If there’s one characteristic that defines me, perhaps better than most others, it is my empathy. I’m compassionate, but more than that, I sincerely empathize with others; even people with whom I am not closely associated. Almost as if by telepathy, I feel what those around me are feeling. Or at least the gist of it. That’s the best way I can think of to describe it. I guess that’s why I don’t like to watch fight scenes in movies or see someone get hurt – I get a strange reaction in my stomach and it’s not pleasant.
Sometimes those feelings can be overwhelming. Yesterday was one of those times.
In less than three weeks I have mourned the death of three men from our community who have impacted my life in great ways – Richard Martinez, Paul Lasater and Marcos Morillon. Today I’d like to talk about each man a little bit as a way of helping me work through my grief. Writing is one of the ways I cope and at times like this, when it feels like my heart can’t take much more pain, I get a sense of relief simply by sharing my thoughts. I figure maybe, just maybe, some of my thoughts can help others out as well.
This past Sunday started out much like any other Sunday. We went to church, ate lunch and then went home to relax a little before doing some work around the house. Later that afternoon my husband called me into another room and I could tell by the sound of his voice and then the look on his face that what he was about to tell me was not good. “Marcos passed away,” he said. Now, subconsciously I knew he had to have been talking about our son’s travel basketball coach because he’s really the only Marcos we know well enough to just reference him by first name. But my brain didn’t comprehend what he was telling me. Not that Marcos. He’s young, healthy, so full of life. It had to be another Marcos.
“Which Marcos?” I asked, wanting him to make up a name; any name that wasn’t Morillon. But it was. I, like my husband, was in shock. There had to be some mistake.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a mistake. The man that spent countless hours of his time coaching my son and more than a dozen other 10 and 11 year old boys in the game of basketball for the past several months was, in a matter of moments, gone. The 38-year-old picture of health, pillar of strength, shining example of humanity was gone just like that.
His was the third such notice I had received in less than three weeks and it was enough to push me to my breaking point. As the day drug on and gave way to night, I still struggled to process it. By Monday, my sorrow at his passing and the passing of Richard and Paul culminated with an all-out shouting match with God. I guess it’s not much of a “match” if there’s only one person doing the shouting, but you get my point.
Here’s what happened: besides writing, I also tend to decompress and process information by running. Something about lacing up my running shoes and heading out for a run soothes my spirit.
As I walked a warm-up lap, my brain went into overdrive. Emotions and memories flooded my mind. I recalled my elementary school days when Paul’s daughter, Sarah, and I were the best of friends. I would spend just about every spare moment at her house and her dad was always there. He was a hands-on dad. He’d make us play him in a game of H.O.R.S.E. for Sonic spending money or tell us we had to do 10 pushups if we wanted to go to the movies. He helped us with math and cheered us on when we played sports. He tolerated us at the pharmacy he owned and even let us hang around in the back. Even after we grew up, married and started families of our own, Paul always made it a point to check in on me and see how I was doing. He was one of the best men I have ever known and he was a monumental part of my childhood.
And then I thought about Richard. I met him when I worked the crime beat for our local newspaper and he was a commander for the police department. He always treated me with respect but had a way of joking with me that kept things light and enjoyable. If ever there was an honorable law enforcement officer, it was Richard. He was strict with the law but not a jerk about it. I admired that about him. I changed jobs and didn’t get to see as much of him as I once did and he eventually retired and went on to serve as municipal judge. The last time I saw Richard was at the courthouse when I was summoned there to answer for my dogs that had been “running at large.” Even though it was in a courtroom and I was facing multiple fines, it was actually good to see him. Ever the professional, he made sure that I had taken the proper precautions and had repaired the gate my dogs escaped from and then proceeded to dismiss the tickets. When we were done, he smiled at me in his trademark grin and said, “Have a good day, Ms. Guy.” I knew he meant it. I knew he wanted me to have a good day because that’s just the kind of guy he was. As a disclaimer, I still had to pay the court fees! Like I said, he was “by the books.”
And then there was Marcos. I could go on for days about his contributions to our youth and the community and to the school system. He was more than a coach and teacher – he was a mentor, friend, source of encouragement. Marcos was the type of leader that made his students believe in themselves simply by believing in them. And not only students. I even read a Facebook post from his barber that talked about the encouragement Marcos gave him by praising his haircutting abilities. He had a way of getting the absolute best out of others and not settling for anything less – 100 percent all the time. Marcos left the teaching profession to start his own business, but being a coach at heart, he couldn’t walk away from it entirely. He coached every sport his son played, including baseball, basketball and football, and he had recently started coaching cross country again for the high school.
As I thought about the impact he had on my son’s life, it lead me to thoughts of his own son, Mateo, who had battled and beaten brain cancer. Mateo’s love and admiration for his father was quite obvious and I always enjoyed watching the two of them interact on the basketball court or the baseball field.
As those final thoughts crossed my mind, that’s about the time my grief and sadness turned into something far worse. That’s when anger set in. As I continued running, I began to sob, almost to the point of hyperventilation. My emotions became so intense I physically fell to my knees. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I physically fell to my knees and just stayed there, in the dirt, sobbing uncontrollably. Without even thinking about it I shouted out to the heavens; an angry, red-faced shout that you do when you’re just flat out pissed: “You be there for them…BE there for them. It’s the least you can do!”
Yep, I said it. I yelled at God to “be there for the Morillon family.” I didn’t ask or plea, I demanded it. I demanded that He be there for the Martinez family and the Lasater family. But I didn’t stop there: “You took their dad, their husband, their grandfather. You BE there for them. You show up and you make it known you are there for them. You BE there for our community. You have taken so many amazing people from us this year. BE HERE FOR US!”
Friends, I was angrier with God than I have ever been in my life. And I’ve gone through some bad things. I have dealt with grief and sadness; I have experienced loss and heartache. But I can honestly say I have never really been angry with God before. My faith tells me that there is always a bigger picture. My faith tells me that God has a plan for everything that happens and I have always just believed it. That’s not to say I always understand why things happen or how, but I have always believed that if they happen, it’s for a reason and that one day, whether in this life or the next, it will all make sense.
Yesterday was not one of those days.
Yesterday I questioned everything I have ever believed. Yesterday I shouted at God and shook my fist at the sky. Yesterday I experienced what most non-believers must feel like on a regular basis. I didn’t like it. It felt dark and lonely. It hurt. It was an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that sucked me in like a vortex.
I wallowed in those feelings for the remainder of the day and into the evening. It was exhausting. I went to bed early and prayed myself to sleep. When I woke up this morning, I felt better, but not good. The truth is, I’m still angry with God. I’d love to tell you that just like that my feelings have changed and I am okay with my grief. I’m not.
But I believe God is okay with me being angry with him. He can handle it. He knows our human minds struggle to fully comprehend the bigger picture. We might not understand it now or any time soon, but one day His plans will be revealed and it will all make perfect sense. For now though I’ll have to continue to remember the lessons each man taught me. I’ll work on being honest and upstanding like Richard was, funny, upbeat and giving like Paul was and I’ll strive to bring out the best in others and give 100 percent to everything I do like Marcos did. Those are the lessons each man taught me and those are the reasons for which I’m grateful our paths crossed.
For now I’ll continue to cry out to God, seek His peace with my prayers, and look to the scriptures for comfort as I wait for my anger to subside. For now though I’m just angry.