The Grief Club

Jaren and I recently volunteered at a Thanksgiving dinner for a non-profit organization for men.  Charles, a handsome black man who works there walks up to me and my son, introduces himself, and begins to chat about all the ways this Christian based non-profit helps in their community.  He tells us that some of the men are homeless, some are veterans, others are men who participate in their discipleship program to help mentor in their communities and some are just learning how to become better men and fathers.  Charles, a true gentlemen, is confident, warm and sincere.  Something about him seems vaguely familiar.  Out of the blue, he looks over to Jaren and says, “You remind me of my son.  I lost my son when he was thirty years old.”  He glances over to me and tells us he also lost his wife a few years later.  Then he looks directly back at Jaren, lays his hand on Jaren’s arm and humbly proclaims, “I know pain.”

Instantly, I know what is familiar.  It’s that place of pain.  It’s a place that only those who have experienced such a great loss can enter in and out of as if we belong to a club that no one ever really wanted or wants to belong to; a place that is usually caused by a great loss.  It’s a place you don’t wish on your worst enemy.  It’s heartbreaking to see a new member enter into this club.  It’s written on their face.  Their eyes shine differently and the scar has already made it’s imprint on their grieving heart.   While others will sympathize, The Grief Club members will empathize because they understand all too well the road that lies ahead.

There’s a strange comfort when meeting someone who can look you in the eye and say “I understand.  I know pain.”

A friend of mine recently lost her father to suicide.  It’s never easy to lose someone, whether it’s a loved one dying from Cancer, from an accident of some sort, or from old age, whether we were preparing for the event or the loss was felt unexpectedly.  No death or loss is easy to experience.  It is said that losing a child is one of the greatest pains to bear.  But losing a loved one to suicide must also be a great burden to bear.

When my friend told me about her father, he was in the hospital, holding on for dear life.  He lived several states away and it was important for her to see her father before he passed.  She had previously confided in me that her father had not been there for her as a child, something that I am all too familiar with, and they had a troubled relationship.  She and I have much in common when it comes to our fathers; but now her father was lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life and her heart was about to break open.  Truth is, her father is still her father and she still loved him dearly, despite his imperfections.

I immediately recalled my dear friend Mark who committed suicide back in the early 80’s.  We were both around nineteen years old.

I ran into Mark when I drove into town, after he had been up all night on a speed enhanced drug.  He asked me for a ride home.  I invited him to breakfast at the fast food restaurant I worked at.  He went along for the ride but declined on eating.  He was still crashing from the speed that invaded his body.  Food was the last thing on his mind.  Apparently he had a lot more on his mind than he led onto.  When I pulled into his driveway, Mark said, “It’s been nice knowing you.”  I smiled, gave him a light hug and off he went.

Part of me wondered if he was really talking about suicide but mostly I thought he was using the phrase as a metaphor or at the very least, it was the drugs talking after being up all night.  Surely, once he went to sleep and crashed all day long he would feel refreshed and be back to his good ole self.  I didn’t know what his home life or love life was like.  I knew he came from a blended family.

Mark ended his life the next day with a rifle shot gun.  I remember getting the call about Mark but for the life of me, I don’t remember who called me.  We all (my friends and our families) had already experienced so much loss.  Our friends were dying from drugs or alcohol related car accidents and overdoses.

Mark and I had gone to the movies just a week or so before.  We saw An Officer and a Gentleman.  At the time of his death, I never thought about the movie and the suicide scene but later looking back, I saw a much bigger connection.  I’ve thought about my actions many times over the years.  Was there something I could have said that would have caused a different outcome?  Was I being naïve or insincere?  Mark’s death hit me hard.  I felt partially responsible; like there was something I could have or should have said or done.

Mark didn’t leave a note that I am aware of.  His family invited us over to the house and let us read through his poems and allowed us to take which ever one we wanted.  You can tell a lot by a person by what they write.  Many of us feel more comfort in writing than verbally speaking how we feel.  Maybe that’s because when we do share our deep feelings and hurts, there are those who try to minimize our pain or tell us we should focus on being positive and happy or that we should be thankful for what we have.  Truth is we are all those things and more…most of the time.  But we still need time to grieve.  Grieving is a process and something you cannot resolve within three days or three months.

I think this poem says it best, a scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral

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