When my son, Seth, was in fourth grade, he began attending a new school. My quiet nine-year-old took a leap of faith, trusting his parents’ wisdom, and walked into a classroom filled with strange faces. Within the first few weeks, he met a boy who was quiet, soft spoken, and intelligent. As I remember the burgeoning friendship of these two boys, I’m reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis: “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.’”
I imagine these two boys locking eyes during a rowdy dodge-ball game or a crowded, noisy meal in the cafeteria and thinking, “What! You too?” Seth and Carter were kindred spirits. Their friendship grew over the next five years. From many sleepovers to shared classes to paintball games to their first homecoming dance, the boys walked out of childhood and into adolescence together. This relationship taught my boy about friendship; it also taught him about loss.
When Seth was fourteen years old, he lost his friend to suicide. Eighteen months later, it is still painful to type the words. I remember sending my son off to high school that Tuesday morning, looking so grown up, and seeing him walk up the sidewalk only an hour later looking like a lost little boy. His face twisted in confusion, and his eyes pleaded for me to make sense of the news. There was no sense to make. His friend was dead.
The last exchange between these two friends was a text message sent from my son that morning: “Where are you? You’re going to be late.” It was never read.
The week after Carter’s death it snowed, and our life seemed cocooned by the white blanket covering our city. Schools were out; roads were undisturbed. Our family gathered in tightly. During the day I watched Seth closely, and during the nights, I paced our still, shadowed home. Often I stood outside Seth’s bedroom door, staring at his sleeping figure, listening for his breath. Some nights I prayed, but most nights I stood there and wept. Of course, I cried for the loss of Carter, but I also cried for my son.
Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.” With the death of his friend, the innocence of Seth’s childhood shattered into a million pieces.
This shattering isn’t unique to my son. At some point, we all experience a loss of innocence. There comes a time when we realize that life isn’t the Eden we imagined. Often this loss involves family or our closest friends, whether through their betrayal, sickness, or death.
For me, the shattering came when I was twenty years old. After finishing my college exams, I came home to the news that a dear friend had died in a car wreck. My world tilted and spun off its axis, and the following days were spent sleepwalking through final goodbyes. Afterward, I began visiting his gravesite when I went home for holidays. I would stand and stare at the etching on the tombstone, trying to reconcile his name with the reality of his death.
Last February my husband and I visited Carter’s grave for the first time since his funeral. A year had passed, so we had to search for his grave, no longer freshly dug. Grass had sprouted, and a marble headstone marked the spot. I stared at it, at his name, and at the small patch of earth that held his physical remains. I wondered how a year had passed already, how we had survived that first week, and how my son had shown such resilience in the face of such loss.
When Seth walked in the door that February morning, numb with the news, the only thing I knew to do was pray joy over his heart and his memories of his precious friend. Joy continued to be our prayer in the days and months to come – a preservation of joy, a return of joy, constant reminders of joy. And, as I’ve watched Seth live his life and bravely enter into new friendships, I’ve seen those prayers answered.
I know that the loss of his friend to suicide will not be the only tragedy my son endures. Oh, how I wish it were so! In this life, however, Seth will risk and he will fail; he will trust and he will be betrayed; and he will love and he will lose. There is hope, though. Because of the darkness, the light shines brighter. Because of the loss, love is more sweet. Because of the grief, joy is more profound.
One of Seth’s favorite writers, J.R.R. Tolkien, explained, “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” Yes, Seth, it indeed grows the greater.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.