Pain & Hope

Tonight, as I stood in the kitchen washing my son’s bottles, I had a rather sad realization. I have experienced a lot of death.

When my mother was a child, her father died. The pain still lingers with my family decades later.

As a young child, two of my other grandparents died.

Hours after one of my birthday parties, a man was killed by an automobile in front of my house. I can still vividly remember that night looking out my bedroom window to see firefighters spraying blood off the street. Unfortunately, there were several other pedestrian-vehicular-manslaughter incidents in front of the house years later.

I had a friend in middle school who shared with me on several occasions how he had unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide. Years later, as an adult, I learned that he had died, likely due to suicide.

My father had a friend who tried to commit suicide by heroin overdose. He called my father to let him know what happened. I recall jumping into the car, with my father racing down the road to this man’s house, running out of the car, and pounding on the door. While my father was trying to get into the apartment, I believe I was tasked with calling 911. Fortunately, the ambulance arrived in enough time to save his life.

I lived next to an apartment building with thirty efficiency apartments. It was not uncommon to hear about one of the residents dying. One of the most tragic was a man who fell asleep smoking, lit his pillow on fire, and likely died from a combination of injuries from the fire and over-inhalation of smoke.

Quite a few classmates died tragically after we graduated from high school.

In my late teens, my closest uncle died suddenly from a heart attack. I was beyond grief-stricken by his death. To this day, I still miss and think of him often.

Two years ago, Heather and I lost our first baby several months into the pregnancy. This was by far the saddest time of my life. We wept continuously for days, weeks, and months. During Christmastime, we take a small paper Moravian star out of our box of decorations. We hold the ornament in our hands and gently place it on the tree thinking of our little Thaddeus.

While all of these deaths have profoundly impacted me, there is one loss in my life that feels the most unresolved. Several years ago, my best friend from high school was killed tragically in a motorcycle accident. When Seth died, we had grown apart, as he had moved to two different states since we were in high school. However, I will still never forget how great of a friend Seth was.

Tonight, as I was driving to the store with my eight-month-old son, Lucas, in the back seat, a song came on the radio. It was one of Seth’s favorite songs, “Don’t You Want Me?” by the Human League. Every time I hear that song or another 80s synth-pop song, I’m reminded of him.

It has often occurred to me that Seth was probably the best friend I ever had. I don’t just mean that he was my best friend, but that he was the best kind of friend for which one could ask. There was something different about Seth. He didn’t care about the petty things that other people cared about.

I lived on the main street of the borough in which I grew up. There was a stark difference in culture between the people who lived in the town and the people who lived in the suburban developments outside of the town. My family was less-economically privileged than other people. Admittedly, I was probably overly self-conscious about the disparity between myself and others. Seth lived in one of those suburban developments, but I never felt looked-down-upon by him.

He was one of those friends with whom I could spend hours, without any plan. Either I’d stop by his house with my Jeep or he would come over with his moped (or later, a 1960-something Chrysler Imperial) and we would just drive until we found something new to explore. Sometimes this took us to strange, abandoned warehouses to buy synthesizers, while other times it took us to a second-hand store to try on vintage blazers.

Whether we were listening to vinyl records, writing music with our band, riding mopeds, or eating burritos, every moment with Seth was real. Unfortunately, our lives grew apart, like what often happens as people grow older. However, several years later, Seth died tragically in the motorcycle accident I mentioned previously. In the years since Seth’s passing, I have wrestled with the fact that I will never see Seth again in this lifetime. I have lamented that I will never have the chance to tell him how great of a friend he was. I have wondered why our friendship grew apart.

While I have been distraught and have become emotional after hearing of other deaths, I think Seth’s funeral is the only one in which I recall physically crying. The pastor began to read a passage of Scripture in her calming and reassuring voice:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
— Psalm 139:7–12, NIV

I sat in the back of the church with tears pouring down my face. While the words of the Scripture had so much hope, I still felt so much pain. These are emotions I have a hard time forgetting.

Tonight, I sat in the rocking chair in the corner of Lucas’ room, holding him in my arms. I looked down at his sweet sleepy face, and briefly, the thought of losing my little boy entered my mind—a thought that scared me. As I prayed with him and put him in his crib, I quietly closed the door, walked down the stairs, and began to wash his bottles. I pondered these thoughts as I washed. I have no reason to fear losing him except for the fact that the future is unknown. I can’t linger on the thought very long because it breaks my heart to think of that kind of loss.

I don’t have a well-thought-out conclusion for this post. In some ways, these are just deep emotional musings that are stirring in my mind. I suppose these thoughts are part of a larger theme I have been exploring about how the church deals with current events, such as tragedies. I have been thinking about things like gun violence, racial injustice, religious hatred, and other things that plague our society.

I can spend too much time in the theoretical world of those issues and not enough time with my emotions. Allowing myself to reflect on my emotions in relation to grief is an important process in helping me better understand the ails of our society. I like to use ration to influence my thinking, but sometimes we just need to embrace our feelings and begin to let them try to tell us something we might need to hear.

I’m hoping to address some of these other themes in a future post, but today I just want to leave it with this idea of emotions. If you’ve seen the movie Gladiator you might recall this closing scene, where Maximus nears the end of his life and begins to see glimpses of his already-deceased family. While there is great pain in the midst of this scene, there is also great hope. This scene encapsulates the emotions I am feeling as I write this—both pain and hope.

Monet, Claude. Champ De Blé. 1881. Private Collection, Vétheuil, France.é.jpg.

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