The men in my life part 1: Matt

Matt’s daughter killed herself last week. When I listened to him on the phone today, I felt such terror that I had to monitor my breathing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate. My terror came from my awareness that there was next to nothing I could offer that would make things even a tiny bit better.

Matt is my opposite in many ways. Most notably, he’s Christian and ultraconservative. Yet, he’s also a gentle and patient man who is out somewhere, helping someone, everyday.

I had a big tree cut down recently, and I decided to give it to two friends. One of those friends was Matt. He had been splitting wood for hours before he mentioned that he didn’t really want any; he just wanted to help me out by splitting it. I informed him that the ten cords he had in his shed would only last him a couple of years, and so he was jolly well going to take some wood home. He said he would give it to his daughter. She died the next day.

I feel so very small right now, and Matt’s grief is so very big. I haven’t known him that long or that well, but I like and respect him, and I’ve learned from experience that it’s not necessarily our closest friends who stand by us the best through hard times. Also, grief is something that I’ve always felt both honored and honor bound to embrace despite the times I’ve given even less than the little that I had to give.

Given my atheism—and assuming that you know something of the Bible—you might guess that my favorite book is Ecclesiastes. I sometimes wonder how it got into the Bible because the author’s conviction that life lacks objective meaning—that is, a god-given meaning—is completely out of harmony with the rest. This is Chapter 7, Verse 12:

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”

Fifty years after I first read Ecclesiastes, it occurred to me that I would like to change that verse to:

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for the house of mourning is where you’re most needed.”

If I were to make a list of things that I would like for believers to know about atheists, the first one would be: “To deny god is not to deny the possibility of meaning. Kindness, patience, nobility, a passion for truth, and every other virtue are no less important to atheists than they are to theists. The difference between them is simply that the one attributes our knowledge of right and wrong to god, and the other to the social evolution of the species to which we owe our existence.”


The Elephant's Child said...

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for the house of mourning is where you’re most needed.”

That sentence hit home. And I suspect you would be a wonderful person to have around at such a dreadful time, because you would not be telling your friend how he 'should feel', but allowing him to express whatever it is that he is feeling. Which is going to change from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour.

I don't think that there is anything anyone can say at such a time which will ease the pain one iota. There are however a lot of things which will make it worse. None of which I can imagine you saying.

Thinking of you, and of Matt and his family (which also doesn't change anything).

Natalie said...

oh. What a blow.

'Spirituality is not about a particular group's teachings and doctrines. It is about the values, ethics, and the deepest experience of the individual, not the theological dogma of the clump.'
Neale Donald Walsch.

I am sending Matt all the humanity and love I can muster. We all know that beautiful humans don't necessarily have a god to worship.xx

kylie said...

your goodness shines even more than usual here.

please let matt know that i am praying for him.

and i want you to know that i totally believe in your ability to make a difference for matt


Elisabeth said...

It's a devastating thing when a loved one commits suicide, Snow. It sends ripples through all of us. It's hard to know how to respond.

It's hard just to be there. But maybe that's all you can do for your friend. Be there.

Punk Chopsticks said...

I definitely agree with that last sentence.

I on the other hand, have nothing to give him (because buddhists don't believe in death, only transition) and that just kills me. But I do know about loss and the pain it brings (Not that I can ever understand fully what he's going through)

I wish i were there to offer my condolences. Going to stop here. Everything else I say seems so inconsequential

Mim said...

Your poor friend. You're right in that there is nothing you can say to lessen his grief. to be there as a friend is all you can do.

Beau's Mom said...

As much as I've been told that I NEED to pray and ask God's guidance: Pray and ask the holy spirit to give me a relationship with god - I've also been hurt by these very same people and have watched them when they're not in their "church personality".

I, on the other hand, am consistently kind and feel hurt when others hurt. I don't have a church personality as a "reason" to love.

For whatever it means, I can walk my walk and not falter. It's just ME.

With no pretense, dear Snow, we love, feel, help, hurt and care without having to label it as being of strong faith.

