He will find his way home.

It was 10PM on a Sunday in August, a decade ago. The next day was the first of three day-long sessions that comprised my comprehensive PhD exams. I was just thinking about how I probably should call it a day pretty soon when the phone rang. It was the police. The officer started asking me if I had seen my friend Jim [not his real name]. Jim was a good friend of mine, a fellow ward member and graduate student who shared my unusual sense of humor and my absurdist approach to life. Jim was a gifted linguist who was studying Mongolian language and history, but unlike so many of our fellow doctoral students, he wore the mantle of his superb intellect lightly. The officer on the phone was asking me strange questions: did Jim have a girlfriend? No, he was married with two kids. After a few more questions, the officer told me that Jim was missing. He had left church in the middle of the meetings and he was no where to be found.

I hung up the phone and told my wife. She insisted that we walk across the street to Jim’s apartment to check on his wife Jane [not her real name]. When we arrived, the police were just leaving. Several other women from the ward were there. It was surreal. Jane seemed to be holding up well-enough, but I had a very bad feeling about the whole thing. At some point, as we all sat there, Jane asked if I would give her a blessing. I was the only man in the room, so, for better or worse, I was her only option. I would have given anything not to have been there at that moment. I had no idea where Jim was, or what he was doing, or if Jane and her two small kids would ever see him again. I’m not one for spiritual experiences. I just don’t tend to have them. In all candor, I am predisposed to roll my eyes when I’m being regaled with testimony-meeting stories. I was scared beyond words as I put my hands on Jane’s head and started speaking. What happened next was, for me, frightening. I knew I was speaking, but I didn’t know what I was saying. I was overwhelmed by the sensation that there were dozens of arms reaching out to touch Jane, to comfort her. It seemed as if all of heaven were groaning and stretching to reach her. I knew by the end of that blessing that Jim was dead. Nothing else could have caused the heavens to react that way. I was shaken. I felt like I had gone insane. What was worse, I didn’t have any idea what I had said. No one in the room seemed to be any worse off than they had been before I started, so I assumed I hadn’t said what I felt. On the walk back to our apartment, I told my wife that I thought I had made a terrible mistake. One of the women told me that I had said that “Jim would find his way back home.” I told my wife I knew Jim was dead. I was terrified that I had given false hope to Jane. I didn’t sleep much that night.

The next day, I went to campus and endured the first day of exams. When I was done, my wife picked me up and told me that Jim was still missing. We drove to Jane’s house and took her little boy, who was about four, to a nearby McDonald’s just to give Jane some time. On the way, the little boy said “Do you know where my daddy is?” My heart was not broken. It was utterly obliterated. It was all I could do to keep my composure as I said “no, buddy, I don’t know where he is.” I kept thinking about that blessing. What had I done? After McDonald’s, we pulled back up in front of Jane’s apartment. My wife, who was 9 months pregnant with our first child, got out to walk the little boy up to the door. Before she could get to the door, another young mother from the ward met her on the sidewalk. Words were exchanged. I watched my wife, who very rarely show much emotion, dissolve into shuddering sobs. Jim had been found. He had left church, driven to a local park, and shot himself in the head with a shotgun. I was numb. But I was also tormented by my “he’ll find his way home,” statement. Later, after the funeral was over and my friend’s ashes had been buried in his beloved Cache Valley, Jane spoke to me. I stammered an apology for the blessing. Her response still rings in my ears, “When you said he would find his way home, I knew he was gone. Jim was never at home in this world. I knew that he had gone to his true home.” I think about Jim a lot. He would have done much good in this world. I miss him. My world is lonelier without him. But I know he’s home. Save a place on the back row for me, Jim. I’ll be home soon.

Comments

  1. why you gotta make a person cry?

  2. annegb5298 says:

    So sad…..but what a gift you were given when you were shown the love being poured out to her from the other side. My heart goes out….

  3. Antonio Parr says:

    Thank you for this.

  4. Oh my heart. I have to think carefully before I write more than that.

  5. ErinAnn says:

    I have one of these. It is a precious and tender thing to have a witness of God’s awareness of you (or someone you know). Thank you for the poignant refresher.

  6. Thanks for this.

    I have had two similar experiences with the heavens opening, in very different situations and very different results. Those experiences sustain me through countless “normal” blessings, where the heavens have not opened. I am grateful I have had the opportunity to give countless normal blessings, especially since they gave me the chance to be part of those two.

  7. Yeah… heart. Open, raw. So beautiful, wrenchingly honest and incredibly faithful amid the devastation of mortality. I’m at a loss, but I’m very grateful you chose to share this.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    This is the substance of my faith.

