I don't think we will fully understand why....
It will be 15 years this December....
It was a frigidly cold December day in Bismarck, North Dakota. I was gathered at lunch with many of my communication major friends when our friend Amber came walking into the lunch room. I could tell by the look on Amber's face and in her eyes that she did not hold good news. She walked directly up to me and said, "Have you heard? Chewy is dead." He committed suicide.
I was in complete shock. How could this young 23 year old man be gone? How could he no longer be a part of our world? What had happened to cause him to commit suicide? I had no answers...only more and more questions.
After lunch, I went to the front desk to work. The minute I arrived at the front desk I pulled upon the newspaper and turned to the obituaries. Amber's words weren't going to be real to me until I saw his name in the obituary section of the paper. My fingers fumbled through the paper and finally landed on the obituaries. And sure enough there was Chewy's face and name staring straight back at me. (Chewy's Obituary)
Since I was working at the front desk, I held back the tears. I didn't want other students to see my vulnerability. The minute my shift ended, I ran back to my dorm room. I opened the door, slammed it shut, pulled out my photo album which I opened to a picture of Chewy from the end of the previous school year, and held it in my hands. The tears slowly began to stream down my face and before I knew it, the tears wouldn't stop and it felt like all of the oxygen in my lungs had been sucked out.
I had gotten to know Chewy through the theater program at the University of Mary. I remember one time in particular when he showed up with bouquets of flowers for all the girls in the play. It was such a sweet gesture that is forever ingrained in my memory. I remember being at a retreat, tears flowing down my cheeks when he simply let me cry on his shoulders. He was the person who gave me the nickname "Smiley". (For the longest time, I wouldn't let anyone call me that. It seemed wrong to let anyone else call me that name after he had given it to me!) These memories of Chewy are the memories that I chose to cling too. Yet there was a side of Chewy that I never saw. Chewy struggled with alcohol and other addictions which is ultimately what probably took his life.
Trusting in those promises, we gathered in the college chapel to remember Chewy's life. The day his funeral was held out of town a nasty North Dakota blizzard blew through the state, so it was good that we were able to gather together as a community to remember this young man. As we mourned this young man's life, it was life-giving to laugh and cry together. I finally began to feel like I was getting some air back in my lungs.
Today, Chewy and I would be about the same age. I wonder what his life would look like if he was still here on this Earth. I wonder if he would be married, with a family. I wonder so much about what might of been. And then I am reminded of the words to one of my favorite Bible verses: "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lords (Romans 14:8)."
My prayer is that by sharing Chewy's story and the story of so many who daily struggle with addictions, mental health issues, etc that perhaps at least one life will be saved. Will you join me in Suicide Prevention Week this week?
This post is dedicated to my college friend Michael "Chewy" Chewakin.
May you continue to rest in peace, friend!
I am linking up with some of my favorites: Holly and Testimony Tuesday, Angie and the RaRa Linkup, Holley and Coffee for your Heart, and Jennifer Dukes Lee and Tell His Story: