Remembering Doug

doug1I had been working as the Director of Marketing at The Rescue Mission, a homeless ministry in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a month when I met Doug. He was selected to receive a special basket of goodies from a local Christian radio station. Doug was nominated by some staff members who thought he could use some encouragement.

That was in February 2016. And a week ago, I was by Doug’s side as he took his final breath at the age of 50. What happened between February 2016 and November 2019? A lot.

Doug was such a likable guy. He was tall, had a southern drawl, and was just plain hilarious. No doubt about it, Doug was loved. And while we shouldn’t have had “favorites” out of the many homeless men we served, Doug was an obvious favorite. So much so that for the fundraising banquet in November 2016, Doug was The Rescue Mission’s shining testimony. His life had been changed.

Before the banquet, we filmed Doug telling his story. While I would typically interview a person for such a video, Doug didn’t even give me a chance to ask any questions. He talked, and talked, and talked. For three hours. I didn’t stop him. The video crew didn’t stop him. His story was so gripping and heartbreaking that we just couldn’t interrupt him.

That day I learned a lot about Doug. The five-minute video did its best to capture his story, but there was so, so much more. Doug went through things no child or adult should ever have to experience. Unfortunately, he turned to alcohol at a young age, and it ruined his life.

IMG_6623Doug found sobriety at The Rescue Mission. For awhile. Doug graduated the long-term program in February 2017, had himself an incredible job, and found himself an apartment. But by the time summer came around, Doug had relapsed.

Doug came back to The Rescue Mission and was OK for awhile. Then he relapsed again.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Thrown in there was a long list of health problems, some drinking-related and some not. There were quite a few times when we were told, “Doug probably won’t make it.” But until a week ago, he always made it.

He always eventually went back to being lovable Doug. Even without a filter, Doug was so lovable. After dying my hair dark one fall, he said to me, “Why did you do that? It makes you look old!” Naturally, I gave him crap about that for as long as I could. Doug was like my big brother at The Rescue Mission. I knew I could count on him for a laugh, a hug, and an honest response to anything I asked.

After three and a half years, I left my job at The Rescue Mission. At that time, I knew Doug was in Marion, Indiana. I knew he was in bad shape and drinking again. Sure enough, about a month after I left my job, Doug was back.

IMG_9803And on Friday, November 15, I received a call from a good friend at The Rescue Mission. Doug had been moved to a nursing home a few weeks ago. He had liver cancer. Hospice said he had only a few days to live.

I broke down on the phone, but there was a part of me that didn’t believe it. Doug had already had so many brushes with death, and he escaped them all.

My friend Brittany, who also once worked at the Mission, and I planned to visit on Saturday. However, I received a call Friday evening that Doug only had hours to live.

When we got to the nursing home and I saw Doug, I knew that was it. He wasn’t coherent. He was moaning. He was skin and bones. His skin was discolored. I burst into tears. It wasn’t the Doug I knew and loved.

The room was full of people who loved Doug, most of them from The Rescue Mission, and a few friends from Indianapolis. Doug didn’t have a relationship with anyone from his biological family.

As we stood in the room around Doug’s bed, someone pulled up the video from The Rescue Mission banquet in 2016 and showed it to one of Doug’s friends. Everyone else was talking to each other, but there was what felt like a scripted pause in the room and we heard Doug’s voice in the video say, “Who would there even be to tell if I died? Nobody.”

IMG_9807That night, there were 12 of us around Doug’s bed as he left this world to be with Jesus. Doug may not have been victorious in sobriety, but he certainly did know and love the Lord. And while I cried so hard that night that my eyes hurt for days, I was incredibly relieved and thankful that Doug’s battle with alcoholism was over. No more struggling. No more pain. Doug was at peace.

Doug will always mean the world to me. We got to experience a Doug that his family never knew: a sober Doug that loved us with all his heart, just as we loved him. He will be greatly missed.

“Those who walk uprightly enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.”

Isaiah 57:2

 

What I’m learning about death…

If you had asked me a few years ago what my biggest fear was, I probably would have said, “My parents dying.” Which, if you think about it, is a dreadful “biggest fear” to have considering it will inevitably happen. My biggest fear will come true. My parents WILL die.

While it’s clearly still nothing I look forward to, my views on my parents dying, or anyone close to me for that matter, have drastically changed.

