The Death of Roy

My friend Roy died of cancer when I was 14.

He was 16.

There was a funeral at the United Methodist Church and all of us teens who were in the youth group with him sat together and cried in varying degrees, dealing with wretched emotions as our young years both allowed and forced us to. Afterward we gathered in the small living room of the pastor’s home across the parking lot and cried some more. It was genuine but also undeniably chock full of teenage angst and extra helpings of drama–kids processing like they’d seen it done on TV and at the movies…at least those were the general go-to resources for social cues I personally often fell back on.

A couple of weeks later when lives had gone back to normal and everyone had turned to living in regular routines, I asked my dad to drive me to Roy’s family home outside town so I could take some “I’m glad we’ve all gotten through this” flowers to his mother. I had a short speech prepared about how I was an only child just like Roy so we were kind of alike. I’m not sure why I thought that mattered or why it would make the black wind of grief blow in a different direction or with less ferocity.

We pulled into the driveway and I proudly carted my gift up the front porch and knocked.

She answered the door.

Looked wretched.

Ruined.

Older than I remembered.

Snatched the flowers out of my hand and slammed the door.

Welcome to real grief, you naive kid.

She didn’t have to say those words. And of course she didn’t. The air around her spoke them. The atmosphere was made of lead.

You might say my walk back to the car was a bit subdued. And I don’t remember anything about the ride home. From my perspective now as a parent of children, I can imagine my father feeling mighty sorry for me. Maybe he said so and I didn’t hear.

I’m pretty sure Roy was a sincerely nice guy. Which is most likely why I didn’t notice him as much as I noticed the boys who had learned young to leer at girls, ride motorcycles, and to basically contaminate any possibility of honorable interactions while floating around in their laser-focused adolescence. They were magnetized. Roy and his kind were not.

Being overlooked is often the early fate of nice teenagers — they exist on another plane. A better plane. Probably, if Roy had lived, he would’ve continued on his decent path, found an equally decent girl, and had a nice un-messed-up life.

But he didn’t.

That scene on the front porch of Roy’s house lives in a permanent musty alcove in my head and I’ve consulted with the searing memory many times over the years. For a long while it just stung. A door slam is serious business to a young teenager who thought she had it all figured out. Thankfully, over time and space, it began to soften and evolve into not so much harshness but more of a graspable lesson in my mind’s classroom as I learned how to deal with people as they experienced trauma or grief, how not to make assumptions, and how to tread lightly into territory with which I was unfamiliar and inexperienced. My sympathy muscles became stronger and I began to consider the feelings of others in direct contrast to the nauseating drivel I had absorbed from those exemplary daytime soap opera stars and box office idols. (What can I say? My parents worked full time and it was too hot in Arkansas to be outside in the summer afternoons. Ask me anything about All My Children from 1974-1979.)

Friends though, the real deep heart and soul change in my interactions came few years later when I found Jesus. I was one of those who had a trumpets-from-heaven moment on my knees at a little Nazarene altar of prayer sometime during the second verse of Just As I Am. Textbook salvation experience. But it took! And it settled in and rooted deeply and eventually matured. Beginning to live His way with His guidance gave new light and perspective to everything emotional my younger teenage self had clamored for so wrecklessly. Even grief.

Without Jesus the loss of the next one would’ve been impossible to bear.

When a wonderful friend from high school, Max, was killed in a horrific car accident when we were both 20 years old and home from college for the summer, the memory of Roy and his poor suffering mother was still fresh. My feet may as well have been standing on her porch staring at the slammed door while little puffs of dust settled around it. I think maybe I could hear my dad calling me to come back to the car, “right now, Molly.”

In my sorrow for Max I remembered Roy’s mother. In this time of personal loss I knew the terrific grief and helplessness I was feeling at the death of my devoted friend, Max, was nothing . . . NOTHING . . . compared to what his mother was feeling. Knowing Jesus though and learning to see the world through His eyes, I had gained a modicum of empathy and eternal perspective. However, a negative byproduct of my experience with Roy’s mother was that I never reached out to Max’s mother. Maybe she spotted me the multiple times I visited his grave. I hope so.

Growing up is hard.

It doesn’t always seem like it when we compare ourselves to others, but in everyone’s individual ways, growing up is hard.

That weird foggy span of time when a kid is no longer allowed to be a kid but is asked to function in an adult world can be brutal. And the brutal can sneak up from behind without a moment’s notice and suddenly . . . “you are acting like a child. Grow up.” And off you go, headlong into the oblivion of trying to figure it out.

But then the next day you’re a kid again.

Here comes brutal again. “Act your age.”

I guess the point I’m trying to get across is that we can’t ask kids to process like adults. Especially in the realm of grieving and loss. Not only do they not have the capacity to deal with big emotions like adults do, often they have not heard of Jesus or do not understand how comfort can be found in Him. So we take it slowly and gently and patiently with them. If we find ourselves grieving, we do it well in front of them and save the ragged edges for later. That’s not fake — it’s instructional and caring. It models what’s possible.