  9. sctaysom says:

    I appreciate all of your comments. It’s never easy to open up these things, so I’m grateful it has landed in a good place with some of you

  10. danithew says:

    I’m not even sure what to say – but this post, in my opinion, will be remembered as one of the more important ones. Very powerful personal material. Thank you for sharing this.

  11. Bless your heart. I’m at a loss for words.

  12. Thanks, Steve. I wish I knew what else to say, except that this is beautiful and devastating (in the best, profoundest sense of the word).

  13. Christopher says:

    I’ll be home soon.

    Hopefully not too soon, Steve. You’re doing a lot of good in this world, not the least of which are your recent posts here at BCC. Thanks.

  14. Angela C says:

    What an amazing and horrible and human and terrifying and spiritual experience.

  15. Jason K. says:

    How beautiful and awful, all at once.

  16. David Elliott says:

    This lends new meaning to the word “bittersweet”.

  17. Jennifer on GA says:

    *breathes deeply*

    Wow.

  18. Thomas Parkin says:

    Thanks, Steve Taysom.

  19. melodynew says:

    Thank you. Bless you. We can talk all we want about matters of the mind, but it’s the heart that takes us home. . .

  20. Yes, this is how it works. Sorry for your loss and the jarring nature of your introduction. They get easier but never easy.

  21. Steve, what struck me while reading your post is how narrow the distinction can be between profoundly spiritual experiences and true horror.

  22. FWIW, the apparent contradiction between being dead and finding his way home isn’t a contradiction, rather it’s an indication that from God’s perspective death is just a change of state.

  23. sctaysom says:

    Fear and trembling.

  24. Yes, exactly that.

  25. A normal reaction, stay close to the spirit, it gets better over time.

  26. I am a better person for knowing you Steve Taysom.

  27. A. Reynolds says:

    I was glad to be away from Bloomington for those few weeks.

    As I get older there is nothing that jars me more than the inevitable losses of those around me that is certain to come. I hope and pray that testimonies like this, Steve, will soften the blow from this “awful monster.” Thank you.

  28. sctaysom says:

    Thanks Jason and Andy. You’re good souls

  29. So for me, your story unfolded in Brian Kershisnik (see here: http://kershisnikprints.com/print.php?t=293&m=giclee&s=available) imagery, which speaks to your incredibly artful way with words. So powerful.

  30. sctaysom says:

    If I could render my experience in paint, it would look like that. In fact, it is difficult for me to look at it

  31. Powerful stuff. This post is going to haunt my thoughts for quite some time to come.

  32. Powerfully moving. My thanks for sharing.

  33. I will never forget this.

  34. Just to say this explicitly, I am so grateful that our theology allows this story to have real, eternal meaning. That cannot be said about many other theologies.

    Truly, God’s grace is sufficient to allow all of us to find our way home.

  35. Beautiful and haunting.

  36. The feelings this post makes me feel are why I go to church.

  37. Wow. Thanks for sharing this, Steve.

  38. Steve, this gave me chills from my scalp down to my kneecaps. Devastatingly beautiful. Thank you.

  39. J Stuart says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Steve. I echo Christopher, these posts are tremendously powerful and useful.

  40. I never knew you were involved. A couple of times we’ve moved into a ward in the aftermath of something big. Last year I had my first experience of being in a ward when something went down. It sucks. The degree to which most members are sheltered from what is going on around them (which priesthood leaders may be dealing with) can be jarring.

  41. sctaysom says:

    I am glad that the post has resonated with all of you. Having lived with this story for so long, I had forgotten how powerfully emotional it was. Seeing it though your eyes has been wonderful for me

  42. sctaysom says:

    Owen: Arle, “Jim” and I were like three legs of a wonderful stool. I don’t think either one of us has ever really fully recovered.

  43. Ryan T. says:

    Wow, Steve. Thank you for sharing.

  44. An in-law of mine who I considered a friend decided to take his life, leaving a pregnant wife and another child behind. The emotions are so conflicting regarding his decision and the peace he was never able to find in life. Part of the reason I am in Utah is because of the decision he made. This hits particularly close to home.

  45. To borrow a phrase from Yeats “A terrible beauty is born.”

  46. Haunting and beautiful at the same time. Thank you for sharing what obviously has been a very difficult and trying experience. We live for the moments of grace in what can often be a frightening existence for all of us.

  47. BHodges says:

    Taysom, remain a pilgrim for as long as you can. We other caravaneers need you.

