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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.
Thank you for this great and painful gift. I will pray for him this week. I pray for those who have died (as prayer crosses time as much as space). For Auggie.
Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing. If I close my eyes I can still see preschool Auggie wiggling in close for story time and seeing his face change expression with each event in the book. Thank for for entrusting him to me for the school year.
May God continue to provide His strength, comfort, and peace to you, April and your boys.
Thank you, Dr. Bob.
He was a beautiful soul, and I am grateful to say I knew him.
Simple words say it best: “Thank you, Robert; thank you.” And thanks be to God for you. Your words prompt me to pray.
Thanks, Robert, for a thoughtful and heartfelt article. My heart goes out to you in the loss of your son. So many questions, so many doubts, and even some hopes. What is reality? I’m thinking that perhaps you have written this article in search of some answers, insight, or even hope. Many people, even Christians, can build a world of hope out of catastrophe. We rationalize, we make excuses, even for God, as to what and why and how things could have been. And yet nothing changes the reality. Of all the worlds that could have been for your son, or my sons and daughter, we get what we get. All the “if only’s” doesn’t change anything.
And somehow we put God front and center. With so much potential, and a nudge from God, here or there, our children, our lives, our family, our society could be so different. But the reality seems to be that God turns his back toward some and turns his face toward others with no rhyme or reason. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that God is not the personal God that most Christians make him out to be. He’s not personally involved in everyone’s life, at least not to the extent that Christians contend for, despite what the Bible might indicate. Reality argues against such involvement. It does no good to put God in the forefront. It does no good and offers little comfort by trying to explain God for what has happened in life or death. And it offers so much more comfort when we stop trying to explain or justify God. Thanks again, Robert, for sharing yours and your son’s story, for sharing your love story.
The book Lament for a Son is an excellent book. The one I read and agree with more than the other pile of books on grieving. From Wolterstorff we are given permission to grieve. I imagine he went through what you are going through and writes it down with his unique Christian understanding of the world. So grieve and express it as you have. Christians have a lot to learn from you.
I sobbed reading this, Bob.
So poignant and aptly said. I am holding you and April in my heart today. These vivid memories are so beautiful. I’m praying for strength to bear this loss and for moments of comfort in the arms of your family.
Thank you for sharing this painful time. It puts many things into perspective.
I didn’t know Auggie, and I don’t know you – but I grieve with you in the loss of your Treasure. May God provide comfort to you today. Thanks so much for sharing his story.
Thank you Bob for sharing this.
Thank you! Today marks the day my husband died 15 years ago. We need to remember, grieve and give thanks.
The rest is silence. Thank you Bob.
Thanks for this and my deep sympathies for your loss. All of our loss, really. We are all less because of Auggie’s death and what that has taken from us, the contributions he would have made. Who he was and who he would have been. Your honesty in the face of his death is compelling. As good as ACTS is, I’m not sure it makes sense in a situation like this. Despair, lament, anger spill out of those ACTS buckets pretty easily. Hang in there. I’ll say a prayer for you and all who loved Auggie. I get a email from Nick Cave. Maybe you know him, Bob? His son died too, and Nick writes about it now and then. See, for example, https://www.theredhandfiles.com/hard-sometimes-to-keep-going/ Peace.
Thank you Bob for sharing your personal journey of grief. Our prayers continue for your family.
Thanks for your wisdom and transparency in this reflection. May your disciplined 17 minutes of walking prayer become a time of healing and discovering God’s grace in an experience of loss that most of us cannot even imagine.
To my precious son, Bob, as you grieve the untenable loss of your precious son and our grandson, Auggie. Thank you Bob.
Thank you for your vulnerability, awareness and honesty. I continue to pray for courage, strength, perseverance and so much more.
I am so very sorry for his death and remember many of the same feelings when my sister’s husband took his life (leaving four children) and again when she died of brain cancer 15 years later – which brought it all back again.
But, you are doing everything right in talking about him and in speaking of your love of him and feelings of despair, confusion, & sadness. Feel what you feel. Show your emotion, because someone out there will be freed to speak of the suicide in their own family and may the God who loved your son so very much be with you and your family.
Thank you, Bob.
This a beautiful love-song tribute to your son. I want you to know that I am walking a near similar path. My son Paul was killed in a car accident on 11-19-14 – just 6 days before his 23rd birthday. A semi truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and rammed into his vehicle in rush hour traffic. The 6 years since his death have been incredibly difficult. it has taken years to be able to walk by his room without tearing up. The “wound” of losing my son will never heal. But I have learned to live without him and to allow myself to be happy and to especially enjoy those things that Paul and I did together. I hope and pray that one day you too will be able to find this same joy in life. Allow yourself time to grieve.
Prayers for you and your family. Would be honored to learn more about Auggie. Feel free to reach out me if you just need someone to talk to that “gets it”.
Thank you, Bob. Your words are hard but beautiful. They do justice to your mourning and your love. Thanks for sharing them with us.
Thank you for your reflection. I have known and wrestled with grief, but not like yours. The honesty is piercing, touching our hearts. You have gifted us.
We too lost our son to depression. As you say, so much suffering. Our loss was 18 years ago and it’s taught us a lot, how to grieve, how to work our way back to realizing that God loves us (and our son), but no answers to the whys only trust in the God who loves us that he was willing to send his son. We stand with you in your suffering and look forward to the time when every tear will be wiped away.