Decades of Grief Push Man to the Brink of Death

“It was a Sunday morning and I just heard my dad scream, and I ran into the room and there she was. I gave her CPR for almost an hour before all of the medics and the first responders got there,” says Doug Gough, who was just 17 when his mother died in his arms. “It felt like the earth and the sky were going to crush me. I mean, she was my world. She was everything to me. She was one of those moms that all nine kids, just knew that they were her favorite,“ Doug says.  

Her death came a month before high school graduation, with Doug on his way to college on a football scholarship.  “When that happened, it was God's fault. I thought, ‘If this is the kind of thing that you do, I don't want any part of you.’”

Doug craved affirmation from his father but seldom got it. Now he blamed Doug for not doing more to save his mother. “I did so many things, just athletics and different things, like just wanting so badly for him to approve, Doug says. “For years, I carried that burden that I could have saved her.”

At his mother’s funeral, someone offered Doug cocaine. “With that shock of seeing my mom in a casket--that was the answer at that point.”

Doug had a successful freshman season in football, even helping Hillsdale College win a national championship, but after the season Doug began using again. “Cocaine was my main thing. It was just this crazy, crazy cycle of just regret and ‘never again,’ and all of those things, so much brokenness and so much chaos and just emptiness,” he says.

Eventually he decided there was an easier way to live. “The school that I went to there were wealthy people. I saw their lives and I thought, ‘Well, that's the answer. If you have money, then your life is a cocktail party. Once again, that was the way to gain approval. And the things is, I bought it hook, line, and sinker.”

Doug quit college and he worked hard to become a successful salesman.  He made good money, but too often, it went to support his drug habit, which was quickly becoming an addiction. “That was the secret to support this monster,” he says. “I had some skills and got into sales and from the world’s standards, was really successful young, was just driven that somehow, someway, success is going to make this okay--and it didn't.”

For the next two decades, as the drug addiction took over, Doug isolated himself from his father and family. “I was unreachable to anybody. I was, for sure, by far, the loneliest person that I've ever known.”

Eventually Doug was broke and lost his apartment. In December 2011, he was driving drunk and high. “I was driving 70 miles an hour and had a head-on collision with a cement truck,” he remembers. “And it was just this horrific crash. They had to cut me out of the truck, land a helicopter, and life-flight me to the hospital. I broke my neck in four places. I was mangled. I was broken.”

After a few days Doug demanded to be released from the hospital. A social worker came in to discharge him.  “She said, ‘We’re going to discharge you in about an hour, but there's nobody to claim you." I said, "What do you mean 'claim' me?’ And I said, ‘I'm not luggage. Do you know who I am? I have a family.’ She said, ‘I know who you are, Doug, and I've spoken to your family, and they're not coming to get you.’ Really, I had been saying my whole life, ‘If everybody would just leave me alone, I would be okay.’  But then they did… and it was horrible.”

With nowhere to live, Doug was given a voucher for a cab ride to the rescue mission in Youngstown, Ohio. “I'd been through some dark times, but that was the darkest, most desperate place that I had ever been.  And I was hyperventilating, almost convulsing, into this pillow trying not to make any noise. And I knew that I was going to paralyze myself. I just cried out to God from that bunk bed in that old gymnasium and I just said just a simple prayer like so many other people: ‘If you are real, show me, because I'm dying.’”

There Doug met pastor, Terry Weyand, who told him about god’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus.  “I said, ‘I'm unforgivable. You don't understand. You don't know what I've done." And he just looked at me just so full of mercy and love and he just said, ‘Doug, it isn't about anything that you've done; it's about what He did for you.’ And I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”

Later that week, Doug was looking for a Bible when he had an experience with a woman in a bookstore that cemented his faith. “I said, "I was in a car accident and I'm just glad to be alive. ‘She said, "Wow, thank God that you're OK.’ She said, ‘That's why I’m here, a friend of mine was killed in a car accident and I special ordered a Bible for her five-year-old daughter and I'm here to pick it up.’  And I said, ‘Wow, that's horrible.  I'm so sorry to hear that.’”

Later when Doug went to check out, the salesperson had something for him. “He just kind of shook his head and he said, ‘The woman that you were just speaking to bought this Bible for you and she paid to have your name engraved on it.  And she told me to tell you 'God bless you.'” Doug says. “That moment is when I knew that Jesus was my Jesus.  That is when it became personal to me. It was done. All of that chaos, and all of that brokenness and all of that woundedness and all of that emptiness and loneliness, it was done! And I knew I would never, ever be the same.”   

Although Doug’s father had passed away years earlier, Doug was able to make his peace with him. While watching the movie Saving Private Ryan,’ Doug began to see his father, a World War II vet, in a different light.

“It was all these young American boys storming the beaches at Normandy and I was thinking, ‘This is what he was doing when he was 18 years old. And what was I doing?’ I just, there was this unbelievable compassion and just forgiveness and release. I knew that at that point I had released him; I had forgiven him.”

Doug has also reconciled with his siblings and today, he is married with three stepchildren.  He also serves on the board of the same Union Rescue Mission where he gave his life to Christ.

“I have such a love for people: broken people and hurting people.  And I just get to share with them that there is hope,” Doug says. “And then that hope turns into love and that love just can't be stopped. To have struggled for so long with wondering if I would ever be loved or ever be accepted, to have my wife Dana and the kids, and to know that the star-breathing God of the universe loves me and gave his life up for me, is so beautiful.”

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