Corinne, sit down."
Justin was crying. It was about an hour into my shift at work and my mind started reeling. Justin never cries unless something really terrible is happening. He was with the boys at football practice and I braced myself for the worst. But the worst was not anything that I could even begin to imagine.
He took a deep breath and choked out "Chance...killed himself."
It took me a minute to process what he just told me.
Then it sunk in. Chance Slaymaker, one of Nick's best friends died by suicide at just fourteen years old.
I was the only charge nurse on that night and so I had to keep it together. I told my brain to not tell my heart what had happened because I couldn't afford to have it break right then. I was able to leave for a couple hours while a friend covered for me so I could be with my younger boys while Justin and Nick went out to be with Chance's family. Luke was sobbing and couldn't comprehend what had happened. None of us could. I never, ever thought this would be a topic I would need to discuss with my boys. Especially when it involved someone so close to us.
It must've been in a place so dark you couldn't feel the light
Reachin' for you through that stormy cloud
Now here we are gathered in our little hometown
This can't be the way you meant to draw a crowd
--Rascal Flatts, Why
Nick and Chance played on the same baseball team since they were about 8 years old. When they started, they were without a doubt the worst ones on the team which I think cultivated and nourished their friendship. They worked hard together, played hard together, and they improved significantly together over the six years they played. They sought each other out in the dugout. Nick was pretty hot headed especially when he had a bad game but Chance was always the one to buoy him up and have an encouraging word. They became more than friends, they became brothers.
Said goodbye, turned around
And you were gone, gone, gone...
Sometimes I feel my heart is breaking
But I stay strong and I hold on cause I know
I will see you again, whoa
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me
--Carrie Underwood, I Will See You Again
We spent countless hours with our baseball family. We had a unique situation with our boys and parents that many of the other super league teams didn't have. We loved being with each other. We would have parties that had nothing to do with baseball and have them throughout the year. We traveled thousands of miles together to various tournaments and hung out after the games were over. We truly loved each other and cheered for each boy, not just our own.
Chance's dad, Troy, is our fearless coach and is amazing at it. He knows the game well and definitely knew how to wrangle a group of goofy boys and turn them into a well oiled machine. He would graciously take Nick with him and his family when we were unable to make it to some of the tournaments. Nick adored being with their family and says at times he felt like a Slaymaker himself. Some of his greatest memories of these trips are just simple ones. Like getting sausage egg Mcmuffins at McDonalds. Nick said that no matter where they ate, he and Chance would always order the same thing. He also said one of his favorite memories was a tournament down in Arizona and hanging out at Walmart and witnessing someone stealing a television. That is a story all in itself.
The next evening we set out to go see our dear friends and I just said silent prayer after prayer pleading that I could be of some comfort to them. I was at a loss of what to say. My heart was absolutely shattered and would forever be missing a piece once it started coming back together. I grew to love this boy like a son. He was goofy and loving and caring and had a temper as fiery as Hell itself. I loved watching him interact with his dad especially when he was being reprimanded at the plate. He would get this determined look on his face, narrow his eyes, set his jaw and purse out his lips as if to signify he was going to do everything in his power to prove his dad wrong. He had a beautiful smile but I loved his smirk smile the best. The left side of his mouth would go up just a bit and you wondered what was going on in that mind of his. When they were driving down to Arizona earlier this year, I received an unexpected Facebook message from Chance. It just said: "I love you mom." I am so glad I never erased it.
When we arrived at the Slaymakers I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. This was real. Sweet Chance was gone. The grief was suffocating. Here are his parents, our dear friends, sitting together, holding hands on the couch with vacant eyes. They hadn't slept, they had hardly eaten. I felt so helpless because the thing they wanted so badly I couldn't give them. It felt so trite to say that I was sorry. I just hugged them close and sobbed with them.
