The Worst Kind of Broken Heart

Before and since, I don’t think I’ve ever known heartbreak quite like that of having a friend die and knowing that I should’ve shared Christ with him, but didn’t.

I was eighteen, sinful and selfish. Those aren’t excuses. Simply observations.

Daniel was nineteen, hopeless, helpless, and lost. And when I could have helped him, I didn’t.

I wasn’t a big rebel in high school. I didn’t hang out with the party crowd. I just skated on the edge of my crowd—not jocks, not nerds—just normal kids. And really, the only thing our group had in common was that we had nothing in common. And we were all hurting. But at the time, we didn’t see that. We just sort of ended up together by chance and decided to try to survive high school together. Not getting into much trouble. And not doing much exciting on a weekend besides chain-smoking at Mickey Milligan’s or Mr. Stix Billiards—the two hot spots for shooting pool.

I think the first time Jennifer introduced me to Daniel, she was trying to play matchmaker. But it didn’t work. He and I instinctively knew that we were meant to be just friends and we became good friends, very fast. He was exactly the kind of boy my dad wouldn’t want me spending time with—a non-Christian with a black leather coat and stringy, greasy hair and bad grades and an attitude. But I didn’t tell my parents about him—or really any of my friends. We talked on the phone. We passed notes in school. We shot pool together. And when Daniel needed somebody to talk to, he knew that he could show up at my car after school and I would drive him home and listen to him.

After a while, something changed. I met Josh. I was infatuated with him and I just couldn’t get enough of him. By the spring of my senior year, my world revolved around making time for him. But our relationship was volatile. We fought all the time. And we were in the middle of one of our customary arguments one afternoon in the school parking lot when Daniel walked up and asked to talk to me. I was so focused and fixated on Josh that I didn’t even glance at Daniel before I dismissed him.

Daniel, can’t you see we’re in the middle of a conversation?!

 I blew him off quickly and easily. And I didn’t think about him again.

I knew something was wrong on Friday afternoon when Jason was waiting at my car for me. Jason and I weren’t even friends. Why would he be waiting at my car for me?

He’s gone, Sarah. Daniel. He’s gone. Jennifer sent me. He’s drowned in the river. Murder? Suicide? The police don’t know. But, Sarah. He’s dead.


And I had sent him away.

I wish I could tell you what I was thinking in that moment. Or what I did next. Or even what I thought about or did in the next couple of days. I think that the experience was just so vastly painful for me that I have blocked it out of my memory. I only have snapshots in my mind. Of me scrubbing the stage makeup off my face after our church’s Easter play so that I could go to the visitation. (I don’t remember the visitation at all.) Of me sitting at McDonald’s with my friends Robert and Karen on the day of the funeral. Of the guidance counselor calling our group into her office and asking us to share our memories about Daniel. Of Josh and I standing against the back wall of Cotten Funeral Home during the funeral—both of us unable to cry.

And then, my clearest memory. Tim. An acquaintance from church who had never met Daniel, but who saw how destroyed we all were by his death and came to the graveside service. That service took my fragile emotions and shattered them into a million pieces. Daniel’s family and friends stood by his grave, weeping with no hope and no answers. As I looked around, I realized that I’d had hope and answers that I could have shared with Daniel, but that now it was too late. For my sweet, talented friend, he was gone to an eternity separated from me—but mostly, separated from God. And with that horrific revelation, I fled from the graveside, unnoticed.

Except for Tim. When I got back to Josh’s locked car, I realized I was stuck there with nowhere to run. I turned around and found Tim there. Tim held onto me that day as I cried harder than I’ve ever cried in my life—before or since. And in Tim’s presence—his loving friendship and grace—I found God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s grace.

Our group was never the same after we lost Daniel. It was like we had lost our reason for being together. Thirteen years later, we’ve scattered to the winds.

I thought I’d gotten over losing Daniel. And then, on the thirteenth anniversary of his death, members of the crowd who I haven’t talked to in years, started calling me. And the truth is that none of us have ever gotten over Daniel. His memory haunts us and makes it impossible to remember the good times—only the bad. And that makes us seek to forget.

For me, the hardest part has been forgiving myself. It wasn’t until this spring that I really started that process. And though I know that God has forgiven me and I know He wants me to forgive myself, I’m afraid to forget. Because I never again want to have to live with knowing that I could’ve shared the life and love of Jesus with someone, but was too selfish and sinful to give them a chance at eternal life.  

About Sarah Salter


  1. Sarah, this had to be very difficult to write. I’m so glad you decided to share. I’m sure it will touch all who read it…it certainly spoke to me!

  2. I don’t even know where to begin to start to write a comment.

  3. Wow, Sarah, some mighty powerful words. You are wise and thoughtful beyond your years. May you feel the power and peace of God’s grace.

  4. Funny (not in the traditional sense of the word) how certain things stick out from back when. The tragedies that shape us. I can see how much this changed you in the way you are cautious when bantering, always concerned about the feelings of others and offering sage advice whenever there is a moment for it.

    You have done well by the grace afforded to you.

  5. Sarah, I am so sorry. Forgive yourself for being young and inexperienced then. Like Nick said, you have let the experience shape you into a sweet and sensitive person. God bless you.

  6. Very powerful post. I know it’s good for us to share these things, but thank you.

  7. I’ve attended funerals of young friends (in their 20’s) whose eternity I was unsure of. You’re absolutely right. It really is the worst kind of heartbreak.

  8. I am deeply touched by this, Sarah.
    We can never be sure about a person’s heart or where they stand with God. Only God can discern that deeply. Many who we think are saved are living lives apart from God. Others who seem hopelessly lost are closer to God then we think.
    Your post reminds me of the importance of not assuming anything. We have but this moment in time. Thank you for reminding me that we need to share His Good News with all we come in contact with.
    Praying His continued healing upon your life!

  9. I know it was hard for you to share this. I pray you were blessed in doing so. Know that we all have experiences we wished we had handled differently in our lives.

    This was the path Daniel chose. He had a choice. Even if you had stopped to talk to him, it may not have changed his mind. You were still a good friend.

    God bless you, Sarah.

  10. Wow, Sarah. That must have been SO painful.

    You’ll never forget but you have to forgive yourself.

    Forgive, learn and take another step on the road to becoming fully refined!
    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It must have been very painful to write.

    I appreciate you!

  11. Belle, you were a wonderful friend to all of us. I know Daniel would not want you to worry about having a hand in what happened…THank you for sharing this, though. You know, I don’t remember much from high school anymore. My memory loss is getting worse, but I do remember how wonderful Daniel was. How gentle, kind, and fun he was. He was a genuinely a good guy. And I also remember how giving you were. You always gave to all your friends. Also, given my memory problems, I don’t remember much after hearing of his death. I can’t even remember if I was at the visitation. Was that my Tim? It makes me so angry that I can’t remember things anymore.

  12. Thank you, thank you for taking the risk. Thank you for writing courageously. What you’re writing here matters.

    (May I link to it this in my Soul Food section?)

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