Last week was the longest week and consequently, I was more tired by Friday than I can remember having been before. I told David Friday night, when I collapsed into bed, that I needed to sleep in the next morning. “Sleeping in” around our house means not getting out of bed before 7:30. Our kids (ahem, ahem, Cohen) get up before the sun most days and David leaves for work before 7, so our definition of sleeping in is often a few hours different than that of most people. That sets the stage for you to understand how surprised I was when David came in the room to speak to me and the alarm clock said 11:30!
I laughed about how long I had slept and then saw he was looking out the bedroom window rather seriously. “I think something bad has gone down across the street this morning.” He paused to look at the window again, “Yea, police cars are still parked out there.” In my sleepy fog, I could only think about the problems there have been with an ex-husband across the street and the three little girls who frequent our house when the weather is nice. “Olivia’s house?” I sat up in bed, the pit of stomach felt like a ton of bricks had fallen into it. “No. Ah, no. Sorry. The house next door. The one Kathy lived in.” I felt relief for a moment.
Then, I got out of bed.
Two police cars were parked out on the road. An SVU was parked haphazardly in the front yard. A few other vehicles were in the driveway and parked along the street. People going in were being helped in. No sirens were on. No police tape. The heaviness returned to my stomach and in my gut I knew something really, really bad had happened.
As the afternoon progressed, more cars arrived. The police cars remained. When the ambulance and fire truck pulled down the street silently, there was no question about it. Someone had died.
From the looks of things, the death wasn’t expected. I couldn’t shake the guilty feeling that we hadn’t met our neighbor. Sure, he/she/they had only lived there a few months but at least once David had mentioned we ought to go over and introduce ourselves. We didn’t. Apparently David couldn’t shake the feeling either. He would go by the window and pause for awhile. I kept thinking about the one day when the weather was still nice and people were putting a new roof on the house… I remember the music being loud and young-sounding. Were there teenagers in the yard? Or… was it just the music that made me think that a couple of kids lived there? My insides shuddered. I found myself thinking Oh, please, God. No.
By Sunday morning we had heard. A man only a year older than David and I committed suicide Saturday morning.
The three little kids have had croup so David went to church Saturday night so he could stay home with them Sunday morning so I could go then. We were somewhere on state route 33 between Marysville and Dublin, when I turned off the worship music. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man. We didn’t even know his name. My heart grieved. I’ve had low points in my life when I wished Jesus would come back so I didn’t have to wake up the next day and face what I knew would meet me there. But it is hard for me to imagine getting from that place to actually wanting to take my own life and then making the jump to actually doing it. That kind of hopelessness is a darkness I can’t wrap my brain around.
Our oldest son and oldest daughter are the kind of kids who are endlessly curious, pick up on many of the nuances of adult conversation (even when we think we are speaking between the lines), and who will relentlessly ask to understand until they’ve pushed the conversation past easy answers and lines like “I will tell you when you’re older”. Not all parents choose to talk to their kids as openly as we do and probably a decent number of parents would think we have made a mistake in so doing. For our kids, though, we continue to find that answering their immediate questions honestly (without over explaining things they aren’t asking) satisfies their desire to know and also often leads to meaty, important conversations we didn’t know we could have with an elementary school aged child.
I knew the word “suicide” would now be spoken in their hearing by someone and so I took a deep breath and told them. I told them that our neighbor had made the choice not to live anymore. Neither of them had any idea that that could happen. We talked for a few moments about why a person might make that choice and how life without Jesus causes everything to be confusing and meaningless. They asked the kind of questions children think they want answers for, but really don’t. I side stepped each one a few times. Those are the kind of mine fields we are learning to navigate.
A full minute passed with complete silence in the car. Kacey has been thinking a lot about heaven and what happens when you die lately, so I wasn’t surprised with the question she asked. “When people hurt themselves, Mommy, where do they go?” I clarified, “you mean when they die?” She nodded.
My thoughts drifted to a poignant scene from the movie Luther. Martin Luther, new to a parish, is walking around town meeting people when he sees a young boy working several stories up on a building. A few short bits of conversation pass between the father and the son and the movie goes on. A short while later in the film, the son hangs himself and the father, having taken him down, brings his lifeless body to the monk and asks in the most desperate tone, “What does God say of suicide?” Cut to the next scene and there is Martin, mumbling to himself and crying out to God, digging a grave in the church’s graveyard. The grave digger refuses to dig. People who commit suicide aren’t to be buried at the church. But Martin does it anyway. He gives last rites and buries the boy.
I’ve watched the movie multiple times (it is the only movie I’ve ever seen more than once in the theater) and I can’t stop the tears at that scene. It is the kind of beauty that cuts you deeply.
Before my thoughts came back around to the two bright, sweet children in the back seat, Cohen spoke up. “You know what, Mom?” “What babe?” “I think people who hurt themselves like that get to go straight to heaven.” I said I hoped so and asked him why he thought that. “I think God knows how sad they are.” I smiled through my tears at that blue eyed, precocious little person and he smiled back and looked out the window. A minute later, he and Kacey were arguing about who would get the better snack in their class that morning.
I won’t pretend to know what happens to anyone when they die. I am so glad none of the weight of that is on my shoulders. I keep thinking about Cohen’s words. It took him about a minute to conclude in his mind that, based on what he understands about God, a person that sad is just the kind of person God would want to rush right into His presence. Neither of them asked if it was bad or if it made the guy a bad guy. It didn’t occur to them to evaluate him on the basis of his action. I had told them how hopeless and sad and pointless life was without Jesus and even though they’ve only been on the earth for 5 and 6 years, they could see the truth in that statement. Even at such a young age they could see how life apart from God would be just that awful and sad. And sadness was where their thoughts about the man had ended. The rest of their thoughts about the situation were evaluating God.
Children have an incredible capacity to understand the spiritual realm. Without the filters and human wisdom and experiences and perceptions of adulthood, their belief is simple and pure. Our kids, despite our failings, really really get spiritual realities. Cohen has always asked the kind of questions that baffled me in their depth. As Kacey re-learns things about life, I can see the wheels in her head turning. I hear worship songs coming from her lips on and off throughout the day and I see those very words taking root in her heart. Adler has begun to pray just like David, borrowing phases and words and the cadence of his prayers. It is simple to them. This is who God is and this is what He is like.
In a complex, many faceted, broken world I crave that simplistic, childlike understanding. Oh, to wake up in the morning and shake off all of the things we think we know and learn to just accept on faith that God is better than we ever hoped He could be!
During worship on Sunday morning, I found myself at the front of the room, in the “the river” as it is affectionately called. I had to close my eyes tight to get past feeling insecure. Some time later, the musicians stopped playing and a lead worshipper said “sing to the Lord your own song”. I heard praying all around me…singing….a woman with a rich, thick voice calling out to God in a way that caused my body to be enveloped in chills. The words that continually escaped my lips were “you are better, you are better, you are better…”
And He is.