The receiving line stretched from the open casket past the back door and into the lobby where we signed the guest book.
Even after two days of a houseful of friends, the mom and dad were not close to being hugged-out. I don't know what else you do when your child, 25, is gone. Suicide. And there's the open casket, and you're at church on the business end of the receiving line.
I guess you keep accepting hugs, and you hold on.
And you wish you could turn back the clock.
We all wish we could turn back the clock on some things. I suppose you never wish it more than at a time exactly as this.
Who has answers?
And what do you do? One day a brother and son and teammate is quietly neat, efficient, a good-grades maker, a championship junior golfer, a young believer. But after one semester at school on a golf scholarship, his room looked like the inside of a clothes-washing machine, his grades reflected indifference, his clubs just idle, old toys. A bad crowd, a bad decision, a bad deal.
He couldn't leave the stuff alone. The drugs. He'd have good runs, then a trip to the bad side of town. Nothing he did was out of the ordinary for a guy chasing a lie he's bought into, hook, line, sinker, future and life. Stories like this more often than not turn out the same way: somebody gets killed in the end.
He was sweet. He was gentle. He helped the little-boy golfers on the course where the family lived. Polite to everybody. Lots of friends who reflected most of what he had been before The Big Lie knocked, and he'd answered, and invited him in.
He was talented. Three years ago he dusted off the golf clubs, practiced a few days, won the city championship, flashed all the old promise. No big surprise: he was that good.
But his problem was worse. And a lot bigger than he was. So it was never a shock when the shadows would come and he'd be gone again until, at age 25, he was gone for good.
His parents did all they could. Tens of thousands of dollars invested in the last year alone, getting him help. Loving him soft and loving him tough. Hugging him close, giving him space. Praying and hoping. They never lost hope. But for a tiny window of time, their son did.
It must be a terrible weariness, the one that hits someone just before they call it quits. The moment when all motivation is gone. To some it comes after a pink slip or a divorce paper or a dream's death. Desperation blasted with a kind of veiled self-honesty that must say, "Well, this is the only way left. The only thing right. The only way out."
A hopeless, frustrated kind of tired and weary. Hope's not gone, but it's lost. And if a piece of it isn't found quickly enough, a receiving line and a shovel and a lot of tears are just around the corner.
When they found him in his room, his faithful dog Dice, 14, wouldn't leave him. Dice would have stayed by him forever. Same as everyone else. But a guy at the end must feel as if he's taking up space, and always will be. Maybe when hope is lost, the whole system breaks down.
"His whole life, he was good to everybody but himself." I heard that time and again the day of the funeral, the day of the open casket and the hold-tight-to-the-promises preaching. Heard it from people who loved him, from people scared and hurt by so much of what he'd done, people who knew the beautiful boy inside him but could never push the good deep enough in there to change his heart. Why do some of us in the dirty pile of broken people believe just enough to dodge the early darkness, and some of us don't? No answer fits.
But I know there's a pile. This funeral was proof of that. In it are the once used and no longer wanted, the never used and never useful, the cracked and the torn and the misshapen. And I know there's a guy who wants the pile to stay just as it is, a guy who wants us to feel worthless and hopeless and ashamed.
But I know there's another guy too, one who wants us to see grace and mercy and to feel a conviction to change, a guy gentle and humble in heart, a man who offers rest for the weary and the burdened. He champions the underdog. He loves a comeback story. And he majors in solving the problems of people broken in the pile.