The thought that I can be transformed through my grief with all my losses, and transformed into a better person, a better version of me, is ludicrous to a lot of people, including this guy. For a long time, I thought my past defined me, instead of propelling me. I thought my past, with the hurts and the pain and the losses, would dictate how I lived my present and therefore what my future looks like. That spark of life, you can go and find out all about Spark of Life. We walk beside grievers to help them realize that they have the power, you have the power within yourselves, to be empowered to be transformed into a different person.
That I need to embrace grief, I need to accept it as necessary. And grief is the price we pay for love. Grief is always associated with love. I’m Dave Mathews from Spark of Life, and we’ve seen over 1500 people come to three and a half day retreats, both online and in person. We’ve seen people at our grief workshops. We’ve seen people that call us for grief coaching or for our grief courses online. And they have taught us something. Number one, they’re our heroes, because they haven’t quit. They haven’t given up. And number two, there is a possibility for me to take whatever crap’s in my past, including death losses, non-death losses, bad things people have done, and bad breaks I’ve had, and instead of letting all that in the past define who I am, let it propel me in the present and therefore to have a better tomorrow. And so at Spark of Life, we believe in hope.
A Spark hero that appeared to be hopeless when I first heard about him, his name’s Willie. But Willie came to one of our retreats. And the story was that he had come home from work. And the best I can describe Willie is, that he was about as big as Shaquille O’Neal. He kind of looked like Shaquille O’Neal. Better looking than Shaquille. No offense, Shaquille. I wouldn’t say that if I knew Shaquille because he’d come to get me, right? But Willie reminded me of Shaquille O’Neal. He was the biggest person I ever stood face-to-face with.
Willie was a bouncer at a nightclub. And one Friday night, Saturday morning, about 2:00 in the morning he comes in from work. He’s tired. And he got a phone call as he was about to go to bed. He got a phone call from his only child, a daughter, who was a single mom. She had three kids, and she lived right around the corner from Willie.
And often she called on Friday night and asked him to take care of the kids on Saturday, that she had things to do. And though he loved his grandkids, he didn’t want to go and keep them all day Saturday. He didn’t want to get up early in the morning. He was tired. It was 2:00 in the morning. So he hit that thing on his cell phone, right? Couldn’t find my cell phone. He hit that thing, and he did not answer the call because he knew it was from his daughter. 30 minutes later he was awakened by incessant calls from the police department of his hometown, telling him the horrific news that his daughter had been killed by an intruder just about 30 minutes earlier. Through his shock and his pain and his despair, he listened to the message on the phone that he did not listen to 30 minutes earlier. And it was this, “Daddy, somebody is trying to break into my house. Come and save me.”
He could have been there in less than a minute. He could have protected his daughter and his grandchildren. Though his grandchildren survived, his daughter did not.
And so Willie came to a retreat in Texas all the way from the east coast. And there he was, Thursday night, telling us in tears his story. And it was a story that brought a feeling of despair to everybody there. How in the world can Willie go through three and a half days at a grief retreat and come out the other side with the hope to live forward? With hope to be transformed, with hope to get up and live again and be joyful again, and even laugh again? Because if you were Willie, and maybe you are a Willie, would you lose hope? Well, I think I would for a while. And that’s the nature of deep grief. But Willie did something positive, he came to our retreat.
And on that Thursday night after the group left, the leaders were talking and said, “How in the world can this guy get up and live again? And he’s determined to live.” By Sunday at the retreat, we saw a video. And on the video, the speaker said something about, “Have you ever felt guilty when you’ve lost somebody you love? Does anybody want to raise a hand? Have you ever felt guilty?” We’re going to have some series on how do you forgive yourself, for crying out loud? Here’s Willie, who felt so guilty because in his mind he killed his daughter. And when the speaker said about guilt, Willie just started nodding his head and tears came down his face. And we were sitting in this room at a resort. And there are about 16 participants. And Willie had pulled his chair in the middle of the room to watch the video, and everybody else was kind of in a circle watching the video.
And Willie’s social worker, who had called us about Willie, got up and sat down by Willie and grabbed his arm. She sat on the floor. And my wife got up, went to the other side, sat on the floor, and grabbed his other arm. And when the video ended there wasn’t anybody talking, because everybody had been touched by loss at that retreat. But Willie had become like everybody’s favorite if you can imagine. A gentle giant of a man who taught us all never to give up hope.
