The night the tears began

It is a tragedy of tragedies—a teen takes his own life.

No. It can't be.

But it is. I stand numbed by the sight of my 16-year-old son on the landing of our stairwell, looking down at me with wide eyes, and saying, "I'm sorry, Dad. I love God. I'm sorry." A small spot of blood on his shirt belied the massive damage to his lungs done by a tiny bullet that had pierced through his chest, explaining the loud bang I had heard from his room just seconds before. He continued down the steps, allowing me to strip off his T-shirt.

I barely remember how I laid Nathan down on my lap in the living room while his older brother called 9-1-1. I was given about a minute of consciousness to speak the words of forgiveness I had always wanted to be able to speak to my sons or daughter in a moment of need. I had privately pictured speaking the words if I discovered that one of them was using drugs or had conceived a child while unwed or was arrested for drunk driving. "Jesus loves you. He died for your sins. You are completely forgiven and clean in his eyes. You have everlasting life. Believe in him." Something close to that.

Never did I dream I would be reaching for these words to comfort a son who was dying by his own hand.

His mother by this time was standing, uncomprehending, on the stairwell stained by his blood. No words, just shock.

Soon his eyes rolled back in an unconscious blank, and his life flowed out. "He's gone," I said, hardly aware that I was speaking. A hand touched my shoulder—a police officer, gently asking us to get up and go into the next room.

The next hours brought questioning at the police station while officers ascertained that this was indeed a suicide. Nathan's mother and brother and I, separated for a while, now sit senseless in a room together in the middle of the night. We pray; a psalm echoes within, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear. . . ." (46:1,2). We talk and cry. Could this have been an accident? Maybe Nathan had been caught up in a moment of insanity, a whirl of teenage emotions and hormones. Maybe he was just toying with the thought of hurting himself and something went terribly wrong.

A door opens, and an officer enters and sits with us. "We found a journal," he says quietly. "It sounds like he had been planning to commit suicide about a month ago already." No accident. No pretending. He wanted his life to be over.

Oh God, what have I done? My boy is dead. This can't be happening, can it? Isn't this all a horrid dream? Oh, please be over soon. I want my life back. Oh God, please, wake me up.