Tiffany died in September of 2010. It was a very painful loss as I had provided premarital preparation for her and her then fiancé. I officiated their wedding. I was also pastoring them through a very difficult season they were navigating. When Tiffany committed suicide, I was devastated. Therefore, I was extra sensitive when the holidays came around. I wanted my church members to be mindful of families who were experiencing the holidays for the first time without a loved one; in the same way that Tiffany’s family was.
I’ll never forget it. It was November, and I stood up in prayer meeting and urged them to pray for the families who are grieving during the holidays. I also urged them to be mindful of people who were alone and feeling lonely during the holidays. I thought it was just pastoral spidey-sense. In retrospect, I personally believe it was more than that.
Suddenly, it was my turn. I didn’t hear from my dad during Thanksgiving. It was odd, but he did have a way of retreating when he was in a rough patch. On Christmas Day I called my grandmother to say, “Merry Christmas.” My Aunt answered the phone and asked if I had spoken to my dad. I told her that I hadn’t, but I’d call him as soon as I hung up. That’s exactly what I did. I called him and asked if he was watching the game. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James were squaring off in the annual Christmas Day match against the nation’s two favorite teams (at the time) in the Miami Heat and LA Lakers. Dad said he didn’t even know that the game was on. That’s when I knew that something was off.
It was becoming a bit of a tradition for us to watch the Christmas Day game together. We both shared a love of basketball, so when he said that he didn’t know it was even on, I knew something was wrong. Then on January 4, 2011, trauma and tragedy came crashing through my front door. That’s the day that my Dad committed suicide as well. I will never forget that day because it was very abnormal. My sister was the one that found him. She called me in the very moment. It had to have been about 4 PM. I didn’t answer because I was asleep. I needed a nap because I had been at the hospital very early that morning.
A church member was scheduled for surgery at around sunrise. Somehow I had been given the wrong time, and found myself at the hospital around 4 AM. As I walked around trying to situate myself, I realized that I was in the same hospital, on the same floor, on the same wing where I had to minister to Tiffany’s family just a few months before. I prayed and asked God, “God, how did you get us through this?!” When I went home, I was exhausted. I took a nap, and that’s why I slept through my sister’s call. When I woke up, I was late for a meeting at the church, and in my haste, hadn’t checked my phone for missed calls. In the midst of the meeting, my cousin called. I answered thinking she may need some advice. Before she spoke I said, “I’m in a meeting. I’ll call you back.”
When I called back it was almost time for prayer meeting to start. That’s when she broke the news. Have you ever had one of those moments where everything stopped? It’s like the scene in a movie after a massive explosion. Everything is moving in slow motion, and you can’t even hear anything. Time is suddenly standing still. I walked into prayer meeting in a daze. The members had already gathered. My ears were still ringing from the blast. “I have to go. My dad committed suicide.” Then I left.
I couldn’t bear to see anyone else eulogize my father. I didn’t spend my entire life with him; only the last few years of his life. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to be able to sit and listen to somebody else give some frothy talk about how “weeping may endure for a night” or something like that. So I preached from Psalm 90, and urged the family to “count our days, and make our days count.”
After the funeral, a classmate of mine walked up to me and said, “You’re a very strong person.” I was still very numb, but I don’t even remember giving an actual response. I think I muttered something about God’s strength. I just remember feeling like I had no strength. My church members were very supportive, and gave me time to manage. Later that year, I ran my first marathon, and I wrote a book to help me process the loss.
It’s been nearly thirteen years, but the pain is still palpable. I’m still very aware during the holidays, and I relive the trauma to some extent every year. It’s not as piercing as it was, but it’s still very real. I have a wider perspective, and I have a lot more empathy for people experiencing pain. It still hurts. Now, when I talk to my members about praying for families during the holidays, I have my own story to share. I suppose you now have mine too.
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