I would guess that I’ve been to about the average number of funerals in my 35 years of life so far. I’ve buried three grandparents and been to the funerals of plenty of family friends.

72057898_130951453673I’ve experienced two funerals that came from tragic deaths. One was that of a 16-year-old I knew who was shot, simply for defending his sister in an argument. The other was for my 23-year-old cousin Rebekah, whose wedding we had all attended a mere nine months earlier. The same family and friends who celebrated her nuptials gathered in the exact same church to say our unexpected final goodbyes.

There’s no question that death brings pain. We’ll miss the person.  We want more time with them. The list goes on and on. Death sucks. It’s difficult for those of us left behind.

And the number one thing “they” say you aren’t supposed to say to someone after a death is, “He/She is in a better place.” Although true if the person was a Christ follower, it doesn’t seem to soften the blow of the death of a loved one. It’s like trying to put a positive spin on someone’s death.

About a month ago I started a new job as the marketing director for a local nonprofit that serves the homeless by providing them food, shelter, and long-term programming. I had been a volunteer there for almost two years prior to that, and there were a number of residents I grew to love. One of them was Cortez.

Cortez was a total sweetheart. He often sat at the front desk and greeted me when I came in to serve breakfast each week. He would tell me about his latest job, and he always asked how I was doing, and always, always greeted me by name.

After an outstanding first day at my new job, late that night I received an email that Cortez had died. I didn’t know how to react. The next day at work people were visibly shaken and upset. I felt the same, but didn’t want to show it too much considering these people knew him on such a deeper level and saw him every single day for years. But on the inside, I was hurting so much.

That same day we had an all-staff meeting with a previously scheduled speaker who was a local pastor. He said many wonderful things to us as we mourned Cortez’s death. He told us that it’s OK to miss him, it’s OK to cry. And he never said, “Cortez is in in a better place,” but he did say this:

“If you for one second think that you are in a better place right now than Cortez, you’ve got it all wrong. He is the one who should feel sorry for us. Things couldn’t be better for Cortez right now.”

I felt like I’d been smacked, but in a good way. Talk about a wake-up call. It didn’t take all the hurt away, but it certainly gave me something to think about. And it certainly gave me perspective. In short, it’s changed everything for me when I think about death.

For most of my life I have feared death. At times it was because I wasn’t sure if I loved God enough to make it to heaven. Other times it was because I feared the process of death and how much it would physically hurt. Other times I feared it for those I love most.

It will sting, it will hurt, it will make me miss them like crazy, but when my parents die, they will be so much better off than I will be. They’ll be in a place without ANY pain and suffering. It’s impossible for us to imagine, but if you’re a Christ follower, you know it’s true.

10366073_1108747122478765_2903832708728791301_nThis weekend we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Christ after He died on the cross for our sins. This is exactly why we don’t have to fear death. We don’t have to question what happens after our time on earth is over. As Christians, we know that this life is nothing compared to what it will be like in heaven with Jesus.

Please keep it in the back of your mind that when a fellow believer passes on, do not be sad for that person. Don’t for one second think that you’ve got it better than they do.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

 

How a murdered high school football player changed the course of my life…

Cancer. Car accident. Old age. Pneumonia. Diabetes. Internal bleeding. Liver failure. AIDS.

There are so many ways to die. None of them make it pleasant for those who are left to mourn. And I don’t mean to belittle anything that anyone has been through, but I do want to say that there is one way someone can die that is quite different from the rest. Most people never lose someone in this manner. Those who have are never the same.72057898_130951453673

Murder.

Someone died, not because they or someone else was drinking and driving. Not because someone ran a red light. Not because the medicine didn’t work. Not because they decided to end their own life. Not because they lived an unhealthy lifestyle.

Murder is when someone dies at the hands of another. On purpose.

October 5, 2005. A morning that shook me so much that it changed the course of my life. Someone I knew was shot and killed.

It actually happened the night before, but it wasn’t until I got to work the next morning that I heard the news. As a sports reporter for the local paper, it wasn’t unusual to get to the office and receive a phone call from a coach. But this was a phone call I would never forget.

Let me back up a little bit. I moved to LaGrange, Georgia in 2004 a month after graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Journalism. I began working for the LaGrange Daily News as a general assignment reporter, but within a few months I was a sports writer, which was what I wanted all along. I was covering Georgia high school football, and if you know anything about football, you know Georgia is right up there with Texas. High school football is king. What basketball is to the Hoosier state, football is to the Peach State.