  48. Wonderful story, thanks for sharing. I call these “binary blessings” – where the person who has requested the blessing isn’t going to be satiated by a “God knows and loves you” sentiment – where they are looking for an answer, and it needs to be one or the other – and those are the only options. Those are the times when you fast, buckle down, and just do whatever you can to let the Lord speak through you… and when he does, it forever changes your attitudes towards blessings.

  49. Whew. My heart. My tears.

  50. John Hatch says:

    Incredible, Steve. As one who never quite feels at home here either, I thank you.

  51. Arle Lommel says:

    With Steve’s encouragement, I am posting my personal response as someone who considered “Jim” a close friend and who was closely involved with the events described by Steve.

    Don’t Try to Stop Me Or Stand in My Way

    After reading Steve’s wonderful story about the aftermath of Jim’s death, I would like to share my own experience with that time, because it was so different from Steve’s, and yet complementary in ways that I find profound. When Steve says that neither of us has “ever really fully recovered,” he is telling the truth. Reading Steve’s account has helped me understand some things that I have had to bracket for a very long time now, leaving certain pain like a string to be raveled out when the time was right.

    Like Steve, I do not make friends easily. I am more outgoing than Steve, but the number of people I consider true friends has never been more than five or six at any time. Jim is one of this small number, as is Steve. Steve had the apt metaphor that we “were like three legs of a wonderful stool.” I do not think I can put it any better.

    The night before Jim took his life he and his wife and children had come to my home for a barbecue. There was no shadow of a cloud to indicate the storm that would come to all our lives the next day. Throughout the barbecue his deep and abiding love for his wife and children, as well as his hope in them, was readily apparent. Jim and I chatted about his thoughtful preparations for an elders’ quorum lesson the next day. As we parted in the glow of a pleasant evening of friendship, Jim and I discussed a book, which he promised to bring me the next day at Church.

    After Sacrament meeting the following morning Jim came to me and told me that he had forgotten the book and that he was going home to get it for me. I assured him that he did not need to go out of his way, but he insisted and left. Some 45 minutes later we broke for priesthood meeting but Jim was not there to teach his carefully prepared lesson. I went to find his wife to see if she knew where he was and she said she had not seen him. I told her that he had gone home to get the book and she—knowing that there might be cause for concern—immediately took her children and walked home (a distance of perhaps half a mile) to look for him: my last image of her that day was her walking away with a worried expression on her face with her young son’s hand in hers and her baby daughter—who would grow up not knowing her father—in her other arm.

    I assumed that Jim would be at home when she got there, that perhaps he had gotten distracted by something, but shortly thereafter we learned that Jim was not at home and nobody had heard anything from him. Since we did not live in the (relatively) heavily LDS neighborhood where Jim and Steve and many other members lived, I had to stay home and watch children and was not part of the immense mobilization of profound love that reached out to his wife and children and wrapped them in tender arms in those first few hours. My wife, however, stayed with Jim’s wife for much of the next several days. She was there for the blessing Steve gave and told me about it at the time, but Steve’s telling here supplies some details I either never knew or had forgotten.

    In the coming days, after we knew what had happened, I was wracked by guilt, a guilt that has never entirely eased. I was the last person Jim had spoken with and getting a book for me was the excuse that led him away from the chapel. Surely if there was a last watchman to save him, I was it. I desperately looked backwards for some sign that I had missed that might have led me to intervene, but I could see nothing clear. With the horrible lens of hindsight, I magnified his insistence on leaving to get the book into a sign that my carelessness and lack of spiritual insight had led me to miss. I thought that I should have insisted that I accompany him to get that book. In a church that emphasizes the power of discernment and that, officially or not, encourages the belief that bad things can be avoided if we are just “in tune with the Spirit”, I felt I had failed to heed a message from beyond. More crucially, I felt that I had failed my friend.

    Subsequently I came to realize just how loving and careful Jim had been even at the extreme of whatever private hell had driven him to take his life: He had left his wife and children at church, surrounded by people who would help them. I was the person he chose to spend his last exchange with prior to leaving. At some level, I came to see it as a mute entrustment of some measure of care for his family with me. (In the coming weeks and months Steve and I were home teachers for the family and if I have done any good service in the church I might hope to have count for something, that time would be it.)

    I have long wondered why I had no warning or inspiration. I watched the very real devastation that followed his choice and wished I could have diverted the terrible course of fate. Surely a loving Father in Heaven would have sent some help in that last moment, but I had failed. Like others I worked through grief and anger in my own way, but this one piece of grief and guilt has never fully gone away: I *should have known*.

