Dec 16, 2009
A few days ago I was talking to a good friend on the phone when he quickly said “I’ll have to call you right back” and promptly hung up on me. I sat there with the phone to my ear wondering what happened. This is a guy who would not panic over any little thing so it kinda worried me…
Sure enough he called me back just a few minutes later and gave me some shocking news. A young man that we both knew was dead. (I am purposely not using his name) Apparent suicide…shot himself…I sat there in shock and ask him “are you sure?” We just kind of sat there in shock with no details of what had happened.
He was an awesome seventeen year old boy, the same age as my son Ryan, that I had coached in baseball on and off since he was five years old! Five years old! I’d still see him from time to time at school functions and around town. He seemed as happy and healthy as any other 17 year old teenager you would ever meet. As you coaches know, kids you coach when they are young you never forget. It’s like you helped them grow up. It can be a special relationship. As if things could not get any worse, I immediately remembered he had just instant messaged me on facebook the NIGHT BEFORE!
I could barely breathe. I started to recall the conversation from last night and started asking myself some questions. Could I have prevented this? Was he asking for help and I didn’t recognize it. Was there anything I could have done differently? What did he say? What did I say? I started to retrace the conversation that went something like this…
“POP” The noise facebook makes when someone IM’s you.
Boy-“Hey Mr. O’Neal, sup?”
Me-“Nothing much, sup with you”
Boy-”Nothing really, just hanging out…”
Me-“Yea, me too. You doin okay?”
Boy-“Yea doing pretty good…”
It was at this point where the conversation went to nowhere. I was doing four different things on my computer at the same time. I have no idea what he was doing but the conversation stopped right here. It was one of those conversations that just went to nowhere. I didn’t say anything and he didn’t say anything. I was distracted with the other tasks I was doing and never though another thing of it…The next thing I hear from or about him is he is dead.
So here comes the tsunami of questions…
Could I have said more? Should I have engaged him in conversation, been a little more interested, not been so distracted/oblivious/selfish and spent more time with him? Could I have prevented this? I began to rerun the whole thing in my mind over and over, trying to find a clue, a phrase, something that might have been a sign that he was in trouble. I couldn’t remember anything unusual. It was a normal facebook chat session that doesn’t make a whole lot a sense sometimes anyway. I couldn’t make sense of it.
All I knew was a boy I have known since he was five years old, a boy very much like my own son, was dead. I started to think about my son. Was he okay? Is he reaching out for help? Of course not! I would know if he was! What if this was my boy!? I would be devastated as I know his family is now. What I am I going to do? What I am going to say? Could I have stopped this? Is there anything I could have done differently to stop this tragedy? A million questions went through my mind.
I would do anything to have the last 24 hours back.
I was sitting there thinking about all of this when all of a sudden I hear a car door close in the distance. Crap! Karen is home. I am going to have to tell her. I am not looking forward to this. She walks in and looks at me, absorbs the atmosphere and instantly says “what’s wrong?” (Ladies, you know how you are)
I said “baby, I’ve got bad news” she looks at me with horror on her face “so and so committed suicide” it looked as though someone punched her in the gut. She almost collapsed. And then here come all of the questions…but I had no answers. No details. Just horrible news.
I told her about talking to him last night on facebook and went through the whole thing again. She said”there was nothing you could have done. There is no way of knowing what’s going on with someone if they don’t tell you. You hardly ever see him anymore. How could you know?” maybe she was right, but I didn’t feel any better.
We sat there in silence (a rare commodity at our home) for about 10-15 minutes, which seemed like an hour. I called my son to break the news to him. I could tell by his voice he had already heard through another friend. It seems news travels fast nowadays. He was quiet if not solemn over the phone. I told him to come home in 30 minutes to eat supper.
