Is it a “waste” when a young man dies?

Emilyn Tan // October 2, 2019, 4:18 pm

End of life matters: What's the real issue?

WIth joy unspeakable in their souls, from left, Harold Tan, Andrew Hui and Elliot Soh left the world a message of hope to be spread far and wide.

Harold Tan was 21 when his time on earth drew to a close, Andrew Hui was 32, and Elliot Soh was 25.

They were so young it’s unlikely they thought much about writing their wills or assigning Lasting Power of Attorney.

They did leave instructions though – overarching ones covenantal in nature rather than legal.

For they recognised that in death, as in life, their path would diverge from the one the world travels. Less trodden it would be, but all the difference it would make for eternity.

To say they were brave in the face of their unfathomable suffering is to understate the obvious. The cancers they battled sapped the living daylights out of them and robbed them of their dreams and destinies.

Or did it?

The beckoning grave

Their own words tell a different story. Besides their youth and debilitating illnesses, they shared in common the aching desire to see heaven, as well as to have all whom they knew and loved do the same.

Elliot passed away on September 28, 2019 at the age of 25. He fought sarcoma around his right adrenal gland for nine months. Photo courtesy of Ruth Soh.

“Please feel at ease for me …. I am resting peacefully with God because of what Jesus has done for me and I really hope I see you there with God when the day comes!” Elliot penned in a goodbye message.

Boldly stating the Gospel in plain language, he put it forth as a loving warning from him, writing: “Although this message about hell sounds harsh and condemning, there is also grace and mercy for everyone who believes.”

He likened the taste of chemotherapy drugs to “licking a melted AA battery that has leaked in your alarm clock”, and urged: “I have tasted poison and I really don’t want my friends and family to taste it for eternity.”

Andrew with his mum in Jeju in December. That was his last overseas holiday. He passed away on August 31, 2019 at the age of 32. He contested lymphoma for 14 months. Photo courtesy of YMI.

Andrew’s take on death was that it was “stingless”. He organised a thanksgiving service and even mustered all his energy to issue an invitation to anyone who wanted to know more about the joy of eternal life.

“I want to encourage people to trust in God during the darkest points of their lives,” he told YMI earlier.

Hours after the party, he took his last breath.

“It has been a wonderful 32 years that God has granted me. Though my armour is battle-worn and broken, my peace remains …. Death is but a gateway to my eternal home.”

Harold Tan passed away on June 13, 2018 at the age of 21. He battled osteo-sarcoma for almost three years. Photo from

And not for platitude’s sake did Harold testify, just weeks before his death, that God had “blessed and sustained” him in his fight with cancer.

What God authors, God finishes. Perfectly.

He stood tall and declared: “I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” (Psalm 116:1-2)

Lest we quote with resignation the clichéd verse from Job 1:21, let us acknowledge that, stripped of the life this world offered first as a boast, then a taunt, these three had in them the courage to pursue in death what true faith required: the immutable counsel of God.

To their Alpha, there was an Omega: what God authors, God finishes. Perfectly.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”


Will we have the same courage?

I should be seeing unending glory in this – heaven is a place we all want to go. And to die in Christ is “to see the matchless beauty of a day divine” as Stuart Townend sings in There is a Hope, one of Elliot’s favourite songs.

But what I hear are sighs that accompany the murmurs of “what a pity”, “such a waste” on the chats abuzz with these “tragedies”.

Death was “stingless”.

Few have spoken of the triumph that these young men saw in their situation. They had allowed God to establish a testimony of salvation in their souls and appoint a law of love in their hearts.

To them, there was no higher calling and no deeper joy, and they wanted the world to know there’s a Saviour without whom there is a hell for eternity.

Their spirits kept steadfast with Him as they went with the call to make it known that God had done wonderful works in their lives.

It was a responsibility made more urgent by the little time they knew they had left. 

They wanted the world to know there’s a Saviour.

“Money, relationships and everything you treasure in this world are worth nothing when you know you are going to pass away within weeks,” wrote Elliot.

Sadly, the heart’s cry of us who remain is a desolate one of not knowing if we have the sort of courage it would take to realise the legacy of faith they have left for us to live out. 

Elliot probably had an inkling of this when he ended his letter with a clear call to action. To the Christians, he wrote: “My desire is for you to continue prioritising Gospel work over all other worldly things…

“We have the full assurance of faith and instead of focusing on our worldly pleasures, we should be reaching out to people who need to hear the gospel so that they can be saved too.”

May we, too, be found faithful.

About the author

Emilyn Tan

Emilyn once spent morning, noon and night in a newsroom in the US, then in the Mediacorp office in Singapore. She gave it up to spend morning, noon and night at home, in the hope that someday she’d have an epiphany of God with His hands in the suds, washing the dishes too.