My dear cousin Leo “Sonny” John Hoepfner passed away yesterday, leaving behind an amazing wife and three beautiful children. He was only 28 years old, but he had been diagnosed with bone cancer about a year ago. Bone cancer isn’t like some other forms of cancer; it’s rarer and so doctors don’t know very much about it. Still, it’s a huge shock when you lose someone you love so quickly.
Throughout high school, Leo was at my side every single day–literally, as our lockers were in alphabetical order. But even beyond that, I always knew he would be there for me if I ever needed something. It was comforting to me to have him in my life, and especially throughout such a tumultuous time as high school! Before that, the only time I ever got my name written on the board in school was when we were in class together in 3rd grade and bickering for an entire morning. It hadn’t been real bickering–we were just having fun, and I remember him giving me piggyback rides in the hallway outside our classroom that same day. I thought it was really cool to have my cousin in the same class as me.
Leo was a blessing not only in my life, but in the lives of everyone he met. He often had a big smile on his face, either because of his genuine lighthearted spirit or because he was thinking about the latest trick up his sleeve. He was a funny guy, who really loved to have a good time with those around him.
When I first heard that my cousin had been diagnosed with bone cancer, I will be honest that I just tried not to think about it. It didn’t seem real that someone I loved, someone I literally grew up with from the time we were babies, could really be dying.
Yesterday, when I heard that Leo had died, I experienced a crazy array of emotions: Sadness, peace, anger, and more, all at the same time. Sadness because the world has lost someone so amazing, and far too soon. Peace because I know that my cousin is free of pain now, and in a place too wonderful for us to imagine. Anger because it’s not fair that a good woman should be left without a husband, and that three beautiful, innocent children are without a father. They don’t deserve the pain they are experiencing right now, and that probably won’t ever go away entirely.
Still, God has a plan for all of us in life. God was ready to take Leo, and Leo was ready for God. Even though it feels like there is a giant hole in all of our hearts right now, we have to remember to be thankful for the blessings God gave us even throughout this difficult time. I am thankful that I was able to say goodbye to my cousin. When I saw him a week and a half ago, the last thing I said to him was, “I love you,” and he said, “I love you, too.” There is peace in my heart when I think about that moment, and it is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. Also, because Leo knew that he was dying, he asked his sisters and the rest of his family to be around him for Christmas and the last days of his life. They were together and able to say goodbye before his passing. I can’t think of anything more beautiful than that. In the midst of the pain of a family being torn apart, God truly has shown His love for Leo and his family. There is no doubt in my mind that God will continue to hold them all lovingly in His arms through the rest of their own journeys here on Earth.
Sometimes things happen that we can’t explain, and that hurt worse than any physical pain. Our job is to just to recognize the blessings that have been carefully placed in our lives by God at those times, and to continue to feel His presence and trust in His plan, even when it seems like our whole world is falling apart around us. Someday, our eyes will be opened and it will all make sense. Someday we will be with Leo again, and all of the people we have loved and lost. Our time here on Earth is a time for us to grow and love, until we get to that point in our lives (like Leo) when we are ready for God and for that perfect, beautiful place called Heaven.
Leo, our hearts are broken right now from the pain of missing you, but we will forever be blessed by your presence in our lives. I know that you are smiling right now, just as you so often were in your physical life. Thank God for beautiful, inspiring souls like you.
Love Always Your Cousin,