    It is a human reaction to wonder what could have averted some horrible occurrence, but over time I have realized (and accepted at an intellectual level) the truth: there simply was no sign that I had missed. There was no quiet whispering of the Spirit for those with ears to hear. At the crux of my friend’s life I had felt nothing and no message had been sent from heaven. (And my quiet fear has always been that there was no warning was because somehow I had been unworthy.)

    And this is what I thank Steve for: his telling includes some details of his blessing that I find comfort me and now allow me to see things differently now.

    At Jim’s funeral I played the wonderful song “Going Home” by Mary Fahl on hurdy-gurdy. The lyrics are poignant beyond measure to me and I will always associate them with Jim, especially these words:

    And when I pass by, don’t lead me astray.
    Don’t try to stop me, don’t stand in my way.
    I’m bound for the hills where cool waters flow,
    On this road that will take me home.”

    Love waits for me ‘round the bend.
    Leads me endlessly on.
    Surely sorrows shall find their end
    and all our troubles will be gone.
    And we’ll know what we’ve lost
    and all that we’ve won
    when the road finally takes me home.”

    Now, through Steve’s telling of the story, I finally have an answer to why I did not receive any inspiration. I was not supposed to know or intervene. It was not my place to change what he did. Jim was on his way home.

  52. sctaysom says:

    thanks Arle.

  53. Wow. Both the original post and Arle’s additional comment brought tears to my eyes. It is good to remember that amid the messiness and uncertainty and even the tragedy that life can bring, there is a God who listens, and knows us, and imparts precious flashes of insight and healing.

  54. Thanks Steve and Arle — powerful experiences. It benefits us all that you have shared them with us.

  55. Thank you, Arle. Life truly is a wonderful, terrible thing – and we never really have all the details as it unfolds around us.

  56. Molly Bennion says:

    Thank you, Steve. it was generous of you to share this.

  57. I’m glad some others found my experience worth while. But I’m especially grateful to Steve for posting his comments because through them I’ve finally found peace with my experience. I’m just grateful that I got to be Jim’s friend for a time on this earth.

  58. This is a beautiful post with the lovely additional comments from Arle; thank you for sharing a window into your grief and experiences surrounding the death of your friend.

    I’m not sure how to say this right, but here goes. There’s a statistical chance that someone reading this is in deep pain and considering a way out. Don’t do it! Get help! Get more help! Suicide leaves so much unfinished business, so much grief and tragedy. There are people — including some of those commenting here, undoubtedly — who understand how you feel. They have been through this and understand your pain. Still others have supported loved ones through times like this. There are people who love you and care about you and want to help you. Call someone. Talk to someone. Ask for help.

  59. Thank you, Steve and Arle. I’ve always felt so strongly that when people take their own lives out of grief or despair or depression, the Lord is especially close at hand, lovingly and tightly holding on to his children, ready to offer them all the comfort this world couldn’t.

  60. I agree, Amy T. There is always another way out. Depression can be very hard to overcome, but it is possible. I speak from personal experience. Reach out, hold on a little longer, and get help. There is so much to live for if you can just wait till the cloud of depression dissipates a little.

  61. I don’t want to hijack this heartbreaking and raw post, but I have often struggled with suicidal ideation, and I can’t shake the feeling that ultimately my life will end at my own hand. My heart bleeds for Jim’s friends and family who so obviously love him and care about him right up to this day and on through eternity. I can’t know or say that what Jim did was right or wrong, but I can’t agree that all will be right if one just holds on longer. I don’t know if some folks turn to suicide easily, but I doubt it, and I think it minimizes the pain and the struggle of those who get there by intimating that if they would have just held on a little longer everything would have been okay.

  62. sctaysom says:

    Depression is a disease. It can be fatal. People who are depressed should seek treatment. I understand what you’re getting at EOR. I certainly know the feelings you describe. I would never, under any circumstances minimize the suffering of people who are suicidally depressed. But, still, I would to anything, no matter what, to try and get a suicidal person to hang on. The fact is that suicidal urges pass. They may return. But, usually, holding on is better than ending it all.

  63. A humble, loving woman whom I admire greatly wrote the following post in January about her struggles with self-acceptance and depression. I thought of it when I read the OP. It is raw, honest, inspiring, heartbreaking, faithful – and includes one of the most insightful lines I’ve read in any post, ever, about depression.

    “One day the wrong side may win the tug of war in my mind.”

    “The Real Me” (http://betchadidntknow.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-real-me.html)

  64. EOR, as someone who’s watched a person I love very dearly get dangerously close to suicide in recent years, what sctaysom said. I would never presume to judge someone who’s killed themselves. Those demons are intensely private and finally unknowable to any but God. I would simply share his hope and blessing that such a person find their way home. But please don’t for a moment think your suicide wouldn’t utterly devastate a small world of people around you. Sometimes we don’t understand how deeply our lives are interwoven and how much we constitute each other until such an act shatters that mutual constitution.

