I'm going to step out of character here for a little while, friends. Bear with me. As I've said before, honesty and real-ness are important to me, and life is not always entertaining or amusing. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it takes you by surprise with a gut punch and leaves you gasping for air and wondering what the heck just happened and how you got where you are.
Two Sundays ago, The Police's grandpa on his dad's side -- close friend and the only link he had to his dad, who died in similar fashion when The Police was 7 -- took his own life. A friend called while we were at church and ripped a sizeable hole in our world, just like that. With just a few sentences.
This is an ugly word. It's an ugly decision to make, and its aftermath is ugly. It carries an ugly stigma, and its victims are left holding a big ol' basket of emotions that are quite ugly indeed. And even shameful. It's a word that you whisper, you don't just say it. When you explain to others what happened, you lower your voice, look around to see if anyone else is listening. And then you prep yourself for their awkward look of shock and dismay, and their complete inability to say anything that will sound right in response -- even the generally accepted platitudes on dealing with death fall flat when that word is spoken.
I can't imagine how it feels when you hear that someone you've loved, relied on, and in turn cared for -- over the course of your whole life -- chose to face the business end of a gun rather than see you again.
I just can't.
I can only know how the carpet in our church hallway felt to my knees that morning as I sank down to wrap my arms around my husband, who had just heard that for the second time in his young life, he'd never see his flesh and blood father again -- and it had been their choice. I know how the white walls and cold tile floors felt in the waiting room at The Med's trauma center while we stared down at them and listened to the surgeon tell us that we were dealing with a non-surviveable injury. And I know how my husband's hand felt -- cold, but steady -- as I held it while he made the decision to remove life support and wait four more hours for the actual end to come, even though we had known life was gone from the very beginning. I know how the small talk and jokes offered up by my family while we waited that longest four hours in our lives felt -- nervous, worried. I know how I felt during the subsequent week as I planned funeral services for this man that I hardly knew but who had made such a huge impact on my life -- confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, determined. Determined that things would be done right, done quickly, done with honor and dignity. Because that was all I could do for his grandson, the man I love.
Overwhelmed. That's how I felt every night when I put an arm around my husband and prayed that he slept well and without nightmares. Because, to be honest, this kind of thing creates a swell of emotions, questions and even physical responses that are pretty much impossible to wrap your brain around. It's like looking into a canyon full of feelings so big and dark that you can't see the bottom -- knowing you should somehow be able to clear them all away but having no idea where to begin.
Like I said, I can only tell you what I felt. The Police's feelings are his, and I won't trivialize the situation with a feeble attempt to describe them. As for me, I felt all of those awful things already mentioned.
But know what else I felt?
I felt the softness of the tissues my mom used to dab the tears from my face. I felt the strength of my dad's and brother's arms as they hugged me. I felt my sister-in-law's ring squeeze against my fingers when she held my hand. I felt the sticky sweet faces of my little nephews when they kissed me. I felt the sincerity in the words of encouragement and sympathy that came from so many friends, co-workers and my church family.
When someone chooses to walk out on their own life, even when it's so close to the end already, the whys and wherefores are quite frankly better left undiscussed. Especially when there are no answers to be had. No explanations available. So we don't discuss them. Because even if we figured out why, would that make things better? Probably not.
What we can choose is which parts of those lives to remember, which images and conversations to store away so that what we recall is a person who loved being alive. We can hold tightly on to them, talk about them, share them with others -- so that they are permanent and the ugliness of the end itself cannot corrupt them.
And we can move on. Because that is exactly what the world will do whether we choose to go along with it or not. We can carry our pain with us for a little while (or a long while), and then eventually we can lay it down by the roadside and keep on walking, hand-in-hand with our memories and the ones we love. And appreciate those that God has gifted us with for this season.
"The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning,
It's time to sing Your song again.
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing when the evening comes."
(from "10,000 Reasons" by Matt Redman)