Gargoyles to Grace

Many people are trying to process the untimely death – the suicide – of Robin Williams. He is a legendary comedian and actor who I first knew as “Mork from Ork.” California law required a detailed release of how he died. Depression. Hanging. An as of then publicly undisclosed diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Husband. Father. Friend. Loved. I’m not sure it gets any easier with time or that questions are ever answered. I find I’m still in some stage of grieving the suicide of a childhood friend who took his own life just over three years ago.

Steve, Steven, or Stevie. Few were allowed to call him Stevie. I did. Our moms were best friends before we were born. I’m a few months older. His father was absent and therefore was raised only by his mom. Today I would say he was co-parented by my mom and dad. There were always behavioral issues. As children, mom kept a watch over me for his flying toys – hurled without warning. I recall hurling my own plastic bowling pins at him for something. We laughed about it years later.  He was diagnosed as ADHD and was on Ritalin for most of his school years. He could be off the wall and very funny. Hyper-creative at times. His own Mork from Ork impersonations guaranteed a “nanu nanu” and a “shazbot” now and again.

On and off, he and his mom attended the same church with my family. He participated in Youth Group at church. Sometimes there were emotional outbursts with other kids and adult leaders. In the church parking lot, my parents thought once he tried to run me down with his car. On occasion he would drive circles around the block around my house. In later years, he always offered his opinion on anyone me or my sister dated – or married. He worked for some time in the Renaissance Festival circuit. But, he was mostly unemployed and on disability. Issues with authority figures. You never new what to expect. Confrontational at home throughout his life. Occasional threats to end his life.

He threw himself into working for the local historical society. One of my last memories is of helping him with an exhibit. The historical society came into possession of a few Gone With the Wind items of historical significance. Stevie called to ask if I would mind loaning some of my collection to fill out the exhibit for a weekend. Realizing I’d become detached from owning this collection, I quickly agreed to help him. I packed up some items and left them with him for a couple weeks. I attended the exhibit. It was very nice.

Mom called me at work one afternoon – “We have a problem. Stevie’s gone. He’s dead.” – she whispered the last two words. He had gone to the historical society alone with a researched plan. Plastic wrap and nitrous oxide. He didn’t come home when expected and another historical society member found him – seated on a sofa – gone. He had recently turned 45 years old. I remember scouring Facebook for his last posts and trying to remember our last interactions. I was thankful for the GWTW exhibit collaboration. His mother wanted my sister and I to speak at the grave side service. I remember looking out at people – relatives – many of whom had their own troublesome history with him. I wasn’t always kind to him. I was even hateful at times. I said I would miss him and I cried. I looked at his mom and I meant it – the words and the tears.

The last Christmas present I remember getting from him is “The Dedo” – a small replica of a sweet faced gargoyle from the top of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Legend has it that it was carved by the nun “Marie Therese” from Provence. She didn’t like the evil faced gargoyles and carved this one instead. She slipped into the Cathedral and placed on the highest point “closest to God.” The Little Way of love. Shortly after Stevie’s death, my parents, sister and I went to visit with his mom. It was my job to look around the house and the computer to see if there was anything left behind – perhaps a note. I slowly walked through the house. All the places he spent most of his time. The attic where he retreated to smoke. The computer desk. His room in disarray. Relics of the troubled spirit. As I looked around the house and the shelves, there among his collections was another Dedo – exactly like the one he’d given me. I picked it up and held it for a few moments. I left it there.

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Sometimes I go through my shelves looking for chotskies I can give away. I pick up my little Dedo gargoyle and think of Stevie. I wonder why he didn’t call me or reach out in any way. I just wonder “why?”

Shazbot.

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Knowing A Job

I’ve been attending a Sunday morning Bible study on the book of Job.  “Why do bad things happen to good people?,” — a question we ask of ourselves.   My family knows a Job.  I cannot think of one without the other.  I’ll just call this person “Job” as I continue to share some of his story.

My mom knew Job when he was much younger and she was his baby sitter.  His parents were friends of my grandparents and they attended a Baptist church together.  When I was seven to twelve years old, my dad traveled in a Southern Gospel quartet.  Job was a young man with a wife and young son – near my sister’s age.  Job played guitar in the quartet and his wife had cancer.  Throughout her life, there seemed to be no area of her body untouched by the disease.  We knew them through rounds of chemo and the blessed remission.  During the singing years, there was a long period of remission and they desired to have another child.  The doctors strongly discouraged a pregnancy given that Job’s wife had already undergone much fighting off cancer.  They prayed and sought God for direction — they moved forward with having another child.  She was born beautiful and perfectly healthy – Faith – named for the faith they had in God.

Music ministry thrived as Job would share his testimony of Faith — week to week as we traveled to different churches.  God called Job to preach.  He was ordained and preached wherever he was invited.  He preached revivals.  He is the first preacher I heard preach on the crucifixion and he had researched the details  — he gave a blow by blow account.  It was over twenty years ago and I still remember glimmers of what he said.  The day came that he was offered his first job as Pastor.  I was just around the age twenty-one and I agreed with my parents to move our membership to Pastor Job’s church.  We’d always said we would offer our support.  I slid into another job teaching Sunday School to the Juniors — my sister’s class — and Pastor Job’s son.

Things were well for a time until discussions came up regarding Pastor Job’s desire to be full time rather than part time.  This coincided with cancer returning to his wife.  A small group of people desired to call at all hours and pass around by his house to see how he was spending his time.   His wife was sick from chemo and none of them offered concern.  Pastor Job would never say anything but my parents found out.  It became a dividing line in the church.  Pastor Job’s family was unfairly harassed by a small few who didn’t want to vote for a full time salary.  None would know that this was the battle with cancer that his wife would not win.  Pastor Job was voted out of the church and, within the year, his wife died of cancer.   I’ve always known that ‘church people’ can be some of the worst people.  One or two sheepishly came to offer apology.

Buried in hospital bills, Job seemingly moved forward for a few years.  His will for preaching was damaged.  There was still his son and his daughter, Faith.  She was seven when her mom died.  Faith excelled in school and grew into a beautiful teenager — a high school cheerleader.  She began to complain of headaches and her vision was checked.  Vision was not the answer and tests continued.  My parents were updated on a regular basis and we prayed for Faith.  The awful diagnosis came — a brain tumor.  Not much hope was offered and it was terminal.  It was shared that Job had to tell her it was “okay to go — if you see your mother or your grandmother  — it is okay to go with them.”  At the funeral, a stream of high school friends processed in to each place a flower — crying.  I could barely contain my own sobs.  Job got up to speak at the funeral.  Job’s Faith — his testimony for so long — was gone.  What God once gave has now been taken.  Only God knows the “Why?” on everyone’s heart.

Over the years after that, Job was occasionally in touch with my parents — talking about the past — still trying to understand.   You don’t know what to say.  You don’t understand.  You don’t really know how he feels.  The call came just within the last couple years — Job died.  There were health complications.  Maybe the will was gone.  Still broken.

Maybe the real Job of this story is the son.  The son who would occasionally call my parents and talk about the past — trying to understand what happened at that church — why everyone turned on his family.  His family is all gone now.  We connect on Facebook like everyone does these days.

He says he can’t complain about life.

He just posted a video of a song that his dad said always reminded him of his mother.