My own children have witnessed me grieving and it wasn’t always done well. The intentions were honorable though and my hand was outstretched toward heaven the whole time even though my foot slipped occasionally. That’s a sign of humanity, of my pre-heaven self. And I eventually had to tell myself that it was okay that they saw. The desire to live as Christ in us and the looking upward, even when sorrow is more than we can bear, even when all we can see here with our dim vision is bleakness, is what wins the day.

Here are the lyrics for a song I’ve linked below. I like to use actual lyric videos for our deaf and hard of hearing friends, but the lyric videos for this song were not great. So here you go. Lyrics and audio separately. You may have heard this song a zillion times or never. It’s worth a listen. Or a read.

“Look Up Child”

Where are You now
When darkness seems to win?
Where are You now
When the world is crumbling?

Oh I, I-I-I, I hear You say
I hear You say

Look up child, hey
Look up child, hey

Where are You now (where are You?)
When all I feel is doubt?
Oh, where are You now
When I can’t figure it out?

Oh I, I-I-I, I hear You say
I hear You say

Look up child, hey
Look up child, hey
Look up child, hey
Look up child, hey
Look up…

You’re not threatened by the war
You’re not shaken by the storm
I know You’re in control
Even in our suffering
Even when it can’t be seen
I know You’re in control

Oh I, I-I-I, I hear You say
I hear You say

Look up child, hey
Look up child, hey
Look up child, oh-oh-oooh
I hear You say, You say, You say
Look up child, hey
I hear You say, You say, You say
Look up, look up, look up, look up
Look up child, oh-ooh, ooh, oh-oooh…
I hear You say, You say, You say
Look up child, hey
I hear You say, You say, You say
Look up, look up, look up, look up
Look up child
I hear You say, You say, You say
I hear You, I hear You calling my name, oh
Look up child, hey
I hear You say, You say, You say
Look up, look up
Look up child, hey
Look up child, hey
Look up

Looking up.

Looking up.

Looking up.

You don’t often recognize turning points in life because you are too consumed with either enjoying or surviving them. The death of Roy was a spot for me where, at a young age, I turned. It was a slow turn, but it was toward Jesus and my need of Him. There would be other scenes, other mistakes, many missteps and regrets between the time that Roy left and the time I turned my life to Christ, but the compass changed at that time and pointed, albeit shakily, in a different direction. My vision enlarged. And eventually it embraced the concept that “earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal” (see fabulous Crowder song below).

When you get to a certain age (ahem) you can count on more than one hand the people you’ve sent on ahead of you to eternity. Some of us have sent more than we care to.

The more loved ones who slip away to heaven the more porous the ground feels under my feet. Like I have to be careful where I walk now because the earth isn’t exactly reliable and I’ll fall through some crack if I don’t pay close attention.

Of course we wouldn’t want our old dear ones to linger in misery when they themselves hunger for their greater home. If disease has wracked the body of a family member we stroke our panicked inner voice with the knowledge that comfort awaits. Sometimes sudden circumstances infiltrate themselves into a perfectly wonderful, young life to cause death for someone dear to our hearts which tears our souls into little bitty pieces. It is always wretched to see anyone go, one way or another. It messes with the workings of our gears and cogs. It requires us to reset. To recalibrate. We are burned down into an ash heap and have to reassemble ourselves. I don’t like it. And what I really don’t like is that I’m getting good at it.

But dear ones, we look up don’t we?

There is more to life than death. There is beauty in the future. There is hope.

Redemption.

Life.

Goodness.

And there are ones looking at us to learn how to cope.

Legacies are sometimes later than expected in their realization. I owe a retroactive debt of thanks to Roy and his family, Max and his family, and others whom I’ve watched grieve. It is a unifying human experience we would do well to acknowledge and help our young ones know how to process when the day comes that they face the burden themselves. And they will. Teach them well.

The death of Roy.

It changed my life.

Much love,

~~Molly~~

P. S. Do you ever wonder what people would say about you if you died today? In their remembrances of you? Those thoughts occasionally cross my mind. I hope it’s a little deeper than, “You could really count on Molly to always clean out her lint trap.”

In the Gospel of John we read the words of Jesus when He spoke to His disciples about His own death and their upcoming grief. Below are those words:

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16:16-24

3 thoughts on “The Death of Roy

  1. Molly, this is so real! My teen experience with death was the direct opposite. In August, following my high school graduation, as I was excited about all things college, my 13-year-old brother drowned. Norm was the only teen friend who came to see me, which was good, but o how I yearned for just one of my girlfriends to come & tell me how sorry they were. You did the right thing. You tell me you are not a writer. I beg to differ with you. This is a treasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Molly, I sure miss you! What an extraordinary insight you have shared through this blog! You get it right, believe me. I will forever remember your kindness and love when you showed up on our doorstep in January after the death of our precious grandson. Your food offering was so gratefully received, but more than that was the knowledge that someone truly cared. Please keep writing and being you. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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