Now in my mind I keep you frozen as a (four)teen year old
Roundin' third to score the winning run
You always played with passion no matter what the game
When you took the stage, you shined just like the sun
--Rascal Flatts, Why
As we were driving out to the viewing I just kept pinching myself trying desperately to wake myself up. This had to be a nightmare. But there he was, handsome and much too young, laying in his coffin. Wonderful memories surrounded him and countless loved ones. I could not comprehend what a dark place he was in to not realize how many people loved him and are so affected by his death. Mental illness is a devious enemy. It crushed me to realize I had no idea he was struggling and I felt so guilty that I wasn't there for him. I was kicking myself because I was thinking about him just a couple weeks prior and was going to text him but I just didn't. Got too busy and just didn't. I also didn't get a good picture of Chance and Nick from the last tournament because I was sure there would be another opportunity to have both of them smiling back at me. It is so fun to go through my photos to see how they have grown up over the years. I will cherish every. single. one.
Oh, why? That's what I keep askin'
Was there anything I could have said or done?
Oh, I had no clue you were masking
A troubled soul, God only knows what went wrong
And why you'd leave the stage in the middle of a song
--Rascal Flatts, Why
One of my most favorite baseball memories was the JUCO tournament in 2010. Our team had done pretty well but we had to win our first game of the morning in order to get into the playoff game for the championship. This game was pretty intense and it literally came down to the wire. We were home team and had battled well and were tied with the other team in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Remember when I said that Chance and Nick were two of the worst players on the team at that point? Well, it was up to Chance to save the day. I hate to admit that I didn't have a ton of confidence but cheered my heart out and just hoped and hoped that a miracle would occur. You know what? He slammed that ball into center field and drove in a run to win the game. His little face was so proud and my heart almost burst with happiness for him. He had performed when it meant the most and I am sure he was confident he could do anything after that.
Ugh. I am going to miss this kid so much. I have been working on this post for over two months. My words are not coming out right and I just can't bring myself to finish it. It has been over three months since we have lost him. I don't pretend to grieve as much as his parents but this has been an incredibly hard pill to swallow. For the first month or so, I couldn't think about anything else. I was in a dark place and would cry everyday. I didn't want to go anywhere much of the time. The world doesn't end for every loss of life. At that time, I kind of wished it would. But I had my boys to get up for. I muddled through and now--yes, I still cry. I miss him terribly. But I have learned through the loss of my babies that grief is like the tide. It ebbs and flows and some days I want to curl up on the floor and not do anything but mourn and other days I can function with only little hints of sadness entering my psyche. Nick is also doing okay. He is very quiet and it is truly at the most random times that he will start talking about his dear friend. Especially when we are visiting his grave site.
Chance's funeral was amazing. I was curious to see if the topic of suicide would be tiptoed around to avoid any discomfort to those attending the service since it can be a touchy subject. But it was addressed in such a tender and meaningful way. There were so many young, impressionable teens in attendance--many of Chance's classmates, teammates, friends.
His bishop gave a beautiful talk that related life to the game of baseball. I wish I would have thought about taping the service because it was truly magnificent. He also blatantly stated that Chance is a good person but he made a bad choice. He is most likely wishing he returned home by living out his life rather than returning home early. I was praying that those young people would realize how much pain and devastation was left in the aftermath of Chance's death and that if they are struggling, they will seek out help.
Chance's teammates sang "If the Savior Stood Beside Me" and it was so heartwarming to see these teenage boys up in front of hundreds of people with no fear or embarassment. That song made me cry before and now I can't even sing more than one line before I lose it.
Nick brought one of his jerseys with him to put in the casket before the service. Once Troy tucked it onto Chance's arm, Nick simply stated: "There. Now Chance won't be alone." He hugged Troy and Kim and then came over to hug Justin. My heart was breaking for him but I am glad that he was able to feel like he could be there for his friend, even now. One day we will all rejoice when we are reunited and I can't wait to wrap my arms around this amazing young man again.
Oh, why? There's no comprehending
And who am I to try to judge or explain?
Oh, but I do have one burning question
Who told you life wasn't worth the fight?
They were wrong, they lied, and now you're gone, and we cried
'Cause it's not like you to walk away in the middle of a song
Your beautiful song, your absolutely beautiful song
--Rascal Flatts, Why
We love you Chance.