No one must have heard the gunshot, since his cousin found Don a couple of hours later. They said it wasn’t a pretty sight. He had become another sad statistic. Another troubled soul seeking release from the prison of addiction and mental illness – another case of suicide.
As I sat in an unfamiliar church beside my wife and son, I was pleased to see our former minister officiating the ceremony. As the sketchy details began to emerge, I soon concluded it must have all ended in an instant. With guns so accessible, how could Don have known the one he purchased years ago would become his nemesis?
One by one, I listened as close friends and family members reminded me of the great father, friend, and dedicated Christian man Don had been. Someone had left the backdoor open. Cars along the street could be heard passing by. I could only conclude they’d left the back door open in case anymore guests came late to pay their respects.
Wouldn’t there be more people attending? I wondered. How sad that the shame of Don’s demise had further distanced the family from the warmth, strength, and presence of friends they now needed.
The passing cars outside distracted, yet reminded me that life goes. For Don’s family, life would never be the same. He left behind a former wife, a grown daughter and a now grown son – The son who had been my son’s best friend as a child.
When we first entered the church, I spotted Don’s son standing up front and watched as my mine headed toward him. As our sons embraced and held one another for awhile it broke my heart. Their unspoken words would have been inappropriate. What this son needed was my boy’s presence and pledge to be there for him. In a sense it was a shared grief between the two of them. Don had been like a father to my son.
Sitting there in that padded pew reflecting on Don’s life, I realized that I couldn’t really call Don a friend. He was just an acquaintance. Growing up our son’s friendship was tighter than any two brothers could be. I was the one who was always too busy working to tag along with their little trips. It was Don who drove the boys through the forest, gave them a ride along the beach, and taught my son to shoot. Regrets haunt me still.
They say it happened when Don’s self medicating became ineffective. How could his physician have prescribed more pills needed to balance his brain chemistry if he was abusing his script? It was an inevitable catch twenty-two.
When the disabling headaches began, I knew where Don lived, yet never visited. After his wife and children left, I could have stopped in to encourage him, but didn’t. Why? The old worn out excuses that I had to work or didn’t have much in common with him sounds heartless and insensitive now. Some call it survivor’s guilt. I had to own my part in Don’s death. Could my friendship have really made a difference? Saved his life?
The eulogy and pictures displayed on the communion table up front spoke of Don’s great character of the admirable man of God he had always been. Soon a co-worker stepped forward telling how Don had spent every holiday with his family for the last two years. He validated the life that had been lost. To my surprise, God had provided this special friend for Don at his greatest time of need.
I couldn’t help wondering if quality time hadn’t been the love language Don had been longing to receive all his life? The love and companionship Don had so freely given to my son, I’d failed to return.
By the time the service had ended, I cornered this Christian co-worker who had befriended Don – pumping him for more information. The longer I listened the more I could see what a true friend he had been. This Christ-follower who had ministered to Don’s troubled soul had lessened my guilt, but did little to erase my sense of shame. Whether this man had been a guardian angel or angel of death I’ll never know. Yet, I hugged and thanked him for being there for Don.
Those lost years of opportunity with Don can never be re-lived, yet I can exchange my regrets for the prospects of others I can help today. There’s a world of misunderstood people out there just trying to do the best they can. These folks need little more than a hug, a vote of confidence, or simply a smile.
The lesson I learned from Don’s life is not to depend upon the angels to do what God has equipped me to do for other. For most of us – all we need is to offer a little more quality time.