As the retreat ended and we let go of balloons in honor of our loved ones over Lake Texoma in Texas on the border of Texas and Oklahoma, on this party boat that we took everybody out on this retreat, we all watched the balloons going we released our loved ones, we released resentment, and hopefully, we released guilt. And Willie went around and he grabbed everybody and hugged them. And when he came to me, picked me up. He was about seven feet tall, and weighed 300 to 400 pounds. And he just picked me up and lifted me about this far off the ground, lifted me back down. And here’s what Willie said to me. He said, “Mr. David,” would never call me David, he called me Mr. David. “Mr. David, I just want to tell you something. I love you and your wife. And I love Rusty and Nancy,” who had helped us do the retreat. And then he said these words, “I want you to know that I’m going to live forward.”
I often thought, when I get down and I want to quit because life gets tough, and I have a lot of losses, you have losses, I’ve often thought about quitting. What about you? Well, Willie didn’t quit. I tell Willie’s story at every retreat we do at Spark of Life. We’ve done 112 of them. We’ve been honored to walk beside those who were this close to giving up hope. We’ve been honored to do this because see, I’ve been there this close to wanting to give up hope. Have you? Willie had. But he didn’t quit. Six months after the retreat I get a phone call late one night. I picked it up, and here’s the conversation verbatim. I remember it. It was probably about 10 years ago. 11, 12 years ago. I said, “Hello?” He said, “Is this Mr. David Mathews?” I said, “Yes, it is. Who’s this?”
He said, “This is Mr. Willie so-and-so. Do you remember me?” And I said, “Do I remember you? You’re my inspiration, man. I tell your story. I change your name, but I tell your story everywhere I go.” And he said, “Mr. David, it’s okay for you to tell my story, but why do you tell my story?” I said, “Willie, I’ll tell your story to give other people hope. That if you could go through what you did and you could get up and live forward with hope and meaning, and yes, even joy again, then so can somebody else.” And he said, “Wow, you mean my story gives people hope?” I said, “Oh yeah, man. It’s given this guy hope. It’s given my wife hope. It’s given a lot of people hope because you didn’t quit.”
And I said, “What do you need?” And he said, “I just wanted to tell you that I love you and Miss Debbie. And to tell you that I’m living forward.” And I said, “Buddy, we love you, too. And I’m so happy you’re living forward.” And he said, “I want you to pray for me to get custody of my kids.” So we did.
He called me a few more times. And Willie still lives in this guy’s heart. I don’t know what he’s doing today. I can’t find him. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll bet you he’s living forward. At Spark of Life, grievers have taught us, those devastated by a loss, that it’s okay to go to the pit of grief because that’s natural, that’s normal, that’s the nature of love. Grief means I’ve loved, or I haven’t been loved, or somebody’s broken love, it’s a negative experience. But the people we deal with, sometimes they’re divorced and they’ve been betrayed. Sometimes their daddy beat them when they were little and left the family. Sometimes they didn’t even know their mom. Sometimes they were sexually abused in their childhood.
Some people have come, one, in particular, was sold into sex slavery. We’ve had people who’ve lost multiple children, who have lost their spouse and their children. And then we’ve had Willie. Responsible in his mind for the death of his only child, who didn’t quit, who had hope. And he was transformed through his pain, with his pain, with his loss, to become a better Willie. To not quit in life, to get up, to make phone calls, and to say, “Mr. David, I just called to tell you I love you.” That’s why we do this work because we believe there’s always hope.
So when you get down and you don’t know where to turn, and you think that maybe all is lost, and you can’t bear the thought of another day without that loved one who died, or the one who divorced you, or the one who never loved you and maybe hurt you as a child, before you quit just say the name, Willie. See what happens. Remember Willie, where there’s always hope. Sparkoflife.org, we’re there for you, we’re here for you. We’re not the heroes of our story. You are. Because see, you’re watching this video and you’re directing somebody to this video. And you’re going to learn. And you’re already learning that as long as you’re breathing there’s hope. May you always find hope, be transformed by your grief, live forward with joy and with meaning again someday, and never, never, never give up.
We have resources. We have retreats. We have in-person retreats. We have virtual retreats. We have grief courses online. We have grief coaching. We’ve got the greatest team in the world, for they care about people and they haven’t quit. At Spark of Life, there’s all hope.