Fourteen-year-old Steve Saylor and his older brother, Tim, were walking home from school along a leaf-covered road in Fowlerville, Michigan when they saw someone sitting on the porch of their house. It was twelve-year-old Amy Hightower waiting for Steve and Tim’s mother to give her a piano lesson.
“Hi Amy,” Steve said surprised to see her there.
“Hi,” she replied getting to her feet.
“My mom’s not home yet?” Steve asked.
Amy shook her head.
He looked at his watch. It was 4 o'clock. Mom was a half hour late. “Hmm. Well, come on in.” Steve and Tim opened the door and they all went inside. Through the windows they could see Mike, their 12-year-old brother who had arrived home from school and was playing in the back yard. There was a note on the table, in his mother’s writing, it said that their baby sister Laura, who was five, was at a family friend’s house across town.
That’s weird, Steve thought.
Mom, who was the church pianist, always gave lessons at 3:30 each day, with Laura playing nearby. Piano and child’s play were the sounds that filled the house in the afternoons. But today, the house felt eerily silent except for the grandfather clock that seemed to be saying that something was wrong with each tick of the pendulum.
The boys looked at each other.
...the strange events of the past months and years began to nibble at the edges of their minds.
“Mom!” Tim called upstairs. There was no answer. They stood in the silence and looked at each other again, the strange events of the past months and years began to nibble at the edges of their minds.
* * *
Mr. Saylor was a church deacon who served God alongside his piano-playing wife. He worked on an assembly line at the Ford Motors plant and would regularly have scuffles with coworkers who he thought were making fun of him and plotting to get him fired. Mr. Saylor regularly spent the evenings distraught over having to go back and face the growing crowd of guys who he believed had it in for him.
One day, their mother rounded up the kids and took them to the hospital to visit their dad who was “feeling sad.” What the kids witnessed that afternoon disturbed them greatly as their dad in no way fit the description their mom had given. Mr. Saylor sat in the hospital bed staring straight ahead allowing his cigarette to singe his fingers. In a daze, he was impervious to the pain, uninterested or even unaware of his kid’s presence. The nervous breakdown and subsequent depression was so severe, he wasn’t released from the hospital for weeks.
Not long after he returned to work, he brought the family to look at the “bomb” that had been planted in the front yard by the “idiots” at work. It was nothing more than a piece of a wire. The boys looked at each other as if to say, Is dad losing it?
As the economy tanked, Mr. Saylor withdrew dramatically from all social situations and the pain of his dwindling finances showed on his face even more than usual. When Mr. Saylor arrived home from work one evening, he took Steve aside and showed him a list of names.
“See these guys?” he said. “If anything happens to me, these are the guys you should look at first.”
“What’s going to happen to you, dad?” Steve asked, frightened for his father.
Mr. Saylor said coldly, “Just keep the list.”
In the meantime, Mrs. Saylor’s Lupus, a condition that she had been diagnosed with a couple of years earlier, began to worsen and suddenly, she began living a life of agony. The pain in her joints rendered playing the piano nearly impossible. It looked like her future with the piano would be nothing more than being the neighborhood piano teacher. Her daily dealing with the pain in her body and heart was taking a terrible toll. She talked as if she couldn’t fathom the idea of life without being able to play.
In just the past two weeks, Mr. and Mrs. Saylor went out to dinner every night. Going out to dinner at all was a rarity for the Saylors. But what made these dinners all the more curious, was that they chose the finest, most expensive restaurants in town.
After dinner one night, they called each child into their bedroom. “Stevie,” Mr. Saylor said as Steve stood alone in front of his parents, “your mother and I want you to know that you have a very good head on your shoulders. You’ve always impressed us as a good boy and we think you will go very far in life—no matter what you choose to do. Always remember that.”
They hugged their boy. Confused, Steve hugged them back and then left the room, bewildered. What was that? he wondered.
* * *
Steve and Tim looked at each other sharing a fearful stare as they stood in the kitchen. “Wait here,” Tim said with an ashen face as Amy Hightower began to pluck at the piano in the background. He turned to climb the stairs.
Moments later, Tim, as if having mistakenly walked into hell, bounded down the stairs with unspeakable terror on his face.
Moments later, Tim, as if having mistakenly walked into hell, bounded down the stairs with unspeakable terror on his face. “We have to get out of the house! Mom and dad are dead!”
On the second floor was a scene from a horror movie. Mr. Saylor lay in a pool of blood. Just before shooting himself, he shot his wife, who had filled herself up with sleeping pills. They were both dead. This had been their plan.
