Jun 082018

Suicide

I had started writing this week’s blog post when a notification popped up on my phone. My stomach sank as I read that Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide. This after reading earlier in the week that fashion designer Kate Spade had also committed suicide.

So I threw away what I had written and decided to try again.

Many people say that these people had so much going for them. They were rich, famous, well-liked, and had many friends to support them. Why did they kill themselves? Others will claim that if only they had more faith, more love, more strength, more courage, they would not have killed themselves. And then there will be those who will say they took the cowards way out or that they were only being selfish.

All of that is crap.

I tried to kill myself as a teen. I have had thoughts of suicide throughout my life. And I can tell you that it was not because I lacked faith. It was not because I was not strong or courageous. It was because I had come to the end of my strength. I had come to the end of courage. And I believed that I would see God and that maybe, just maybe he would be merciful to me and let me into heaven.

I was tired of being abused. Rape and sexual assault had left me a shell of who I had been. I had no hope that life would improve. And when I dared to speak up, no one would listen or believe me. I was strong, but even that strength had its limits.

And to those who say I was being selfish, I was not. I believed that others would be better if I was not around. Society had convinced me that my struggles were a burden to others. I was left feeling like I had caused the abuse, rape, sexual molestation, and that everyone would be better off if I was not here. I was not suicidal because I was being selfish, I felt it was the ultimate sacrifice for others.

It is not being selfish, but it is also not going to help others either. Having to help families cope with the loss of a loved one who killed themselves has shown me the other side of those situations. Families are left in despair. They realize, all too late, that they missed the warning signs. Guilt consumes them. And then there are the questions about how they could let their loved one die. There are the condemning looks.

And even that is not fair.

That is why more and more people need to speak up about their struggles. That is why, as pastors, we share our brokenness with others. And yes, you may get tired of hearing us talk about how broken we are. But if it helps one person find the help they need, if it saves one person from killing themselves, then I will speak about my brokenness night and day!

After all, that is what I am called to do. That is what you are called to do.

My struggle is not over. And the struggles of my brothers and sisters who wear the collar are not over. Our struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of worthlessness may never end. It is my commitment  to do whatever I can to help others through their struggles and to find the help they need. And in a way, helping them helps me. It helps me find peace with my lot in life.

So, what can you do to help those of us who struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of worthlessness?

BE THERE. Be present to us. You don’t have to say a word. Just listen. Be a shoulder to cry on. Invite us to dinner. Ask us to join you for lunch. See if we want to go to the mall.

BE PREPARED. There are many resources that you can find to help those who need it. Carry the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number in your phone. Have business cards printed up with the help line numbers on them. I am planning (when I can afford to) to have new business cards made for the parish. On the back, I will have the Lifelines listed.

BE LOVING. Be ready to give them a hug. Just pick up the phone and call someone for no reason. Send them a message on Facebook or via their phone that just says you love them. And understand that sometimes they may not respond right away. Your message of love, your call, just knowing you are there and you care, could mean the difference between life and death.

AND DO NOT BE AFRAID. If you feel someone is in immediate danger of committing suicide, DO NOT hesitate to call the police or EMS. They may be angry at you for calling for help, but in the long run, they will thank you for caring enough to reach out for help. They may not be able to reach out, you might have to reach out for them.

At the end of the day, a person may still end their life. As a Bishop, as a Christian, let me make this very clear: Suicide is NOT a guaranteed ticket to Hell. NO WHERE in the Bible does it say that if you kill yourself you will go to Hell. The church for many centuries was wrong and caused so many people hurt and pain when they needed love and compassion. But if your loved one has committed suicide, God understands what they were going through and in his mercy, he will grant them peace and joy in his kingdom.

If you need help, please do not hesitate to ask. We have a new page here at our website that give you resources that can help you through your struggles.

Please know that God loves you and so do we!

Sep 142017

It is ok to grieve

grieve

If you have ever lost a loved one, you know that grief is a difficult burden. And in many cases, moments of grief hit you when you least expect it. And that is ok. It is ok to grieve.

Yesterday morning, as my son and wife traveled to the local high school so that my son could go to class, they found this lesson the hard way. I got a call from my son at 8:00 AM to tell me that he could not go to school. He and his mother were sitting in the car in the high school parking lot sobbing.

In that one moment, they had seen, heard, or discussed something that brought back memories of my wife’s mother who passed away on August 29. And for the first time since her passing, my son had actually started grieving in a very public and visible way. We all knew he loved his grandmother, but he was trying so hard to be “strong”.

We all tend to do this during times of grief. We try so very hard to put on a brave face. It is our way of masking what we really feel so that we do not have to deal with it at that moment. However, that is not healthy. Grieving is a normal process of life and we have to let it happen. I am the worst when it comes to that, as I try so hard to be a rock for others.

Make no mistake, I am grieving the loss of my mother-in-law. She treated me more like a son than my own mother did. She accepted me when my own family turned their backs on me. She helped me find a place to live and had be over for dinners when no one, not even her own family, would accept me. And when she would have her episodes, she would trust me more than anyone else. I could get her to take her medication even when my wife could not.

As I sat by her bedside that last night in the MICU, I had a few minutes alone with her. I told her what I don’t think I had ever really said to her in the 20 years I had known her. I told her that I loved her and that I appreciated the fact that she accepted me when others did not. It was a moment of raw emotion. I also promised her I would stay by her side until she crossed over or got better. Within a few hours, she had passed.

My own grieving process is different. Everyone’s grieving process is to a degree. I grieve because my wife and son are grieving. My feelings of grief is for them. I do not grieve for my mother-in-law. For the first time in 20 years her mind and health are restored. She is at peace and surrounded by light and love that we can only imagine. No, I don’t grieve for her, but I do grieve.

And I will continue to grieve in the moments when I think, “I wonder what Linda would like for dinner” only to realize that she is gone. I will grieve in the moments when I see her urn in our home chapel. We will miss her, but we will see her again someday.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it is ok to grieve. We do not have to be “strong”. We are truly strong when we can allow ourselves to live through the human experience. It is that experience that makes us strong. Ignoring our grief only damages us, it does not make us strong.

So go ahead and grieve the loss: the loss of a friend, a job, a pet, a loved one, a friendship, whatever you might be grieving. Allow yourself to grieve and find healing in that release.

And then, let us walk hand-in-hand until we see our loved ones again.