There were three main high schools with football teams. LaGrange, Callaway and Troup. LaGrange was the powerhouse. Handfuls of seniors signed at Division I colleges every year. Handfuls of former Grangers were playing in the NFL. At the time, the team was ranked No. 1 in the nation. While I loved the kids and coaches there, for some reason my heart was at Troup. They were the underdog, often carrying a chip on their shoulder for always being in the shadows of LaGrange.

The Troup kids were different. To an extent, they were friendlier. I became close to the Troup players and coaches because after I’d interview them, the conversation would continue. They’d ask about my life, how I was doing, if I was homesick, what I thought of the Colts game. I always felt welcome at Troup practices and games. The coaches and players became like family to me. It was like I had a bunch of new big brothers, and an entire football team of little brothers.

One such “little brother” was Dazman Anderson. He was injured up until October. And finally, FINALLY he was in condition to play starting quarterback again. This was huge news not only for Troup, but also for the many Division I colleges recruiting Daz (as he was often called). A rough home life wasn’t going to stop Daz from reaching his dreams. He was overcoming his situation. He was doing things right.

imagesHis life was taken from him on the night of October 4, 2005.

A good friend of mine and coach from LaGrange called me at work the next morning.

My stomach turns into knots just thinking about it. It’s a phone call you never, ever think you’ll get. The phone call that someone you know was shot.

I can still hear Coach Veal’s voice, as he asked me if I had heard about the Troup football player who was shot. I almost laughed it off, and my first thought was that someone was messing around with a gun and shot themselves in the foot. But then it got real.

Coach Veal gave the phone to another coach who said, “Dazman Anderson was shot and killed last night.”

I didn’t believe him. I told him he was lying. It just wasn’t possible- I had just talked to Daz the other day. I had just seen him the night before at a volleyball game, apparently just a few hours before he was killed.

But it was true, and it shook an entire county. It shook me. It forever changed me. It forever scarred my heart.

According to court documents and witnesses, Dazman was trying to break up a fight between his sister and her boyfriend, which turned into a fight between Daz and the boyfriend. The boyfriend pulled out a gun. Daz ran. He was shot in the back. That’s the part I can’t live with. That’s the part that makes it impossible for me to let it go. Dazman was shot in the back. He was running away from a situation that could have ended right there with his departure.

But it didn’t. Terry Hubbard made the decision to shoot a 16-year-old in the back and take his life. And not just any 16-year-old, but one with a bright future, one who was succeeding in life despite the fact that life wasn’t easy for him. Dazman was a good kid. Any of his teachers and coaches would tell you that.

The funeral of someone who was murdered is a mystical thing. The funeral of a 16-year-old is devastating. The funeral of a murdered 16-year-old is hellacious. It’s unbearable. I watched from the balcony of the church where I stood with our reporter who was writing a story on it. News stations from Atlanta were there. It was a big deal. A big, ugly, heartbreaking deal.Kash8

I will never forget the scene. An open casket holding the body of a murdered kid. His teammates, all in their football jerseys, sitting and crying together. His mother, escorted by nurses in case she fainted.

I wrote a column about the terrible ordeal. I wrote multiple articles about how it impacted not only Troup High, but LaGrange and Callaway as well. Troup County is a fairly small community, and everyone was either related or knew each other. The death of Dazman destroyed the entire county.

I got even closer to the kids after Dazman’s death. Some really opened up to me about their feelings. I spent a lot of time at Troup High School talking with his teammates, coaches and teachers. Although in the middle of a tragedy, I realized that school was where I wanted to be. I wanted more time with kids, to be there for them, to maybe even change a few lives.

Some of you know the rest of the story. By spring I had enrolled in the graduate program at LaGrange College, and by that next fall I was a fulltime teacher at Troup County Comprehensive High School. My life as a sports writer was over, but this was much more fulfilling. I taught at Troup for two years before moving back to my home state of Indiana, where I taught for four more years. And last year, I taught high school English at an international school in Uganda.

It’s clear that Dazman’s death was so much more than just a heartbreaking experience for me. It was a life changing one.

October has always been my favorite month. It’s my favorite weather and my birthday is the 22nd. But I’ll never forget Dazman or the day he died. I’ll certainly never forget the impact it had on my life.