Home Is Where The Hope Is

She’s home. For fall break.

A disclaimer before you read further: this turned into a jumbled mess of a blog post, I think. Sad and happy. Ugly and beautiful. Hopeless and hopeful. I hope you’ll hang in there with me til the end, which is actually the beginning, just like it always is.

About a week ago one of Girl’s closest high school friends texted me to ask if she and the boys (a group of kids who call themselves THE CREW) could surprise Hope at the airport.

Girl was expecting me to pull up to passenger pickup in the van, but instead, she crashed into 5 of her friends in baggage claim who couldn’t wait to see her and to shower her with love.

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The timing of this fall break trip home and the surprise her friends cooked up couldn’t have been better because the girl has had a really rough week.

It wasn’t a college-related rough week, though. Her transition to college has been smoother than any of us ever imagined it would be. She absolutely loves it and she’s doing really well. College suits her. I knew it would if we could just GET HER THERE (that’s another story for another day).

So, back to the rough time. I don’t know how to say this delicately, so I guess I’ll just say it. A friend of hers from church committed suicide a little over week ago. Like so many who knew and loved him, Girl was devastated, confused, profoundly saddened, utterly shocked and she wanted to come home for the first time since she left in August. She needed to come home.

As far as we know, no one knows what happened with him or why he did this. Apparently this kid was the very last kid anyone would have ever expected to take his own life. No one seems to know when he crossed over into the kind of despair that makes people want to die. The shock waves continue to reverberate in the community. Maybe his family is piecing things together now as the days pass, I don’t know, but I cannot even begin to imagine their pain.

I still don’t know how to talk about it because it’s surreal. A friend of Girl’s committed suicide. Suicide. Even the word is hard to say, so heavy with stigma and pain. Why is it so hard to talk about? Why don’t we want to talk about it? Even in this case, it seems like it’s being whispered about. Girl’s friend was by all accounts an amazing, beautiful boy and the way he died doesn’t negate that. It never will. I’m talking about it because I think it’s really important for the kids who are still here and grieving. And for the kids who have ever felt alone and hopeless.

I never met this boy. But I heard his name a lot from Girl and I knew that she thought very highly of him, that she could depend on him. I was especially grateful to him for the loving kindness he showed her during some difficult days she had in her junior year of high school. They became friends.

Some of the difficult days she had that year were the result of being very lonely at school. In typical fashion, she kept her head up and kept smiling, kept hoping, kept believing and kept trying until she couldn’t anymore. And then she was sad. Really sad. She had one very good friend there and she maintains that friendship, but it wasn’t enough to withstand the loneliness. Once she finally acknowledged what she was feeling and bravely shared it with us, she was relieved that we knew, even though it was hard.

But there were some days, some nights, when she was so quiet and up in her room for so long that I was worried. I checked on her a lot. She never, ever said or did anything specific to lead me to think she was in any kind of danger, but she was so devastatingly sad. She just wasn’t herself. She wasn’t sleeping well. She stopped singing in the shower. That sounds silly, but it felt like reason enough for me to be watching closely. She was grieving the loss of an entire community that she tried so hard to become a part of while trying to stay true to herself at the same time. We talked about it all, including how the kind of sadness she seemed to be feeling can be a HORRIBLE LIAR. It can make a kid believe that a permanent solution to temporary pain, no matter how awful it is, might be a good idea. She looked at me like I was crazy, and I’m ok with that. Because you don’t always know and it’s not always obvious and I felt like it was my job to go there as a parent. We kept talking as we addressed what was happening at school and figured out what to do about it.

Sometime in there is when this boy from church reached out to her, restored some of her hope in kids her age. He didn’t know what was going on, but he must have sensed something and he was extraordinarily kind and encouraging during a time when Girl needed that more than anything.

He could clearly SEE her as the child of God she is and he was so selfless and relentless in his pursuit of her friendship and in making sure she knew she was valued and special and loved.

He would say to her, “I love you and you are not alone”. He’d say those exact words. I wonder if he needed to hear those words too. I wonder if he would have believed them. I don’t know.

You can imagine why his suicide has especially rattled Girl. And, frankly, me too. As far as we know, no one knew he was in despair and the thought of him suffering alone has made her feel very sad. Because he wasn’t alone. He was loved and adored by many. He was a kid who appeared to be always happy, always reaching outside himself for the good of others, always hopeful. Girl said he never, ever talked about himself, he was always trying to go deeper with other people in an effort to know more. He seemed to feel some sort of responsibility to be there for other people and he poured himself into them. And people were in awe of that. And aspired to be like him. Maybe he sacrificed too much, maybe it was all just too much. Maybe he didn’t know how to share his humanness or his pain. Maybe people couldn’t see it. I don’t know.

Girl shared what happened with one of her professors this week because, ironically, she’s writing a paper in her Great Conversations class about the destructive nature of putting humans on pedestals. She got stuck during the editing process for obvious reasons. Suddenly her topic became MUCH more personal. She was immobilized by pain. The way this prof responded to her friend’s suicide and to her dealings with her paper was BEAUTIFUL.

Anyway, Girl switched high schools mid junior year and it was quickly life changing for her. We should have moved her sooner. Fit is everything. In a short time, she found an entire community of wonderful friends at her new school. She’d always had good friends outside of school, primarily at church, but so much time is spent IN school. It’s so important to have strong connections there, to feel like a valued part of the community. Free to be your real and full self. Happy and sad. Beautiful and ugly. Hopeful and hopeless. Giving and receiving. Not alone.

And so she’s home now. And she’s sad about her friend and she’s grateful for him and she’s talking about him. There is a bond there that will never be broken. She’s comforted knowing he is in heaven. More than anything, she wishes he’d known that whatever it was that was going on, he was loved and he wasn’t alone, ever. She wishes he’d believed it could get better. She wishes she’d known his insides more than she did.

And at the same time, she’s happy to be with her friends who are here with her now, in all of their wonderfully imperfect humanity. And it feels strange to her. Happy and sad. Up and down. And she’s not alone. None of them are. She’s had a good weekend doing all sorts of things with her friends and it was just what her soul needed.

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She’s happy to be home with us too and we’re beyond happy that she’s here for a few days to recharge and be comfy. We’ve missed her presence in our house. A LOT.

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And I’m so thankful that she’s a kid who still curls up in bed with her Mommy when she needs to.

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For the past week, ever since we found out about her friend, Girl and I have been texting and talking on the phone more than usual. And we make sure to say, “I love you and you’re not alone. Ever.” May her friend’s memory be eternal and may his family and all who knew and loved him be comforted during this difficult time.

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