It feels like a violation of sorts to write about sad things during this time of year when we are celebrating the moment the world changed forever, the moment hope came down. While the notion of hope is not lost in the thickness of the sorrows that still cling to us, I recognize that this time of year, for many reasons, presents a heaviness that can’t be ignored.
I should preface all I am to say by clearly stating that these words are my own and I would never assume the responsibility of speaking for my family as a whole. We are each on a different journey and mine, like theirs, is unique.
This December marked two years since the death of my brother-in-law Isaac. While December 10th will always be a day of deep sorrow, I found that this year caught me off guard. This December 10th hit me like a freight train. Why? I can’t say. Grief is confusing and suicide is complicated. The week preceding the terrible day brought with it a thick fog of anxiety and sadness. Although many of the reasons are plain: A young widow; three amazing yet fatherless children; the loss of a son, a brother, and a friend, my thoughts were drawn to those who may not have considered themselves particularly “close” to Isaac, but are still treading the waters of grief. My thoughts were drawn to those in this community, in my community, who are still struggling. I count myself among them.
Over the past month I read several blogs, written by people who attended the church Isaac pastored. The blogs were reflections of the sadness, anger, and confusion that still exist two years later. I read a note on a Facebook group from a woman who is still so deeply grieved that she admits hardly being able to speak of him. My heart is with these members of my community. I appreciated their honesty and their courage as they admit struggle and hurt. I grieve with them. On December 10th I was praying for all those who are still walking through this sorrow, those whose faces and names I may not know. Those who feel like they should “be over it” because they “weren’t even that close to him.”
There is no such thing as getting over a sadness such as this. It becomes a part of us. It can become a part that strengthens us and matures us, or it can become a part that breaks us down, little-by-little, stone-by-stone. This choice is ours. If we choose the former, it will be work but it will be worth it. We will have to submit ourselves to the pain in order to be refined by it. We should not have to make this terrible choice, but we can’t escape it. If we run or hide or distract from the grief, then we have made the alternative choice and the pain will be wasted only to return when we are least expecting it. The worst part about grief is that it has a key to our house. It will show up unexpectedly any time it chooses, acting like it owns the place.
The reason I have chosen to write this is because, whether he preferred it or not, I am a part of Isaac’s family. I am a “Hunter.” I felt prompted to break the seal on how we are (I am) doing because I believe we owe those who have cared for and prayed for our family the respect of sharing our hearts. I must also include that much of the silence on this matter is, in part, a protection for Isaac and Rhonda’s children. They are our first priority in all decisions and communications. They must always know that their father loved them dearly.
I believe the absence of communication may have promoted a perception that we may be further along in this process than we are, a perception that implies either our “faith is so great,” or “we are so emotionally strong,” that we have already come out on the other side. If that perception were reality, where would that leave those who are still grieving? As a part of his family, I want those who are affected by this tragedy to know that they are not alone in their grief. I also want those grieving to know that they are neither weak of faith nor weak of character if they are still struggling. I am struggling too. Sometimes I am furious. Many moments I experience guilt, what-ifs, and a spectrum of alternate endings that play over in my mind like a movie reel.
In the wake of the pain we have experienced, this is what I have chosen: health. The first time I walked into a counselor’s office was after the loss of our warrior-of-a-niece Ava in 2010. I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed a professional, but I knew this caliber of tragedy was above my pay grade. I knew my mental and emotional heath was not something worth risking for the sake of appearing strong. I have been choosing health since then, never going too long without a check-in with a counselor. I feel no shame is sharing that, nor should anybody.
Isaac Hunter was my pastor before he was my brother, and in that role, he helped transform my faith. He communicated Christ’s love in a way I had never experienced. Isaac preached the love, peace, and hope found in Christ. In an age when Christianity is understandably viewed as unappealing, my Reverend Brother presented the beauty and the poetry and the acceptance that is inherent in the gospel. Yet what he chose in his own life left much to reconcile with the idea of grace—a topic he spoke on with great passion and frequency. The crisis of faith, the confusion, and the discouragement that has come with this loss has been completely overwhelming at times.
If you are still reeling from this great loss, what will you choose? Please never feel like you are unworthy of being greatly affected by Isaac’s death simply because you feel you knew him little. The role of a pastor in our lives is profound and personal. His significance in your life should not be disregarded. Do you feel like others are moving on and you are still grieving? That is normal. You are normal. I feel that way also. It feels unfair, for we did not choose for this to be a part of our story. But we must make our own choice now, considering the content of this unexpected chapter, which has been crudely shoved into the middle of our lovely little conflict-free novella. What are we going to do?
I am inspired by Oswald Chambers’ statement in My Utmost for His Highest, “If you will receive yourself into the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people.” But we must receive ourselves. It will be painful to start and the process may be lengthy. Unfortunately there is no quick fix when it comes to grief. We are forced to go through the awful process. Perhaps it is time to take the first brave step into a counselor’s office. Perhaps you will join a grief group. Does your church have one? If not, you may be the catalyst for bringing a much-needed resource into your community. Are you thinking, “All those things seem great for other people?” If so, you have just completely my one-item assessment that reveals that you need them the most.
This blog may be, at best, personal catharsis, but I hope it encourages someone. I hope someone feels less lonely or more brave because of it. We are preparing to celebrate the hope that came down heal this world. It is a beautiful story of redemption. I am hoping to one day look back and see that story echoed in our family. That chapter has yet to be written so I will continue on through this one, page by page, all the while praying for healing for our family and all those affected by this loss.
Peace and love,