We weren’t good friends. We were too different to be close. But we worked together, traveled together. There was no getting away from him.
I guess that sort of made us friends.
He drank too much and smoked too much. He did harder stuff nobody knew about. But his personality was inviting. He could make friends with a doorknob.
He’d grown up tough on the outskirts of Atlanta. As a boy, he learned to play guitar, and he picked the hell out of it. It took him places.
He was close with his mother. She came to his gigs. She never missed, she’d sit front-row.
She killed herself before he was full-grown. After her funeral, he spiraled downward.
When we worked together, he was trying to get his life together. He had a new wife, a new daughter. Both were blonde with curls. He wrote songs about them.
He started going to church, he even joined a Bible Study.
Once, we worked in North Carolina for a week. Asheville. It was late spring. Jacket weather. We had the daytime to ourselves so we went for drives—he couldn’t sit still for longer than a cigarette.
We landed on twelve-hundred mountainous acres that belonged to Billy Graham himself. I drove, he took in scenery. It was the first time I’d known his mouth to run quiet.
A chapel sat on a rocky hill. We stopped. The building was unlocked and empty. Wood floors, maple pews. Billy Graham’s picture was on the wall.
“You reckon Billy Boy ACTUALLY preaches here?” he said.
The chapel had a postcard view, overlooking God’s country.
“You think people who kill themselves go to heaven?” he finally asked.
“No doubt in my mind.”
He spoke of his mother. He was past the crying stages, and he wasn’t angry, either. In fact, he seemed a little hopeful.
He told me about his ambitions, he had several. He wanted to be a songwriter. He wanted to quit playing crummy out-of-state gigs. He wanted to be somebody that made his daughter proud.
He said, “Let’s promise each other, one day, when we’ve finally hit our strides, we’ll mention each other.”
A lot has changed. I’ve grown. He went one way. I went mine. Like I said, we weren’t close.
Yesterday, I took out the garbage. I found a newspaper in the recycle bin. It was several weeks old. A picture of a familiar face. “In memory of…” it began. It was an overdose, I heard. Accidental.
He deserved more than forty-five words in the Daily News. So here are a few he wrote a lifetime ago for his Bible study:
“It’s about love,
It’s about grace,
And all the mercy heaven has for a human race,
Make me like a child.”
I still believe those who kill themselves go to heaven.
Carol DeLater - February 24, 2017 2:32 pm
There are a lot of tormented souls. Some can’t find their answers. If you commit suicide you won’t go to HEAVEN? Who thought that one up. It only takes crap like that to send a person in the other direction. MINE? My mother was mentally ill. Lived her entire life in another world, from her pregnancy with me until her death, A nun had the audacity to tell a Bible Study class I sat through that people in mental institutions just did not have faith. If they should trust in the Lord. Some words you just cannot forget. Or get over.
Traci Rushakoff - February 24, 2017 2:50 pm
Thank you for this story! My older brother took his own life at age 49. It was only 5 years ago, but it feels like a whole lifetime has passed. He was almost always a troubled soul and it only got worse as he aged. It galls me to no end when people say that people who commit suicide do not go to heaven. In my view, any person who goes to those lengths is a very ill person and not in their right mind. What compassionate God would condemn a person who is sick? Thank you again! I needed this today.
Sue Watson - February 24, 2017 4:00 pm
As the daughter of a suicide victim, I thank you. I was days shy of sixteen when he picked up the shotgun and put down his life.
53 years later, when I dream of Heaven, and old women do, I don’t see him there. Maybe it’s my myopia.
Teri Conrad - February 24, 2017 4:07 pm
The past two weeks have been filled with sadness about friends that I know passing away. I’m sorry to hear about your former co-worker. Prayers go out to his family. Despite not being close friends, these things still affect us. My condolences.
Sandy - February 24, 2017 5:56 pm
When my brother died ‘tragically’, I was trying to get to grips with this, knowing some of my people and friends thought very negatively about this… (Job’s friends)
But another friend I am ever grateful for said, ‘For some people, God is the only One they feel will accept them.’
And I knew He did.
Michael Bishop - February 24, 2017 9:49 pm
Your last line? Ditto.
Dave Geraci - February 25, 2017 2:37 am
I’ve never posted a comment before, but through the mist in my eyes I will now.
Mom, I know we had our issues but I love you and I will see you in heaven one day.
Thank you Sean.
Teri Butler - February 25, 2017 4:34 am
No one wants to commit suicide. It’s just that pain and confusion can only be held at bay for so long. It’s complete foolishness or stupidity to imagine this desire for relief could keep someone out of Heaven. All ye who are weary and heavy-laden, come unto me. And we do.
Doug Crews - May 2, 2017 11:23 am
A friend of mine committed suicide. He was very troubled, no one knew how much. I believe he went to heaven!
Sandra - May 2, 2017 1:41 pm
I do believe you’re right.
Benjie Floyd - May 2, 2017 2:24 pm
Sean, do we have a choice? Thanks for what you do.
Marvette Fuller - May 2, 2017 2:59 pm
Sean, I read everything you post on facebook and absolutely love all of your stories and share them with family and friends. You have such great insight into the small things of life. Many times small details are the things that are so important and are also so often over-looked. Thank you for sharing! Love your work/ Keep it coming.
Anthony - May 2, 2017 9:45 pm
The Lord knows the heart. It’s not about what we do that keeps us out of heaven…it’s about the Lord we know who in spite of ourselves honors his commitment to us to bring us home…no matter what.
jeff ready - May 3, 2017 12:25 pm
I think it is foolish for anyone to decide what GOD would or will do!
Deanna - May 3, 2017 12:25 pm
God loves all his children, I believe you are right!
Charaleen Wright - April 9, 2019 3:59 am