Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Loss and Lingering

I apologize to those of you who don't want to be reminded of June 18, 2005, but it's been five months and I find that I am still struggling with my own thoughts and feelings. Robbie Oyler's death marked the third student I am aware of: James Norwood in 2002, Patrick Owen right before Robbie. For the past several days, I've been listening to Lifehouse's "Come Back Down" over and over in the car. I will forever associate it with Rob. In my own efforts to process and support Robbie's many friends and their own struggles, I fear that I have yet to really talk about it. I've yet to reconnect with the Sarwins or read the letters or visit the park in order to satisfy my own morbid need to tie off the loose ends.

Many of you were at the funeral and experienced that remarkable moment of both weeping and worship as Todd led us in singing "We Fall Down." It will remain a signature moment in my life--a sincere expression of hope, joy, pain and misery all in one instant. We have all wondered about the experience of sorrow once we enter the eternal Kingdom and I think we glimpsed the possibliity that joy and mourning can co-exist.

Some of you know my past and know my own struggle with depression, or at least the version I have shared with you. Others of you know the experience personally and you know the permanent changes that enter your life once you have ever opened the door to suicide. You know its lingering persistence and the frequent reminder that it exists and you know the resolve you have found to ignore it. Such is life, but it's been five months and I find it difficult to push aside and Robbie remains an ever-present memory.

Robbie took on significance in my life that was almost symbolic. Surely, he was one of my first students, but he never went away. Robbie's trips to college were always followed with time where we could reconnect and an ongoing knowedge of what his life was like. I can trace his story simply through the pictures I collected with him since he was in 6th or 7th grade. We were together in Atlanta, Colorado, Kentucky, Peru and Puerto Rico. I watched him grow in ways that I have never gotten to see--the journey of many years that I now experience only as a father--and I grew up right alongside him. In many ways, he shaped me.

Texas has been a season of difficulty and struggle and loneliness for me personally. His death was almost too much for us. Wendy and I had gone out for our anniversary to an Art Cafe in Plano with a gift certificate we won. It was the kind of place Robbie would have liked but would have made fun of--I am often surprised by how frequently I weigh my surroundings by what Rob would have thought. Tim called during dinner and we began the journey that his sickness has forced many of us to undertake. In numbness, we went on to the theater to see Batman Begins. Wendy needed to talk about it, but I needed a dark place to sit without speaking, a place to cry. Robbie would have liked that movie.

Pieces came together later. I understand why he didn't tell me he was in Dallas, but I still grieve the serendipitous conversation we had just a few months prior. I was testing new messaging software and Robbie was cleaning up a computer when we stumbled onto each other online. We talked a long time--I wish I had thought to save the transcript. He talked about coming to Dallas, getting a new start. He talked about the struggle he was having since the breakup, but I truly had no idea the real scope his depression had reached.

I wish so deeply I had known him these past two years, but I looked at a stranger in those recent pictures at the funeral. And yet, there was something so familiar. I remember those empty eyes and that vacant stare from my own life and I continue to mourn the loss of hope he was experiencing and the comfort he found in despair. God led me out of that place. Robbie didn't come out. It's so easy to trace a path of regret and wishes and to weigh our role in his life, but I know better. Depression is a bitter friend. It blinds you and deafens you and dulls you and sometimes it wins.

So, five months later, I'm continuing to unpack the emotion of that event and the place Robbie held inside me. Sometimes I feel that I have no claim for that kind of sorrow--Robbie had closer friends and stronger ties, but I cannot help what he had come to mean for me. Now I move forward, plagued by that sense of failure and loss, searching to find my own heart again. If the other events of our life in Texas were not so trying, I would say that we bask in the opportunities of seminary, but that's simply not true. It's been hard and I needed to get that all onto paper, or whatever this is. Superchick says it really well in "Beauty from Pain:"
I know it won't be today, but someday I'll hope again.

Thanks for listening.


Ryan White on Rice said...

Hey Steve, I am glad Tim sent me the link to this blog. I find my self thinking of Robbie often. His death has affected me much more than I expected, but I rejoice in the life that he lived. My prayers will be with you as you deal with these memories and also with his family. I cant put my feelings into words as well as you can. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Brennydoogles said...

This post really hit home for me alot steve. I didn't know Robbie as well as you did, but it was very hard for me when he died. There is a pretty long story that I could go into, but I think I will refrain.

Hope will come back. I know you know it in your head, but i remember how hard it is to really believe from when Jamez died. It took me almost two years before i could really talk about it without wanting to cry inside. Sometimes I still do, but it occurs less and less often, and i am able to laugh about the good times we had still. Be encouraged Steve.

Brady said...

Hey Steve,
I still remember quite well the last riot retreat. I went swimming in the lake in my clothes. That was the first time Mary Ann cried on my shoulder. i sprained my ankle playing soccer with blackburn in the dining room. Our room got ransacked with water baloons and lipstick. murph was still getting harassed about a speedo incident.

I remember you talking to all of the teenagers in there that last time, when everyone was crying and everything. You raised a question along the lines of "how can this be right? i can't keep making ties to have them severed. Is this right to fall in love and put your heart out only to lose it and have it broken? the answer is yes. You just keep doing it."

I've remembered that and used it a lot. And it's freaking hard. But it's changed my life. And your changing my life has changed many other people's lives. That has an exponential effect when viewed through the lives of all the now-adults you have been a part of.
Know that you are part of an amazing plan, which you have front row seats to. And be encouraged even by the discontent you have with this. It gets so much better! This isn't what you're in it for. You should be discontent with the brokenness, 'cause one day it won't be like that anymore.

give me a shout sometime - nawbi@hotmail.com
i'd love to catch up.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this tribute to Robbie. It helps a lot of folks that love him and know what a special friend and person he was. Rob was the best. Today has been a day I have been real close to him.

Kim said...

I still struggle with Robbie's death as well. Not a day goes by that I am not thinking about him. I worked with Robbie and am still surrounded by alot of reminders of him. I had him on my mind today and that is how I came across your blog. It is still amazing to me how many lives Robbie touched in such a short life.

Amanda Oyler said...

I am drawn to reading this blog, over and over. I miss Robbie so much. He was my big brother and my world. I always remember saying in high school. "if something every happened to either of my brothers, i just dont know what I would do" Now I am faced to deal with the one thing i thought would destroy me.
I find comfort in reading what other people have to say about Robbie. I love to hear people talk about the impact that Robbie had on their lives. I have always been proud to call him my brother, but now even more so. It encourages me to know how loved he was, and to know the difference he made in peoples lives. He is still changing lives through his death. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on his death. Hope the family is well.

Steve said...

Thanks Mandy....

Anonymous said...

Hello Steve. This is Mike Johnson. I am touched by this blog. The news was such a real shock to me. This has been the second friend I have lost in the last 5 years. That being said, I miss him greatly, and appreciate the blog. I still think of him often, especially the last months. I'm glad to have found this, looking for you. My email is: michael.johnson@bastyr.edu Email sometime, I would like to talk to you and catch up somewhat. I'm in Seattle now. In Christ...


Anonymous said...

I miss Rob all the time. He was a great man who was so special. There is no better friend in this life than Robbie Oyler.

Anonymous said...

I have also often read this blog, to try to have some sort of connection to him at the times when I wish most that I could talk with him. I miss him so much of the time and am still sometimes having to remind myself that he really is gone. I am proud to say he is one of the closest friends I have ever had...We went through a lot together. I pray for his family often and I hope they are well. I am so grateful that this blog was created to keep his memory alive and to be enjoyed by the many who love him.