Sometimes I just wish I could be known as what I am, without people expecting it to be faith driven...then falling short in their eyes when they realize I'm not there for them because of some spiritual sainthood.

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, re your last paragraph, I have never thought otherwise, although some of my fellow "persons of faith" have other opinions and are usually not loath to express them in public.

You and I put on our pants the same way, and we are both subject to the human condition.

Please tell Matt that some people who do not know him are praying for the peace that passes understanding for him and his family during these days.

ellen abbott said...

I'm sorry for your friend. suicide is so inexplicable to the ones left behind.

I'd have to say one of my big beefs with religion is their co-opting of morals. As if unless you believe in their version of god you are incapable of any moralistic behavior. I don't think it takes a god to tell us that murder is wrong and compassion is right.

Charles Gramlich said...

So awful. I'm very sorry for your friend, and for what you have gone through as well. I can't, or don't want to imagine this horror.

That corgi :) said...

I feel for your friend, I cannot imagine his grief; I will say a prayer for him/family. I know God will be with him in his grief and comfort him in the days ahead, but I know his life will never be the same again. It is interesting about the book of Ecceliastes, won't go into a big sermon about it, but there is lots of good stuff in there about the meaning of life and how worthless it is and how quick it goes; its a favorite of mine because of how he concludes life and its meaning.

I appreciated reading your last paragraph defining between atheist and believer.

Grief is a hard thing to go through, I think we can't deny it and that all of us will grieve someone we dearly love sometime in our lives. Going to help others in their grief, even if just holding their hand and being quiet I think can be an honorable thing to do.

We also need to remember life is indeed so short and to treasure time with family and friends.


Marion said...

I''m so sorry about your friend's loss, Snow. I can't imagine the pain of losing a's almost unimaginable. You're a good friend. In times of grief, I think just being there is all that anyone can do. Life is suffering, that's for sure. xo

"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break." ~William Shakespeare

angela said...

I am so sorry for your friends loss. I lost my brother to suicided 14 years ago and there isnt a day that goes by that I dont think of him. Watch Matt carefully, his feeling of anger, betrayal will come after the grief and loss and being christian it will be worse! I know form painful experience. It lead me to question everythink which I think was the silver lining for me, but for a true untraconservative christian it may just break there soul apart.
wishing him peace.

Lorraina said...

So sorry to hear that Snow and i'm so glad you're there for Matt.

Mad Mind said...

Having lost a child I can understand the loss; however, I lost mine to cancer. My cousin also committed suicide and I've seen what it does to my aunt. It never goes away because she always thinking she should have seen the signs. We all have gone through that.

Tell your friend I am thinking of him. I truly hope that he can find the strength to handle this. He will need it no matter where he finds it.

Just be there for him Snow. If he needs to talk, let him. The biggest thing to let him know is that it's okay to talk about it. Too many people pull away from those who need friendship most in this time. It just isolates them more and they find it more difficult to move forward.

I'm thinking of you too Snow. Hang in there. It's hard being the friend too.

Kittie Howard said...

Hi, Snowbrush! Thanks for stopping by! I'm a Louisiana gal, born in New Orleans, spent my formative years on the farm I write about, am a Geaux Tigers LSU grad and taught in Louisiana's public school system. My husband was a career U.S. Marine so we went where duty took us. After retiring from the Corps, he accepted a position in the business sector here, in Virginia (regular job, not that lobbyist stuff). My siblings and I now own that farm in Louisiana. My husband and I own a lot between New Orleans and Baton Rouge we hope to build on. My grandmother's family has been in what's now Louisiana since 1679. There's a graft from an original pear tree on the farm from that era. My grandfather's side traces back to 1700, with a hit of a bit earlier. We're going to Louisiana for the Christmas holidays. I can't wait. I always burst into tears when I see the Welcome to Louisiana sign. And this is a left of center household. As far as I'm concerned, a closed closet door has more purpose than a closed mind.

BTW, the Christmas story I wrote, "Remy Broussard's Christmas", is layered, a very simple story with some complex stuff for those who SEE.

