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If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over. Grief is existential testimony to the worth of the one loved. That worth abides. So I own my grief. I do not try to put it behind me, to get over it, to forget it. I do not try to disown it…it is a love-song. Every lament is a love-song.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son
December 22, 2020
Over the past several years, I fell into a pattern of praying as I walked to work. I usually prayed out loud, lowering my voice as people neared my path. I tried to be discrete, but I must have looked like a crazy person at times.
My daily devotional usually involved praying the ACTS prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, perfectly timed for my 16-minute morning ramble. My prayer walks had been a blessing to me these past several years as I grappled with the realities of beloved family member battling clinical depression. These prayers tethered me to God through some difficult times.
Two months ago, my wife and I lost our beloved 19-year-old son, Auggie, to suicide. In the time since, I have tried to continue my prayer walks, although I admit that I now struggle to authentically find my way through all four stages of ACTS.
Still reeling from Auggie’s unfair and sinister death makes “adoration” a particularly tough sell for my grieving brain. Intellectually, I am capable of adoring God, of marveling at creation, of rejoicing in the belief that my beautiful boy now resides in the warm embrace of a loving Savior. Viscerally, however, I’m not quite there. At my worst, I fear that I may be comforting myself with a fairy tale. Or I harbor festering resentment toward God for allowing depression this dark, cruel victory.
My battling boy suffered so much for so long but had also come so far. Ironically, my wife and I found ourselves living in hope this past year. In many ways, Auggie was doing better than he had in years, often full of promise and passion for the future. Adoring the God who allowed my son to die understandably seems false or disingenuous at times, but I try. I once heard a sermon on the topic of balancing faith with doubt. The minister advised her congregation to “fake it till you make it.” I’m wearily striving to “make it” to adoration. I often fall short.
Prayers of “confession” come easily from my dark heart brimming with regrets and guilt. I also comfortably fall into prayers of “supplication.” Begging God for relief and forgiveness does not require a lot of effort from the depths of despair. Simply put, desperate prayers of “I’m sorry” or “help me” play on a loop in my addled brain. I’m not sure if these prayers reach far beyond self-pity or selfishness, but I pray them anyway.
That leaves prayers of “thanksgiving.” Similar to confession and supplication, this third stage of the ACTS’s prayer fills the void quickly if not easily. A pattern emerges as I strive to give thanks, to express gratitude on my morning walk. First, I experience the persistent realization of thankfulness for the hundreds of acts of kindness directed towards my family since that terrible day two months ago: food, money, a GoFundMe campaign, letters, messages, cards, constant prayers, and more. People can be so kind, and I remain grateful, humbled, and overwhelmed. I see the face of Christ on my neighbors.
This second wave of thanksgiving prayers carries with it cathartic sorrow, for these prayers bring Auggie back to me. As I walk through a rhythm of prayers of thanksgiving, exquisite memories of my son lovingly assault me. When I pass by a long-abandoned toy box in my house’s front entry way, I see Auggie’s smiling ten-year old self clutch his favorite possession at the time — an NFL size football perpetually affixed to his hand through a solid year of elementary school.
As I step out the front door of my house, my muscle memory vicariously relives the thousands of passes I tossed his way in the city park across the street; he always craved one more chance at a diving catch. As I pass by the playground where Auggie practically lived in the summer months of childhood, memories of his delightfully obsessive love for Star Wars, light sabers, Yoda, and cosmic underdogs joyfully stab at me.
Triggered by these visual cues, the gates of gratitude open wider as I walk. I revel in memories of Auggie’s capacity for deep joy when eating Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, or watching a great film, or consuming a challenging book. I smile as I recall the way he would angrily thump the arm-rest of his seat in our minivan during long car trips when a character in a book made a poor decision. “No,” he would shout to no one in particular; he so wanted love and justice and a release from suffering for everyone, even the misguided fictional characters in the hundreds of books he passionately devoured.
I shake with laughter remembering the way a toddler Auggie would loudly cackle when his brothers told silly jokes or when he witnessed slapstick humor in some random movie. His laugh cured everything. I bawl when reliving the sensation of how the house literally vibrated from the soulful, mournful, masterful bellows of Auggie playing whole notes on his tuba; he dutifully practiced for an hour every single day.
I reminisce at Auggie’s shockingly perceptive teenage insights into the movies, theatre, music, and philosophy. He loved art and ideas so much. I fondly summon up his challenging yet endearing questions about faith and religion that he bravely asked during sermon discussions at our little church; he lived his life as a seeker of truth.
As I walk and pray, these and dozens of other delicate memories flood my mind and invariably cause my tender voice to crack and my body to shake. Through the grief, I find myself so grateful for the privilege of knowing Auggie and for the opportunity to witness his pure and sincere passion for life.
I’ve honestly never known anyone like him. He was, as one friend recently called him, a treasure. I worry that these walking waves of sobs may disturb bystanders who cross my path, but I pray on. These thanksgivings may not be soothing or comfortable, but they persist as vital and holy. They resonate through the universe as primeval celebrations of a beautiful life. And they are all I have of him now.
Auggie died three months ago tomorrow. Today, December 22, should have been his 20th birthday. While angry and devastated by the loss, my family strives this day to celebrate his birth, the precious gift of his life. I am so grateful that I got to know Auggie Hubbard and be his Dad.