The shriek that burst out of my mouth at my mother's words is something I'll never be able to describe. It must have been quite chilling to a hearer. It was enough to bring Terri running to my door to see what was the matter but I refused to answer her calls and knocks. Something had happened between Terri and I that left me feeling I couldn't trust her and so the only comforter available to me at the time was a comforter I refused to allow in.
I was completely devastated. Wailing and crying and broken.
I didn't know what to do.
There was nothing I could do.
I'd been rebuilding something with my sister and all was now lost.
My mother told me that the suicide had taken place on December 21st but they hadn't wanted to tell me, thinking I wouldn't handle the news well. They'd already cremated her body and held a service. Everything was over and I'd been left out of the loop.
'How had it happened?' I asked, hoping that would somehow help me to assimilate this information. Mom said it had been like the other times, she'd overdosed but no one had found her in time. 'Do you have anything of hers that I can have?' I asked, this time, hoping that an object of hers might somehow assuage my pain. 'No, everything is gone.' was her only explanation. Years later, I learned the truth, that she'd shot herself.
I can't imagine the grief Mom must have felt. Yet I believe she immediately numbed it, as she'd learned to do with so many other painful experiences.
Our brief conversation ended and I was left alone to mourn. When I called my father to tell him, he offered that he was sorry, nothing more. He said little by way of comforting words, not even suggesting that get together. He simply hung up the phone and continued his life with the woman of the moment. I hadn't realized that until typing it just now. I wonder now why he was so indifferent. How could he have so little feeling towards his daughter that he would abandon me to grief rather than offer even a modicum of comfort? That still smarts, only I never considered it until now.
And so, I did the only other thing I could think of to do, I phoned Jeremy in Flagstaff. And he answered. I was overcome and it must have been difficult for him to understand all my rushing-out words. But he listened and allowed me to pour it all out. I asked if I could come right away and after checking with His parents, he said yes.
I hurriedly shoved a few clothes and things into an overnight bag, poked my head into Terri's room to tell her what had happened and that I was leaving and then got in my car at 1 AM and drove all night. I reached Flagstaff, chain-smoking the entire time and staring down the darkened, lonely Interstate through the tears coursing down my cheeks.
It's impossible to adequately explain all the thoughts that go through your head when you've lost someone in such a despicable manner. Or the thoughts that keep on, even 25 years later. Suicide is such a senseless thing. It's completely selfish, and done in desperation. So many experiences that should have happened, never shall. And you know, as the one who is left behind, that all those things are now lost to you.
So many memories flew through my mind as I drove in the deepest part of the night. But one in particular haunted me. Was this my fault? Was it because I hadn't gone to visit last month when she'd called me? Could I have prevented her death? Tormented with that possibility, my heart broke all the more.
When finally, I arrived in Flagstaff, I received a greeting unlike any I could recall before this one. It was cold and snowy outside but a soaking warmth permeated the cozy little woodland home of Bob and Dorothy Schneider. That warmth didn't come only from the well stoked wood stove in the center of their home, but from their kindhearted smiles and open arms.
Bob and Dorothy are the sort of ordinary folks whom a girl like me hadn't had occasion to encounter. Or at least, not in a way that I'd been able to receive up to that point in my life. There was nothing the least bit pretentious about their family. Instead they were down to earth people who offered comfort to a young stranger when she needed it most with no expectation of anything in return.
One evening as we sat crowded around the dining room table talking, I shared my concerns for my sister's soul. I'd been raised to believe that suicide was a direct ticket to hell. Bob and Dorothy took the time to explain to me that this was not a biblical concept but that God's grace was shed on the despairing souls of suicide victims just as it was on anyone else. They reassured me that if Kim knew Jesus, and I was sure that she did, then she was with Him now, in peace. They took plenty of time to answer my questions and in so doing, eased what may have been the worst part of my grief.
Did anyone else ever take time to really talk with me about faith before Bob and Dorothy? If they did, I hadn't really heard them. Bob and Dorothy's love reached through all sorts of barriers to carve out some healthy space in my broken heart. I'll never be able to repay them for the way they welcomed me when I was in such a desperate and hurting place. Ever since then, when I've thought about what unconditional love is, I've thought of the way they welcomed me on that Winter morning into their home and into their hearts.