House Story, Chapter 6

Habitat Restore_edited-1Photography by D. Plasman

Jason’s body was found hanging from a rope while Jody and I were picking through used windows at the local Habitat for Humanity Restore facility. Jason’s mother and sister, total strangers to us, happened to be shopping in the next aisle when they got the cell phone call. The screaming was the loudest and longest I’ve ever witnessed, wailing erupting from deep within a mother’s love for her son and a sister’s love for her brother. A 31-year-old father of three hanged himself.

We made our way to the end of the aisle, and when we rounded the corner we saw the mother and daughter hugging and holding each other, screaming and shouting. “No! No! No! This can’t be happening!” When the mother dropped to the floor, I stooped down and supported her from behind. Not fully aware what was going on, I asked the daughter what happened. Between the sobbing and shrieking she was able finally to say, “My brother Jason hanged himself! My God, he hanged himself!”

Jason’s mother, a short, deeply tanned woman, wailed an endless lament, “How can this be happening? . . . My son is dead! . . . Why did they tell me over the phone? . . . He has three kids! . . . Angela, call your father! . . . God in heaven this can’t be so! . . . Oh, my God! . . . Pray for me! Pray for me!” And so we did. On the floor of the Habitat Restore, surrounded by used toilets and bathroom sinks rescued from remodeled homes, Jody and I prayed for a grieving mother and her daughter.

As Jody continued to offer physical and emotional support to the mother, I stepped aside with the daughter and honored their wishes by calling their pastor and deacon of the church they attended. As I made the calls, a Habitat for Humanity employee stood outside waiting for Jason’s father to arrive. Another employee brought a glass of water to the mother who was too weak to stand.

It was a scene of human tragedy into which you don’t expect to enter. But when you do, hopefully you’re able to bring comfort and support in ways most needed. Strangers helping strangers.

There was another bystander with us at the scene, one trying her best to do whatever needed to be done. Several times, she stooped down and assured the hysterical mother that “God has a plan in this . . . All things work out for good for those who trust God . . . God’s timing is perfect . . . God never gives us more than we can bear.”

In the midst of the chaos, I didn’t respond to her theological explanations, but in retrospect, I’m convinced what she said was as cruel and insensitive as saying, “You deserve this!” Who are we to say to anyone – especially one suffering immeasurable grief – that God’s timing is perfect and everything happens by virtue of divine say so? When we pronounce that God brings such tragedies or is a complicit partner in them, we reveal our own arrogance and ignorance.

Ultimately, we left the windows behind; getting the perfect one for our house rehab didn’t seem as important as it had an hour before. We left the Habitat Restore facility a bit dazed over what had transpired.

I wonder if religious people would be more godly in the world if we just stopped trying to explain and defend God and shut up long enough to lend a hand where needed. Is that wrong?

[For previous installments of A House Story go to and pull down the CATEGORIES menu and select A House Story]



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  1. Rosanne June 4, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    If you and Jody were to send a “creative” resume to a prospective church or other employer, I would recommend that you send this entry. It would tell them everything they would need to know about you. It would underscore why you should/would be chosen.

    May we all have the kind of compassion, caring love and support you both provided for these strangers in our own times of need.

    Thank you!

  2. Ana Dunn June 4, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    What an enlightening and touching story in the midst of such deep tragedy. You were the perfect people to be there for that family. I lost 5 siblings to Cancer when I was between the ages of 13 and 33. I heard everything that well meaning woman uttered and more. Each time, those words raised my boiling point and eventually pushed me far away from any church. Seriously, God plans Cancer and inflicts that on young adults just beginning their lives or defenseless cognitve impaired human beings? It took a long time for me not to hate God and not want to spit at people who spewed such stupidity out of their mouths. I wish someone like you had been there when we got the “death notice.”

  3. Ken dagner June 4, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    Personally, I can’t think of two better folks to be first on the scene of such a tragedy. How awful for the family. Like Ana, I have lost my Mom and 3 sibs to Huntington’s and my Father to suicide, and really would have been terribly upset if anyone had said that this was God’s plan. I so miss you both.

  4. Marv Dunn June 4, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    I fear I would have just tried to find a way out of the store. But I do agree, God is not the micromanager of our lives.

  5. Karen Campbell. June 4, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    Dan, I cannot think of anyone I would rather have at a time like this than you. God wanted you there not the lady with the know nothing mouth. Bless you and Jody. Loved this one, miss you k.

  6. Pat Stirling June 4, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    Oh, Dan and Jody. In the deep, deep darkness of the moment, you brought some light in a most loving and gentle way. I suspect they will look back on this day both with horror and with awe at how God equipped them to deal with this by sending a message of “Peace”. “There were two people there who ministered to us. I don’t know where they came from, but thank God, they were there.”
    God never causes these things to happen, but gives us what we need to cope with them. Thank you for being there. (Interesting – looking for windows which will let in the light in the daytime, and send out the light in the darkness.) Love you two. Pat

  7. Carla Edelman June 6, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    I too had a son who committed suidice. It amazed me how many people said well-meaning but thoughtlessly cruel pronouncements in the vein of “this is God’s will”. Twenty-one years late I have made peace with his absence, but not with his death. I dont believe anyone should impose their own religious beliefs on another who is suffering. “I am so sorry” is quite good enough.

  8. Marilyn Dunn June 8, 2014 at 7:11 am #

    God put you both in the right place at the right time.

    Think of you often.

    Love, Marilyn