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This picture was taken during my dad’s last visit to North Carolina. The last time I would see him alive.

One of the many things I’m thankful for regarding my Dad is that over the last four years we had taken the time to say everything we could to one another.

My close friends know this story well… through their counsel and loving guidance I wrote my dad a very long, and difficult letter. Four pages, hand-written and brutally honest. Well, it was brutally honest from the perspective of a kid who was confused by his father’s emotional and physical absence during those fun years we call adolescence. I’ve since come to recognize my blindness towards his experience of the same story. Indeed a large part of my being able to see his side of it was me taking the time to write out the letter with all of the gut wrenching honesty I could muster.

So at the behest of my counselor I finally sat down and wrote this letter in one night. It was all “true” and it was not at all pretty, but the odd thing to me was that I felt absolutely nothing as I wrote it, or even after I had finished. Shouldn’t I feel anger or sadness or something? No. Just coldness. So the next day I read it to a close friend out loud over the phone… and it took me what seemed like an hour to get all the way through it because I could not control the avalanche of emotion. She sat with me in my pain and offered that fantastic gift of deep listening. The next day I read it to my counselor in person… same thing. His response: “30 plus years of holding all that down… makes sense to me that it would feel cold and numb at first… now you’re making up for lost time.”

You counselor types can be a bit sheisty. “Now,” he says, “I want you to read this to your dad.” {long silent pause}       There was no way. I loved my dad and to say these things to him would be devastating. As a dad myself it would be earth shattering to hear of the heartache I had caused regardless of the circumstances. Well, to make a long story a little shorter I did read it to him about a month later when he was visiting from Texas. Leading up to this I’d had this vision in my head of me getting into the letter and him simply standing up and walking out of the room. For a 12 year old’s version of the experience this vision made sense. However, my dad’s response exploded my expectations along with the box I’d placed him in out of my own self-protection. I was able to read through the four-page letter with composure until the last sentence was complete, and then with an exhale 30 years in the making I buried my face in my hands and wept. When I caught my breath I noticed my dad was no longer on the other side of the room, but rather on his knees in front of me, weeping with me as he put his arms over my slouched shoulders.

This was a gift I never imagined possible. About two years later I wrote him a “follow-up” letter of sorts that basically said “thank you” and outlined some of the ways his response had helped move me towards wholeness.  His response: “you’ve never been anything but deeply loved.”  And while there was still the geographical distance between us (NC and TX) and plenty of father/son banter over politics and religion, there was much more depth of understanding in our relationship. I no longer saw him as the absent father and myself as the confused and angry teenager.  As sons and daughters we forget to consider our parents as humans in process and development.  I began to see us both as hikers on the same trail… just his limp was a little more accentuated than my own.

Then this past summer, as his health began to decline, many of my friends asked if I was on good terms with my dad. I’d pause, consider the trail we’d hiked together and with a tear-filled smile say, “We’ve said everything we can to one another. All that’s left is, ‘I have nothing but love for you.'”

I sure do miss him.

During this time of Advent what better gift to give your loved ones and yourself than the gift of reconciliation? It’s not an easy trail to climb, but it is well worth the effort.

To my friends and counselors on this trail… thank you.  You mean more to me than you know.

It’s never an easy thing to tell somebody they’ve lost a loved-one but in this broken place it is necessary.  Last night (9/3/11) I received a text message from an old friend that simply read “hey man if u can call me asap.”  Since I hadn’t talked to this guy in probably 15 years or more I thought it prudent to call right away.  He relayed his remorse for having to be the bearer of bad news.  My best friend from childhood and adopted (not formally) brother had just been killed in a car wreck.

Adam Suits (6/1/74 – 9/3/11) is survived by a son, daughter, father, mother, sister and friends.

I make no apologies in that this post is certainly therapeutic as I wrestle with my own feelings and lack thereof.  Not unlike a lot of people I tend to have a delayed emotional response to such losses.  I’m sure that it will take me quite some time to unpack all the emotions and memories I have but I hope this helps.  For those of you that knew Adam I pray that my processing here will help you as you mourn your loss.

From soccer to camping to random acts of insane vandalism, we were inseparable as kids.  Actually that’s not entirely true.  Our parents DID separate us after an incident that provoked a visit from the local Sheriff followed by the FBI (who knew that blowing up mailboxes was a federal offense?!).  I don’t really recall exactly when Adam moved to Greesnboro but we were still very young and since we got to hang out every other weekend and all summer long it didn’t really bother us too much.  We were still able to get in plenty of trouble.

One Christmas I had received a paintball gun from my parents and that night Adam and I wanted to test its accuracy and strength.  So being the genius kids that we were we came up with the bright idea to shoot one another in the back.  Not good!  We had whelps the size of apples but it was something we always looked back on and laughed.

We attended youth groups together at our church and went to summer camps that were very rich and meaningful.  The love of God in Jesus Christ pierced Adam’s young heart one summer and I sensed the change was real and heartfelt.  Yes he had his demons later in life but that doesn’t change what I saw and experienced.  I’m frustrated to a great degree over what may have been for Adam, but I’m also certain that his joy is now complete and his heart is whole.  A few years later Adam would come to live with us full-time and finish high school with me at Trinity Senior High.

Like most brothers do, we got into plenty of fights.  Some were nastier and more physical than others, but we always stuck up for each other.  The summer leading into our Senior year we had attended a party that wasn’t really our “crowd” so to speak.  There were some guys that didn’t really care for my presence (something about me dating one of their ex-girlfriends – mmm high school).  I was never even really in great danger but just the thought of it put Adam on edge and he mouthed off enough that he pretty much scared the other guys senseless before anything happened.  Those of you that knew him know that he was not the kind of guy you want to piss off.  He had this other level to which he could take his aggression and anger and it was palpable to pretty much everyone around… especially if you were the focus of said anger.  While this would be one of his greatest weaknesses in life it was also a means of defending his loved ones and reflected a fierce loyalty.

As people go, Adam was a twisted mixture of virtues such as that fierce loyalty and he also suffered from intense self-destructive tendencies.  He was a talented athlete.  But the same anger and aggression that the football coaches loved to see on the field was the same anger and aggression that caused him to be kicked off the team.

As conflicting reports have come out surrounding his death the few variables that are consistent are:  alcohol, speeding vehicle, and Adam.  Not a good combo.  When I heard that I actually blurted out to my older brother, “that selfish prick!”  In truth it was a selfish act and I’m angry at what that now means for those of us mourning the loss.  I’m mad that I had to tell my mom and my sisters and hear them weep.  In memorial services we tend to only hear the good or funny stories and neglect the whole person.  But we’re called to love the whole person as we are wholly loved in Christ.  You can’t love people in slices. Adam was a great sinner and was a deeply wounded person for whom Christ died.  Seems to me that we do the gospel a disservice by passing over the very things for which we all are in need of a Savior.  So we remember that we too are but dust and are called to faith in the one who overcame death for his own.

The last time I spoke with Adam was about three weeks ago.  He called me to wish me a happy birthday and rag me about being so old… something good brothers do for each other.

I love you and miss you dearly.