Please be aware that this post contains graphic descriptions. If you have experienced losing someone to suicide, finding their body and are not yet healed, stop reading. You don’t need this additional pain in your life. This is, however, a significant part of my journey. This is part of how I got here . . . to this house and my love for women struggling with substance abuse disorders. Some names have been changed. Thanks for reading.
December 2nd, 2016
The events of this day have faded. But as I pulled up old emails to prepare to write this
blog post, they came rushing back. Doug and I standing outside the trailer, wondering why we hadn’t seen Caleb all day. Doug saying he wanted to trust that nothing was wrong and that he was going to go have lunch. Us pausing and deciding that something just didn’t feel right. Trying the door. Opening it and calling his name. There was a diagonal view into the room Caleb was using as a bedroom. He was laying on the bed, unresponsive.
The back story here is that Caleb came to us looking for a place to get clean, knowing we would require him to work hard on the farm, that he might rediscover himself and maybe find peace from the demons chasing him. He came in the midst of withdrawing. He was sick and tried to pass it off as the flu. We, being inexperienced and desiring to love, chose to believe him. Offering supplements, bone broth . . . Caleb later confessed in a group meeting that he was sorry he had deceived us.
Things went pretty well. Caleb worked with Doug a lot, doing things he never had imagined he was capable of doing. He worked with me in the garden doing a sloppy job at first, but later knowing he had not done his best and correcting his work on his own. Caleb became part of the rhythm of the place.
Then Doug had surgery and came home with a bottle full of Vicodin. He only used a couple pills and then put the rest in a dresser drawer. Doug and Caleb had a conversation about the pills at some point. I don’t remember the content, but Caleb told Doug exactly what he would do if he were to take them.
And that’s what happened. There is so much more to tell, but the whole story is far too long. Caleb took the pills, didn’t experience his normal high and hated that he had done it. It festered; he didn’t tell anyone and the shame piled on top of the fear of being homeless again . . . and he decided to take his life.
Back to December 2nd—
Scared and not sure what to do after seeing his still form on the bed, we called 911. I had to get out of the trailer to find a spot with service. Beginning to panic at this point, thinking of all the scenarios, I called and told the dispatcher what was wrong. That we had called to Caleb and he hadn’t responded, that we weren’t sure what to do. Then an urgency hit both Doug and I and I told her I had to get off the phone. I quickly called my dad, a nurse, and asked him what we should do. We could see there was blood everywhere. My dad was calming and gave some simple advice. Your brain seems to stop working when traumatic things like this happen (unless of course you have been trained to respond).
Dish towels as tourniquets and keep him talking IF he is still alive. All this only took seconds but felt like forever. We rushed back into the trailer and into Caleb’s bedroom. A heater was on full blast and there was a note . . . It was short, said he was sorry. He meant to die. I don’t remember the rest of the content.
There was blood everywhere, all over the bed, all over him. Caleb was alive, but just barely, fading in and out of consciousness. We turned off the heater and even though his wrists were clotted we tied the towels tightly around his upper arms. He had also cut deeply into his neck and Doug pressed down, hard.
Doug desperately started saying over and over again: you are forgiven, you are forgiven, you are forgiven, you are forgiven. We thought Caleb was dying and wanted the last words that he heard to be ones full of love. He would speak to us briefly and then would pass out again. Finally, the EMTs arrived and took Caleb to Aultman. Completely shaken and numb, I sat in the kitchen of the farmhouse with Katrina not saying much. I think Doug called our pastor. Not too much later Doug and I hopped in the Prius and drove to the hospital.
Caleb was conscious and laying on a bed, bright lights overhead. I think I held on to his leg, wanting to touch some part of him, while they stitched up his wrists and neck. We spent time in his room afterwards and I don’t remember now if this conversation happened then or on another visit, but Caleb’s most significant memory as he faded in and out of consciousness on that bed was of a sports arena filled to bursting with demons . . . laughing.
They thought they had won.
This is part of what I wrote Caleb about two weeks later:
And because somehow I believe that God's word is true and He does indeed have the power to turn ashes into something beautiful, I want you to never forget the feeling of Doug leaning on your neck saying, "you are forgiven, you are forgiven, you are forgiven."
I want you to hear this -- You are going to fuck up. You are going to let us down.
I hope you do not smoke another cigarette. I want you to be honest as you have never been in your life in every interaction with every person who is helping you walk into this new life. I want you to work hard when you get a job. I do not, do not, do not want you to take another hit of anything the rest of your life. But the truth is . . . you might. You might be dishonest out of long habit. You might crave and then smoke. You might complain about work you have to do.
You have permission to screw up. You have permission to be imperfect. You have permission to be broken. The only thing you must do when you mess up is confess it, be in the community that has committed itself to you and by that confession make shame run away into its dark, dank corner letting the light shine on your brokenness. If you have to do this again and again and again and again and again -- DO IT. It is what we ALL must do.
"You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." John 15:3-4
I feel like punching you in the stomach right now and I can't promise I won't be pissed especially if you ever try to hurt yourself again with a knife or a drug, but that doesn't change the absolute truth that you are ALREADY CLEAN . . .
Grace and peace,
They didn’t win!! The demons don’t win because Christ has already won the battle. He died on the cross to pay the penalty for all of it, all at once, forever.
There is always hope. There is hope because we serve a God who loves us enough to die for us. There is hope because we have a beautiful property that is going to be a safe, loving home to a bunch of women over the coming years. There is hope because our community is behind us. There is hope because we are building partnerships with places like SpringHaven and The Allender Center. There is hope because family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who choose to walk with you into dark places and have the courage to be present with you as you figure things out.
Looking back, I know that Beneath the Shade was birthed on that day in 2016. It took a bunch of other events in my life to land me here on Middle Run Road three years later to begin working out this idea, but that was the beginning.