardonable sin is not suicide, it is the ultimate and final rejection of God’s offer of forgiveness and new life in Christ.  So, if suicide is not the “un-pardonable sin” then it must be “pardonable”.  It must be something that God can forgive.

Suicide is generally an impulsive, illogical act.  Often the person who commits suicide has lost the ability to think rationally. They can’t see beyond the problem.   They don’t consider repercussions.  Some people who commit suicide actually feel that the act of suicide will help them feel better when they carry on their life tomorrow. Most people who take their own life would not have done so if they had waited 24 hours. They are not thinking straight.

We know that the man who took his own life on Tuesday morning was not the real Nathan Cokel.  This was not the same man who spent his life thinking about others.  He would never hurt someone, especially his family. He would never leave his dogs.  For this one night Nathan wasn’t thinking straight.  God will not condemn Nathan simply because he “lost perspective ”.

We do not believe a person with Alzheimers is cast off by God because they begin doing inappropriate things. We do not think someone with a brain tumor is cast aside by God because their personality changes and they become mean. We do not condemn the person with hardening of the arteries who starts swearing and doing inappropriate things. These people are not themselves. We believe God understands. In the same way God understands what was going on with Nathan. He was not himself.

Heaven and Hell is determined by a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. The truth is, we do not know what kind of relationship Nathan had with God. We will never know what happened in those last hours of his life.

The thing that makes suicide so hard to live with is all the unanswered questions.

1.     Why did this happen?

2.     Could I have done something to prevent it?

We ask the questions, but there is no way to find the answers.  And that is the problem: we can’t find answers to these questions.

You have a choice as to how you will respond.  Some people cope by blaming They blame other people (if you hadn’t done this . . . this wouldn’t have happened).  They blame themselves ( If I hadn’t done, said, not done, not said this or that, if I had been a better friend, co-worker, parent, this wouldn’t have happened. )  Or they blame God. “Why didn’t God do something?  Why didn’t God prevent this?”

Blame is an attempt to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense.  It isn’t helpful and usually it is destructive.  We don’t have all the facts.  And we will never have all the facts.  This is the time to pull together rather than tear each other, and ourselves, apart.

Other people become bitter and withdraw.  They shut down emotionally.  They resist love because loving brings the risk of loss. They withdraw from life and faith.  Some spend the rest of their life trying to numb themselves from pain with alcohol and drugs.  These people run away from life.  It’s another poor choice (not much different than suicide) and it just compounds the problem. When we isolate ourselves from others we may spare ourselves pain but we also rob ourselves of the joy of love.

The better way is the way of faith and trust.  There is one book in the Old Testament that I always turn to in times of confusion, and that is the book of Job.

The book of Job is the story about a very good and godly man (named Job) who loses everything.  In a short period of time his business is destroyed and his employees are killed, his ten children were killed in a tornado, and his body was filled with disease and pain.  Wave after wave of tragedy overwhelms him.  Each new messenger to the city brings more bad news.

To Job’s credit, he didn’t turn away from the Lord.  He said, “Naked I came from the womb and naked I will return. . . .the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.”  Job tried to hang on.

Job’s friends suggested that Job was being punished by God (which is often what people think when something bad happens.  Don’t we often ask, “What have I done to deserve this?”).  The more they talked, the more confused Job became.  Job said, “If only I could plead my case before God . . . if only God would explain things to me.”

Let’s face it, wouldn’t that be nice?  Wouldn’t it be great if God would just make explain everything to us?

The book of Job is a long and sometimes tedious book to read.  And at the end of the book, God does make an appearance!  And said to Job, “I understand you have some questions for me.  But before I answer your questions, I want to ask a few of my own.”

God then began with a machine gun like series of questions. When God finished, Job recognized there were lots of questions he did not have the answers for and he apologized to God.  He said, “I’m sorry, I should have known better than to doubt Your wisdom and Your love.”

And that’s how the book ends!  God never answered the questions of Job!  He never explained why He allowed the hardship He allowed.  In essence God was saying to Job, “There are some things I can’t explain to you because you can’t understand yet. You need to trust what you know about me. Trust my character, trust my love for you. Hang on to what you know is true.”

I think this is the same thing God would say to us today. In this time of heartache I sense God saying, “I know you don’t understand.  I know this doesn’t make any sense.  I wish I could explain it all to you . . . but you unable to understand what happened.  It is more complex than you can grasp. So, for now, “Trust me.”

God has created a marvelous world for our enjoyment. He has demonstrated His love for us in the life and work of Jesus. He loved us enough to send Christ to suffer unspeakable horrors and die a cruel death . . . so that we might have the opportunity to be forgiven. He brought Christ back from the dead to show that it wasn’t all a scam.

God loves us. God loves Nathan. I don’t for a second believe God wanted Nathan to commit suicide, but for some reason beyond my comprehension He also didn’t stop him.

I wish we had more.  I wish we had answers to our questions.  I wish we could turn back the clock. I wish we had one more conversation with Nathan. But we don’t.  What you do have is each other, you do have a God who loves you greatly, you do have Nathan’s example of joyful living. Focus on what you have, not on what you have lost.

I encourage to keep the cherished pictures in your mind

  • Nathan playing with children or his dogs
  • His focus as he worked on a project
  • His joy at things we tend to overlook
  • His love for his family and his friends
  • His playfulness
  • His fierce loyalty
  • Doing “donuts” on his jet ski
  • Holding on to the tube for dear life while he flew around as Jerame did donuts with the jet ski
  • Playing with his dogs
  • His deviled eggs
  • His ability to quickly fall asleep as a passenger in a car
  • His willingness to give of himself and whatever else he had to help someone
  • His big smile that was so full of life

Instead of fixating on his death; give thanks for his life.

Let’s pray together,

Our Father, we would rather be anywhere but here today. We just don’t understand.  We ask you to draw us close, to grant us your comfort, to help us to trust you. Lord, there is such a hole left in this family.  We know it cannot be filled, only endured. Please give the strength that’s needed.

 Lord we ask that you wrap your arms around Nathan. Grant Him your grace and mercy. Give him that peace that he longed for. Help him to understand what a wonderful impact he made on our lives.

Remind us often of the life that Nathan lived. Inspire us by his example even as you comfort us in his loss.  We ask all of this in Jesus name. Amen.