    Do what it takes to stay alive.

  65. EOR, please don’t think that my suggestion to hold on a little longer is in anyway meant to minimize depression. I am in no way judging those who take their own lives. I know what it is to take that step because you feel there’s no other way to be free of the pain and despair. I’ve been there. It is only through the grace of God that my efforts didn’t succeed. But because of that grace, I am still here and I know that suicidal thoughts do pass if you can just hang on long enough. You’re not always going to feel this way, even though when you’re in the midst of it, it feels like you will. I wish someone had told me back then that the feelings pass, as I really didn’t know that at the time. I thought this was my lot in life. But with medical treatment, counseling, support from others, etc., things got better. So I reiterate, to anyone feeling this way, hold on just a little longer. Try to get help however you can. Just don’t give up yet. More people care than you may realize.

  66. Utahhiker801 says:

    Amy T, thank you for your words. As I read this post this afternoon, my thought was that I need to get some help for my problems. And honestly, the people I interact with on a daily basis have no idea of the issues that tear me apart inside.

  67. No name for this says:

    Arle, I share your feeling of guilt. A friend i home-taught in grad. school killed his wife and I was one of the last to see or speak to him before it happened. I’ve written him in prison in a pathetic attempt to assuage my feelings, but I fear replaying those events under the all-knowing eyes of God.

  68. I never comment, but this post got to me. My husband is in a major depressive episode and has been for months, the most horrifying and painful battle of a long war, both for him and for those who love him. He has been in excruciating pain, and the organ he would normally use to remember better times, problem-solve, count his blessings, or exercise faith, cannot reliably do any of those things. An experimental drug has started (thank heaven) to lift his mood, most days. At this point, he is still having short, intense, dangerous relapses, which feel all the worse as the burden crashes on his shoulders again. The doctor tells us that this is a common pattern when medications begin to work. We wouldn’t know; nothing has ever really worked before.

    As a caregiver, I’m on a knife-edge. It is a terrifying responsibility. I don’t leave the house without gauging whether he is safe alone. Sometimes he asks me to hide his pills. Sometimes I call in support to get through the night. He has promised me to continue to fight, and I am so very grateful that he does.

    If you are fighting this battle, please, please do not give up. New medications and other options are coming for treatment-resistant depression. Some are already available, in some places. This new drug (as of now, used off-label) looks to be a game-changer for us.

    And if your loved one is struggling with mental illness and you are in the US, I recommend calling your local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) for support. They have free classes and meetings that are safe, supportive, and helpful.

  69. Arle Lommel says:

    Perhaps Jim was like a drowning swimmer who could have been saved with just a little more time treading water, but by that point he had no reserve with which to hang on. Perhaps there were earlier warnings that could have changed things, but I rather think there were not. He had gone to such lengths to protect us all, especially his family, from his demons—to the point at the last of preparing notes for the priesthood lesson he would never teach that day, to the point of giving his family one final, carefree summer day with friends at our home the day before—that he must have been utterly exhausted by his long and courageous struggle and finally was unable to protect himself any longer.

    I wish he was still here. I wish he had hung on a little bit longer and gotten help. I would have moved heaven and earth to change what was to come if I could have known. I would love to call him up now and talk about his latest interest—he was a man of deep passions and enthusiasms—and hear from him about his wonderful children. The world would be a better place for him. It is a better place for his time in it.

    I am fortunate: I do not experience the depression that Jim and others face. I do not understand what it is like. I hope I never have to understand it, for it is a burden I think I would not handle with nearly so much courage. So I cannot say whether Jim was at a point where he could have reached out for help and held on a little longer, or if the waters had already closed over his head. Either way, I take comfort in the experience of Steve and others that tells me that many unseen hands were helping him when those of us here could not.

  70. “No name for this”, thank you for your comment. Your experience sounds much like mine, especially the lingering fear about “replaying those events under the all-knowing eyes of God.” All I can do is trust and hope that the eyes of that God might see other things I cannot see that transform events.

  71. liz johnson says:

    This post is so hauntingly beautiful. The experience you describe of heaven “groaning and stretching” to reach people (combined with the artwork linked in the comments) is especially moving to me given some events in my family’s life right now. Thank you for posting this, and for posting it when you did. It’s been so comforting to me.

  72. it's a series of tubes says:

    This, right here, illustrates the best of the bloggernacle. Many thanks to the OP and to those who have shared in the comments.

  73. SCTaysom says:

    Thanks for all of the kind comments

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