On page 673 of my Bible, there is a line drawn at the end of the 68th Psalm. To the side of that line, there’s a note written and outlined in a box: “7/30/13: This is where I resume my reading of Psalms after my Father’s suicide and death. I miss you Dad.”
The line that’s there in my Bible is an important one. I had been in the process of reading through the entire Bible from start to finish when Dad passed away. I had started by reading through the New Testament first, and I was in the middle of working my way through the Psalms a few chapters at a night. When I closed my Bible on July 23, 2013, I had no idea that the trials and storms I had read about over so many chapters were getting ready to become very real for me and my family.
Over the years, I had written many notes in my Bible. Since college, I had always been an avid “underliner” in the books I read, constantly writing notes in the margins, boxing in concepts that stuck out to me, and marking up each and every book I could get my hands on (to any frequent readers who find red pen marks in their library books…please don’t report me). Grab any book on my bookshelf, and you’ll usually be able to tell if I’ve read it or not by red pen markings or the lack thereof. My Bible, of course, is the most marked-up book that I own because its marked my life more than anything else. I mostly use pencil or a soft highlighter because of the tissue-paper-thickness of the pages, but even in graphite my handiwork is pretty evident.
But no marking is more important than that line on page 673. It’s a line in the most important book I’ll ever own, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the most important line I’ve ever drawn, and it’s one I had never expected to draw in the first place.
When Dad died, the way I described time became very, very different. Suddenly, every time I told a story, the time descriptor I used resembled the language I had heard in so many history lectures. I found myself saying “Before Dad died…” or “After Dad died…” every time I told a story.
At no other point in my life had I ever used a single event or circumstance to define when I had done something. Yes, there was the occasional “In fourth grade…” or “When I was a kid…”, or “That one time I got rejected by a girl in high school…” (which was used more frequently than the rest), but those descriptors usually changed based on the story. Now, no matter the content, I was using “B.D. and A.D.” time to preface every story (Before Dad died, and After Dad). It’s a feeling that I think anyone who loses a loved one begins to experience, and it’s much more than a simple line. Understanding the significance of that line can help to understand the magnitude of grief that permeates a survivor of suicide or any traumatic experience.
I remember drawing that line. It felt like a momentous, life-defining exercise. It had only been a few days after my Dad’s death, and just a day after his funeral when I felt the urge to retreat to my office, close the door, and pick up where I had left off. I partly wanted to escape and just be by myself for a while, because for the past week it felt as if I hadn’t been able to spend a moment’s time to myself. I knew that my thoughts were building up, but I hadn’t even had time to process them just yet. Mostly, I wanted to try and recapture some of the normalcy of my life, because things had been anything but normal for the past six days. Sitting at my desk and reading my Bible had become the most regular activity of my life over the past year or so. It seemed only natural to sit down and resume the work, but there was also an immense guilt that swept over me. My life’s history was transitioning periods from B.D. to A.D., and there was a mourning in my soul that told me if I refused to draw the line, maybe things would go back to normal. It’s irrational, but it’s natural.
When I drew that line, there was a sense of finality that swept across my mind. One chapter, an extremely significant chapter in my life had closed shut rather abruptly. And the conclusion of that chapter would affect all the ones that came after it. That realization weighed heavily on my shoulders.
But I drew it anyway. With tears in my eyes, I slowly and weakly drew a single solid line across the page, deliberately and slowly recognizing the magnitude of the moment. But the fact that I drew a line at all helped me comprehend one very, very important truth.
There is life after the line.
It sounds insensitive to even write those words. Even now, three years and more removed from Dad’s death, I feel guilty when I write that. But I can’t deny truth, and I refuse to let evil thoughts and the storms of this life hinder the joy that can still exist all around me. Yes, life isn’t the same after Dad died; but there is still life. And for all the dark moments it’s been filled with since he’s gone, there have also been beautiful moments that celebrate everything that my Dad loved.
When Dad died, there were moments, heart-wrenching moments, where it felt like life couldn’t go on, even when you know deep down that it will. Convincing yourself that life will go on in spite of the tragedy is the difficult part, but it does.
Life after the line isn’t easy. As a matter of fact, there are days where it feels impossible.
But guess what? Just like life before the line wasn’t always wonderful, life after the line isn’t always horrible. Don’t get me wrong—I would give anything to completely erase that line from my Bible and my memory and have my Dad back with me again. Life was just better when he was in it, and life will never be the same without him. But even though it’s not the same as it once was, there are moments in life where I see glimpses and snapshots of the joy I once experienced when Dad was alive. Since Dad has died, I’ve met wonderful friends and had tremendously fun moments with them. I’ve reconciled friendships from the past that have made life more enjoyable. There are times when life feels normal again, even though its dramatically broken, and instead of feeling guilty about those moments, I’m slowly learning to accept them. Day by day, I’m learning to live life after the line. I’m learning that it’s okay to hurt, but that it’s also okay to live. If I needed to learn anything from my Dad’s death, it’s that truth.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that God put me where He did within my Bible-reading journey, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that that line is drawn where it is. God knew that I would need the words that would follow in the 69th Psalm to guide me through my life beyond the line, and those words continue to speak to me when I think about my Dad’s death. The first section of that Psalm, the words I read through tearstained eyes on the evening of July 30, 2013, will be with me forever:
Save me, O God!
The water is already up to my neck!
I am sinking in deep mud.
There is nothing to stand on.
I am in deep water:
A flood is sweeping me away.
I am exhausted from crying for help.
My throat is hoarse.
My eyes are strained from looking for my God.
May my prayer come to you at an acceptable time, O Lord.
O God, out of the greatness of your mercy,
Answer me with the truth of your salvation.
Rescue me from the mud.
Do not let me sink into it.
I want to be rescued from those who hate me
And from the deep water.
Do not let floodwaters sweep me away.
Do not let the ocean swallow me up,
Or the pit to close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, because your mercy is good.
Out of your unlimited compassion, turn to me.
I am in trouble, so do not hide your face from me.
Answer me quickly!
Come close, and defend my soul.
Set me free because of my enemies.
When those words were written, God answered David. And when those words are read thousands of years later, God answers me. He responded to my cries on that July night a few years ago, and he continues to respond as I navigate life on the other side of the line.
The dawning of another year always causes me to think about my Dad and the loss we all feel not having him around. I still quantify life by his passing, and I have no doubt that on New Year’s Eve this year, I’ll consciously start the counting in my head. 2017 will mark the fourth year of “A.D.” life for me. It’s a difficult chapter of life to embrace. But I’ll remind myself that life after the line isn’t always bad. I’ll be thankful for life in general—before or after the line. I’ll be grateful for the opportunity to have had a wonderful Dad for 26 years of life on this Earth, and I’ll rest easy in the fact that I’ll have a Father for all eternity that can lead me through this into a greater relationship with Him.
The line will always be there, but the Scriptures that surround it will never be outdone.
Dad, I’d do anything to go back to that awful day in July 2013 and never have to draw a line in my Bible. But the fact that I’m even drawing that line means you made a tremendous impact on me and my life. You always approached your work with the utmost sincerity and dedication, but there was no job more important to you than being my Dad and the leader of our family. I’ll always be appreciative of that. I’m sad when I see the line, but I smile when I remember the man whose memory deserved it. I promise that my life after the line will honor you and make you proud. I promise that you will not have died in vain—that people will live their lives differently when they hear about you. Keep watching over me. Seeya, bub.
“Come close and defend my soul.” Psalm 69:18 (GW)