The funeral was not so much an event to say goodbye, but for friends and family it was a time to look into each other’s eyes and share disbelief. Steve walked around in a daze of emptiness. He felt cut off from any normalcy. His mind couldn’t navigate the sudden eclipse of the love of his parents on which he based his life. “What do I do now?” he said through his tears, as if hanging from a ledge. The 14-year-old lamented the fact that he would now and forever be a freak.
Soon, Steve and his siblings were taken to live with their uncle who kept them for a time only to begin complaining that more people in the home meant less stuff for his own kids. It was a complaint that confused Steve as he and his siblings each came with their own inheritance. When all of them were asked to leave and find somewhere else to live, the reason that was given was that their uncle “didn’t want his kids to have less at Christmas.”
“What am I going to do now?” he wondered as he sat on his bed. The courts then deemed Mrs. Saylor’s sister and husband as the appropriate caretakers for the Saylor kids. What seemed to be a good idea at first turned disastrous as their aunt and uncle were rarely home and demanded the kids fend for themselves. Ultimately, they gathered up each child’s inheritance money, bought a new house in Alaska, and told them to find somewhere else to live.
Again, Steve slumped to his bed wondering what he was going to do.
At the same time, he happened to meet his high school football coach who asked him if he planned on playing in his senior year. “No, I have no place to live,” was Steve’s reply. “I don’t think I can play if I don’t live within the district.”
The coach, a Christian, offered Steve a chance to live in his house. Steve, 17, moved into the coach’s house with the coach’s entire family and enjoyed the first stable and happy home life he had ever had. Steve held a deep fondness and gratitude for his coach, was happy in his new home and did well on the gridiron. But as his birthday approached, the coach told him that all his children were asked to leave the home and make it on their own at 18 and he couldn’t make an exception for him.
Once again, living with friends and surviving off their generosity, Steve felt utterly helpless. He had no answers about the direction of his life—only questions. The most nagging question of all was why his mom and dad wouldn’t endure their hardships to be there for him, to point the way, to lend guidance in a scary world. Didn’t they know he would need that? Didn’t they care?
Now he was just a lost boy in the world, like a stray. No anchor. No map. He remembered his parents saying that he would do fine in life. “Yeah, right,” he said to himself. “What am I going to do?”
One night, as he slept on a friend’s couch, he thought about his upbringing in the church and about the God he had always heard that loved him—the one that he had asked into his heart as a little boy. He thought about the coach and how kind and generous his faith in God seemed to make him.
He cried out to God, “I’m all alone. What am I going to do?”
It was then that he heard a voice that he couldn’t pin point. Was it inside or outside his head?
It was then that he heard a voice that he couldn’t pin point. Was it inside or outside his head?
“I don’t want you to do anything,” the voice said. “I’ve already done it. Trust Me.”
“God?” Steve said. “Is that you?”
“I’ve done it. It is finished. Trust Me,” God spoke again.
“But I don’t only have spiritual needs. I have to have somewhere to go. Something to pursue.”
“I’ve already done it. Trust Me.”
"But where will I live? Who will take me in?”
“I’ve already done it. Trust Me,” came the answer again.
“But I need money. How will I go to college?"
“I’ve already done it. Trust me,” came the answer one more time.
Steve was dumfounded. He was suddenly struck that God’s grace and love extended beyond his soul to his most basic needs—that when Jesus died on the cross, he was not only purchasing his heart, but his entire life. God would be his father, mother, mentor, friend and provider. God cared for him even more than he did.
Since that day, God has not only pointed the way and steadied the ship as he traversed the aftermath of his parents’ deaths, he has experienced a life of joy and hope as he has grown in his relationship with Christ. God has replaced unspeakable sorrow with unfathomable beauty and a true sense of purpose.
Today, Steve, a high school teacher and member of the Rock Church PST (Pastoral Support Team), doesn’t wrestle with, “What am I going to do now?”
“God has proven that he is faithful and trustworthy,” says Steve. “Human weakness and bad decisions do not diminish His power but rather show how much we can rely on Him for everything. There is no amount of suffering or pain that compares with what He endured on the cross for us. He can see us through any situation. I know what I’m going to do now and forever. I’m going to trust in the Lord.”
* * *
NOTE: Twenty-five years after the suicides, Steve’s younger brother, Mike, a strong Christian, felt the need to confess a secret he had been keeping. On the afternoon of his parents' deaths, he had gone into their room first and saw his parents as they lay dead. He was too scared to tell anyone about what he had seen.
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