This evening a former student came by my place to watch World Cup Soccer with my spouse and I and catch up on life a bit. He brought delectable cannoli from a deli by his house. We talked about his music and his new job. He told me the story of breaking up with his girlfriend and then, months later, the new woman he is interested in. I caught him up on my life as well. We had a lot of ground to cover. We both admitted to going underground a bit during the long, cold winter.
Eventually, I asked him about his grieving. His dad committed suicide a year and a half ago. Losing that man in that way was unthinkably painful for him. “I gave up on God immediately,” he admitted. “So in a way it felt like I lost two dads. I thought it was cool to be an angry atheist, the thing to do. I thought I was smarter than the people who believed in God. I needed to be in that dark place.”
I remember him talking to me about this decision. I remember thinking that considering the circumstances, it made sense as a reaction. I did a lot of listening and nodding in that first year.
“But now I think I’m ready for something,” he continued. “Maybe not religion just yet, but I’m ready to believe in something bigger than myself again.”
He explained how isolating it was to lose his father to suicide. It made him feel so alone, like no one understood what he was going through.He was in shock during the funeral, and then people stopped asking him how he was doing. He didn’t realize how much he needed to talk about his loss and his fears. He didn’t know where to start. Then one day at work, a woman asked him about his life, asked him about his parents, pushed about his dad, and he decided to tell his co-worker the truth.
After expressing her condolences, she asked, “And what are you doing about it?”
“What do you mean?”
“What are you doing to tend to your grief? If you don’t work on your grief, it will come out eventually in unexpected ways, decades from now. It can affect your marriage and your children without you even realizing it. Can I help?”
Because he was open and curious, she did some research and found some support groups for him to go to. He went. He realized he wasn’t alone. After a few weeks of meetings, he broke down and sobbed telling his story. Instead of pity, when he looked up, his peers nodded and just said, “Yeah, yeah.” It was comforting. The floodgates opened.
He said, “I thought just getting out of bed every day was dealing with it, but it wasn’t, I wasn’t dealing with it. Now I am dealing with it. I cry more, but I am also writing music again. And I am able to tell stories about my dad that come from happy memories.”
It makes sense to me that it took having the fierce advocacy of his co-worker and the community of his support group first before he considered giving God another shot. For him, right now, that support group is the community of truth he needs. It is a space to be broken and heal. It is the place to ask hard questions and grow. Meanwhile, his co-worker showed him that he matters, and that sometimes, we have to fight for life. The survivors have to work to claim the hurt and keep going. The co-worker and the support group remind him that he is indeed not alone. That is church at its best. He did lose one dad, but maybe he doesn’t have to lose two.