What to Do When the Worst Day of Your Life Doesn’t Kill You

You carry it with you — and you stumble on

Dr. Audrey
Dec 12, 2019 · 6 min read
Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

Let me begin by saying he’s a really nice guy.

He’s the kind of guy whose eyes are deep blue ponds of caring. He just looks at you, and you know he’s on your side. He wants you to be fine, just fine. He wants you to feel existentially hugged and fully surrounded by the über-sized love of God and all sorts of celestial goodness. He truly does.

He showed up on my doorstep even though I didn’t know him. I’m an hour away, but he drove to my house in my little country town.

I mean, it’s kinda his job — he’s a pastor. Not the main one. They didn’t send the Big Man. I don’t donate enough money to deserve that treatment. There’s a ton of rich people who go to my church. It’s located in a community drowning in tech guys and money managers and other wealthy folks. Essentially, the town is a lake surrounded by mansions. I don’t even live there. I’m just a commuter. A church commuter. But it’s fine. I get it. Even God has his order of priority, and isn’t his church just an extension of his kingdom?

So I got the side pastor, or whatever he’s called. The junior pastor. The adjunct. The guy they send out on the not-so-important cases.

And he’s awesome. He knocked on the door because our doorbell is broken. I answered, and we shook hands. I could tell he wanted to hug me but that he wouldn’t unless I made a move toward him. Which I didn’t.

“Come in,” I said, and he did.

We had spoken on the phone, briefly. Earlier that morning, I had called a friend who went to the same church, and she called the head pastor who then called the associate pastor who was now standing in my house the day after my son died.

It was all a bit weird, but weird had never phased me. Now, 24 hours after my son was dead, I didn’t know if anything would ever phase me again.

It was surreal: my son had died.

I thought I might die too. After sleeping maybe 2 hours that night, I was amazed I had even woken up the next morning. I had hoped maybe to just mercifully die in my sleep.

But mercy is for other people, I suppose.

So here I was, still alive, and here was the pastor with eyes full of concern and care, standing in my tile entry and watching me.

It wasn’t as awkward as it sounds.

He had come without hesitation. He got in his car and drove to some small town to see some woman he didn’t even know whose kid had just died.

He did that.

In my book, that makes him alright.

And he was alright. He was more than alright. He had hurried down because I had to go to the funeral home to see my son’s body after they returned him from the autopsy. I guess I didn’t have to go, but I wanted to. I needed to see my boy, to touch him, to know it really was him and ascertain he really was dead and not tearing ass around some backcountry road in his beat-up Honda or ripping up the skate park like a crazy person.

The pastor had come to take me to see my son’s dead body. He did that. We drove downtown. We walked into a lemony colored entry that smelled of warm urine and Windex. We stood. I didn’t want to sit in the high-backed brocade sofa that seemed stuffed with dead dreams and despair.

I don’t want to remember this, but I do.

A black-haired lady opened a door and walked toward us. She was young, maybe twenty-four or twenty-six. I was surprised. I thought working in death was for old people. She smiled. I don’t remember smiling back.

She took us to the chapel. She took me to my dead son.

I don’t want to remember this, but I do.

“He’s so incredibly handsome,” the young woman said. “We all thought so when he came in this morning.”

I heard these words, and turned them over in my head. I tried to picture what they meant. A scene formed in my mind. My son on a stretcher. A sheet covers him. They pull it back, and gasp. That chiseled jaw. Those full lips. That head of hair. The muscled arms and lean chest. What a beautiful corpse, one says. They all nod in agreement.

I shake my head. We walk through a door and into a darkened space. Weak light filters through high windows.

There’s a body lying on a raised bier. We walk closer.

It’s him.

But not him.

It’s my boy without his life. It’s like seeing a painting without color. It’s like viewing an ocean without waves.

It’s him, but not.

It’s his body alright, but it’s missing the part of him that made him move and leap and laugh and race up the front stairs in his boxers and bare feet.

I cannot understand. I do not want to. I reach out to touch his bare chest that is partially covered with someone else’s red plaid blanket. His skin is like ice.

I don’t want to remember this, but I do.

I think my life ended there: the second I touched my dead son’s cold, smooth chest.

I want to say otherwise. I want to say there’s meaning and love and hope and joy. I want to tell you there are poignant Hallmark moments of toasty fires and soft hugs, with hot cocoa rounding out the evening. I want to declare that everything is fine, that life goes on, that good triumphs over bad, and that there’s five hundred and one reasons to wake up and smile.

Because these things are all true.

But for me, it’s a bit different. It’s a little more nuanced. A bit more shadowed.

You see, I carry death inside me.

Oh, sure, we all do, you might say. We all are walking toward our deaths. We are all of us marching toward that dark, unknown tower — day by day, moment by moment.

But for me, and for others like me, it’s different.

We carry not one death, but two.

We carry not one death, but two.

We have not one heart, but two that beat inside us.

We have not one life to live, but two.

I don’t want to remember this, but I do.

The pastor was great. He touched my arm, then backed away. He let me be with my son. He stood in silence next to me. I could feel the warmth of him as I stood in the chill of the half-dark room.

Two tears slipped from my eyes. They fell onto Roman’s cold, quiet skin.

“May I pray?” he asked, and I nodded, so he did.

He drove me home. I remember that.

He came into the house. I remember that too.

He sat in the old green chair, the one that’s beaten down by life and years and repeated sitting and kids jumping up and down on its seat and launching themselves onto the carpet, laughing and falling and doing it again and again.

He sat and he told me things. Good things, mostly. How there’s always hope. How God loves me and my son and my other children. How I’ll always have that eternal, infinite love and I’ll never be alone. How I should find comfort in the words of the Psalms and the poets who sang of their suffering and pain but still managed to keep singing.

“Be thankful for your three other children,” he said.

I remember that.

I don’t think he knows how those words hurt. Maybe there’s no way that he could.

I don’t want to remember this, but I do.

He’s a really nice guy. He cared. He showed up.

That’s huge. Really, it’s monumental.

In the end, maybe it’s all we have: showing up for others. Showing up despite the pain, the heartbreak, the anguish. Even in the face of black despair.

And this is all I have. Some of it I remember, and some of it, I don’t.

Some of it I hold close, and some I hold out to let the wind grab hold and carry away.

What remains, I carry with me.

I close my eyes and see:

Two hearts. Two lives. Two deaths.

I carry them wherever I go. Some days they’re boulder heavy. Other days they’re feather light.

But I carry them with me, always.

And I stumble on, as best as I can.

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories…

Dr. Audrey

Written by

Life is better with words — and dark chocolate.

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

Dr. Audrey

Written by

Life is better with words — and dark chocolate.

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

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