Hope this explains a bit. I loved your post today.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Snow, so sorry for your friend's loss.

Anonymous said...

How very very devastating for Matt. Sitting here, I feel your smallness in the face of such grief.

You come across as a very humane and compassionate person. So I'm sure your presence in the house of mourning will be much appreciated.

Robin said...

Snow.... this is so sad.... I am saying prayers for Matt, his family.... all I know is that I would want YOU in my corner if tragedy strikes.. being there for a *advice*, just being there is the best and most heartfelt gift a friend can give.
Your words about Believers and Atheists are true...."Kindness, patience, nobility, a passion for truth, and every other virtue are no less important to atheists than they are to theists". I have always believed this.

Sending you any hugs, dear friend,

♥ Robin ♥

ds said...

Oh, I am so sorry for your friend's inconceivable loss. The death of a child is unbearable; suicide increases that unbearability expoentially. I agree with your rewording of Ecclesiastes, and am sure that Matt appreciates your presence even when there are no words.

PhilipH said...

The death of one's child is one of the saddest things. When your child takes his/her own life it is ten times more sorrowful, quite unbearable for many parents.
Nothing can be said to the parent that will help.
My son's best friend Graham took his own life when his first and only girl friend ruined his life by cheating on him. He died alone in his car on Wortham Ling. He was 22. I wept. I had known him for 15years and it was as near to losing a son as makes no difference. A tragedy beyond words.
I hope your friend Matt comes thru as well as possible.

Rubye Jack said...

The best, and really only, thing friends can do to help is to be there, to listen and to care.

Arnab Majumdar said...

I've never read the bible too carefully (being an agnostic), but this particular verse hits hard. Makes you a lot clear headed about what you want to do in life, knowing what's waiting for you at the end...

Arnab Majumdar

julie said...

Hi Snow....I am so sorry for your sorry.

Marion said...

Words are not always necessary at times like this. I found I couldn't listen or hear...I just wanted a warm body somewhere close to me, someone to help me find balance.

Thinking of you, dear Snow..xx

The Tusk said...

The support system That things will get better, has been a failing system for quite some time, a few months back a friend on facebook posted the same story about a friends son, and before that a young child in canada. They all take us by shock and we pause from a short onset of misery. Some of our children leave us from bullying, some from brutality and abuse, some from broken hearts for whatever reason. A disconnect is apparent. I have no advice, no wisdom to aminister, besides Snow doesn't allow me to give advice. He just wants my acceptance into the blogging community. I am glad he still lets me read his blogs and somehow and in someway he knows I have sorrow for his and matts situation. As many of us feel we are helpless in these times. We wish we could have done something to prevent this and these kinds of tragedies.

Kert said...

I know there's nothing I can really do, but I offer my condolences to your friend Matt and his family. It really is a good thing that you are there for him.

And I agree with your last paragraph. Meaning can be found anywhere, not just with God.

Well I wish you good health -- from the other side of the world.

C Woods said...

I love your last paragraph and with your permission, I'd love to copy it to my blog ---with attribution and a link to your blog.

Leave a comment on my blog if that's Ok with you.

C Woods said...

Thanks, Snowbrush

Check it out by clicking

All Consuming said...

Having you in his life at this time will be of some help. You're like that, you help just by being. I feel for Matt. I'm glad you're there. x

Kendal said...

I'm so sorry I missed this post. I've been depressed most of the last 10 or so months ago.

After my big sister died by Suicide almost everyone gave me their sorry's it happened they stopped asking me how I was or if I needed anything. Be there for him in anyway you can. Even if he doesn't want to talk about it or shuts you out.

This way of death is the hardest on we survivors because everyone is afraid of the topic. We feel left alone, and having lost my Mom at 12 we 5 kids lost of Dad emotionally, and often physically.

I love your last paragraph, it's exactly what I say to believers when they ask how I can be moral without God.

I've posted some new art as well as some of what I've been going through since my last post. Take care!