I got up and started to cook supper. (Something I rarely do. No comments…) we had some steaks to grill, baked potatoes, and some green beans. The perfect meal. I decided to do everything tonight. (Also rare) I lit the grill, keeping low incase of an explosion. I punched holes in the potatoes with a fork being careful not to maim myself. I wrapped them in paper towels and put them in the microwave. I grabbed a can of beans and opened them. Not a word was said. The only noise you could here was the shutting of cabinet doors, the rip of a paper towel, and the footsteps of a guy who did not know his way around a kitchen. Karen was sitting in the living room looking out the window.
It seams that with everything going on in our world today, just when you thing you might get a break…bam! Something even crazier, more devastating happens. It’s like…what’s next? What can happen next God? Our worlds are upside down already. Give us a break.
Have you ever been at that point where your emotions are at the brink? Where just the slightest thing could be the straw that breaks the camels back? Well, I was there. I was keeping it together to cook, but I was there. I was going through the whole thing in my mind and my emotions. What could I have done? What are his parents doing now? When do I call them? What if this was my son? What would we do? How can we help? Where’s the pot for the green beans? I’m a mess. All I can do is pray, so that’s what I start doing.
I am bent over on one knee rummaging through the pots and pans in our island cabinet when the phone rings. Karen answers and immediately screams “what!” I look up to see what the commotion is about and I hear her say “are you sure?” I said “what is it?” annoyed and excited at the same time. She said the three of the most beautiful, wonderful words I had heard in a long time…”It wasn’t him!” “What!” I yelled, still on one knee looking for the right size pot. “It’s not him! He’s alive!” Now wait just a dad-gum minute here I thought, this is either a bad joke or a miracle. Turns out, it was more like a miracle…kinda.
It seems the person who told my friend the bad news got his info a wrong. It wasn’t the seventeen year old that I have know his whole life who killed himself, but his 47 year old step brother who I had never met or even seen before. Still a tragedy, but I had no relationship with this guy. I’d never even met him. I don’t want to minimize the enormity of this tragedy for the family. I am truly sorry for their loss and pray for the family. I can’t even imagine what they are going through. But, I did not know him.
So… the seventeen year old wonderful, awesome, kind, respectful, handsome young man who I chatted with last night on face book and who I had just spent the last 30 minutes FULLY ABSORBING THE FACT THAT HE WAS DEAD…is now alive! Was he raised from the dead? No. Not literally. But he might as well have been!
This was all I could take. I was already halfway kneeling looking for my green bean pan when it hit me. An overwhelming flood of emotion knocked me down to both knees. Sobbing uncontrollably and praising God. It wasn’t pretty…but it sure felt good. I think I needed a good cry! I was thanking God for a second chances! I was thanking God my buddy was still alive! I was thanking God for my family, friends, and life. I was thanking God for everything I could think of.
Just when I was able to pull myself together, get up off the kitchen floor, wipe the tears, blow my nose, straighten my clothes, get the beans in the pot, my son walks in…
He walks over to me and hugs me. Best hug ever. You’d think he just got home from war or something the way I was going on. He’s about 4-5 inches taller than me so I just hang on until he let’s go. Today he held on a little longer. I tried to keep my composure. I took this hug in like no other I had ever had. I think I even smelled his neck. Thank you God for my son. Thank you for second chances.
I began to tell him “if you ever think about doing something like that, you know you have plenty of people to talk to, right?” He cuts me off immediately, grabs my head with both hands and looks me straight in the eyes and says “dad, I would never do something like that. Now pull yourself together.” There’s nothing like a 17 year old to bring you back to reality.
So here are the lesson(s) that were etched in my heart and soul…
• If someone reaches out to you, whether it be in person, by phone or facebook… reach back. MAKE the time.
• Don’t be so self absorbed with your own problems that you can’t think about others.( I know, it sounds like common sense)
• Discern the difference between casual conversations and cries for help.
• If God puts someone on your heart, call them now! Don’t wait! You may be the voice that God uses to talk them down from doing something crazy.
The enemy would like nothing more than to isolate us. If he can isolate us he can kill us. Let’s stay connected.
Depression and Suicide increase this time of year. Please reach out to others. You do not want to go through that 30 minute span I went through the other day…trust me.
I call you blessed!
Get/give a father’s blessing today!