It has been my sad duty to preside at the funerals of many young people over the last 15 years but despite being familiar with the role I am never comfortable in it.
It always feels wrong. It is against the accepted or natural order of things.
Parents should die before their children.
Yet, again today we are here because of the death of a young person, dead before his time.
Dane had a long and happy life to look forward to, he should have had the chance to grow up and grow old, to get married and have children, to experience more of the joy that life provides and die an old man.
At the very first funeral I conducted I asked the question, Why has this happened?
It’s a question that I‘m sure many of you have pondered over the last week.
But my answer now is the same as it was then, I don’t know. No-one knows. Only God could explain it and he weeps along with all of us at the loss of Dane’s life.
It is a tragedy. It didn’t happen for a reason. There is no cosmic game of chess being played out in which Dane’s death is just another move. We can’t explain it.
But, we can learn from it.
We can’t change it, but we can change in response to it.
We can’t undo it, but we can resolve to never forget it or what it means to us or what we are going to do because of it.
Dane was a happy, healthy successful young man. He had a multitude of family and friends who loved him. I knew him in my capacity as school chaplain at Carine High School and more specifically in my role as football coach. Dane was part of the team that created history by winning the Smarter than Smoking Cup Cable Division Grand Final in 2002 against Clontarf Aboriginal College who up until that point had never lost a game. The sad part of that season for Dane was that despite playing in all the lead-up games and helping Carine qualify for the Grand Final, he injured himself by training too hard and pulling stomach muscles which caused him to miss out on the Grand Final.
He had wanted it so bad that he pushed himself too hard and unfortunately missed out. There is an irony there that I find hard to ignore.
Dane was a doer, he worked hard, he achieved a lot in his 22 years, but, just as he missed the Grand Final through pushing himself too hard, ultimately he paid the highest price for pushing himself beyond his limits.
I am not here to criticise Dane or condemn him, but I think even Dane himself would agree with me when I say that he made a decision that cost him his life.
After working a long shift he and his work mates had some drinks after work, then he and one other young man got into a car and headed into town.
They were tired. For some inexplicable reason they were not wearing seat belts.
It would appear that the driver, and probably Dane as well, fell asleep, crashed the car and Dane was killed instantly.
I want all of the young people here today to join me in looking at the coffin before us.
I know it’s hard, I know it’s painful, but I want you to look, and to think.
I want you to imagine yourself in Dane’s place right now.
I want you to realise that any one of you could be killed on the road if you take the same risks that Dane took.
What would Dane say to you now?
Would he say, don’t worry about it, it doesn’t matter, carry on doing whatever you want, take risks, ignore the dangers?
Young people, you possess great opportunity and potential, the world is before you, your lives are an open book waiting to be written. Part of living is taking risks, pushing yourself, being daring and adventurous.
But, you are not invincible.
You can do great things.
But you are not immune.
You have lives to live.
But you cannot defy pain and death by taking huge risks and hoping you’ll get away with it.
I’m not having a go at you.
I’m not dishonouring Dane.
I’m delivering a message on his behalf, and on behalf of every parent and family member in this room and beyond.
I am sure that if Dane had known the danger he was in he would not have made the decisions he made or taken the risks he did.
Tragically for Dane it is too late, he has paid the greatest price for his mistake.
But Dane is crying out to each and every one of you, “Don’t do what I did!”
“Don’t die before your time”
Dane was greatly loved by his family and friends. His memory will be treasured.
His life will live on in the hearts and minds and memories of you all.
He should not and must not be forgotten.
His life should be celebrated and honoured.
But his death must never be forgotten.
You owe him that.
I charge you with this solemn duty.
Do not forget Dane.
Do not forget what happened to him.
Do not ignore the circumstances that led to his death.
Do not fool yourself into believing it can never happen to me.
Do not become another tragic statistic.
A number is no fit memorial to a life such as Dane’s.
Please do not dishonour him or his memory by failing to learn a lesson from this tragedy.