Posted by: riverchilde | June 6, 2018

The best days of his life

As we prepare to go to the cabin this weekend, which marks what would have been Alex’s 21st birthday, I can’t help but recall what I would guess was the best weekend of his life: those days spend celebrating his 13th birthday at the cabin with four of his best friends.

The weather wasn’t great, but they made the most of it–playing on the park beach after dusk (forbidden by park rules!) and then walking home through the woods at night, plotting and counter-plotting how to scare each other. Showing off their BB-gun shooting prowess with skills sharpened by Boy Scout camps. Working together to put Alex’s little skiff in the water and puttering around on it. Playing on the archaic playground equipment in Ladysmith (long since removed). Burning Alex’s entire year’s worth of school homework and notes and pretending to puff on giant cigars made out of them. Talking into the late hours, falling asleep where they sat or lay in Alex’s loft room, sprawled all over like exhausted puppies. Horsing around in the water.

And finally, most awesomely, intensely, wonderfully, taking a three-tube, five-person ride behind the boat in the rain, with Alex hoarsely shouting “THIS. IS. INTENSE!”  It may have been the best moment of his life.

To every boy who shared that moment: Thank you for the memories.

Happy birthday, Alex! We will love you forever.


Posted by: riverchilde | June 5, 2018

Who are you (at 21)?

We’re approaching a milestone birthday, and it’s been hard watching the Facebook announcements of his friends as they turn 21.

I try so very hard not to think about “what might have been.” My philosophy has been “his life ended at age 14 and that’s all there was to it.”

But lately I’ve been wondering a lot about what our relationship would be like at this age. We were so close until adolescence. And then our relationship changed, as it naturally does as a boy grows up. But it would have been nice to see who he became after the cranky angsty teenage years were past.

It seems so trivial, but I wonder if he would he have jumped on the Steampunk bandwagon with me? Or would he have given me “that look” at the mention of it? With his history of tinkering and “creating” with Legos, would we have spent time together make steampunk creations? Or would he have rolled his eyes at my choice of attire and participation, while tolerating my eccentricity like his sister does? Would I have pulled out a few photos to remind him of his own history of interesting clothing choices?

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Or would his theatricality and love of drama and costumes have meant that he would develop his own costume and persona to attend steampunk cons with me?

I stop myself before I begin to develop a detailed picture of what we might have created together. That’s not a reality available to me. Or even a fantasy worth exploring. Because one can get lost in dreams like that and never come out.

Better to live in what is now, which contains the hope of a someday reunion. I do allow my imagination to ponder what happens in the next life, if we grow and change there or if we become our best selves or if it’s beyond my current conception. I take comfort in the hope that at that someday reunion,  I will finally know who Alex is now and what our relationship will be.

Imagining the details of that hope is usually enough to sustain me. (Even though that someday reunion probably won’t be at a steampunk convention.)

Posted by: riverchilde | January 18, 2018

Places in the Broken Heart

After five-and-a-half years, you’d think I had finished exploring the landscape of my broken heart: poked into all the hidden glades, lifted all the rocks in the desert, peered into all the gopher holes. This past month, I’ve learned this isn’t the case.

Christmas is always tough. It’s never been my favorite holiday, because I always feel inadequate at meeting the season’s high expectations. I could go on about what that looks like inside my brain, but this isn’t a therapy session. At least, not that kind of therapy session.

Losing Alex made the season worse, of course. Anyone who has lost a loved one is aware of the gaping hole in their heart and lives at the time when Love came down to us. Their shadows move among us, decorate the Christmas tree with us, sit at the Christmas feast with us, unwrap presents of long ago. We wonder if they’d still like their favorite holiday foods, what they would hope this year to unwrap from under the tree.

One of our family traditions was buying and decorating the Christmas tree together. Visits to a tree farm were the most memorable, but we had some standout fun on tree lots as well. Those memories sometimes feel like tiny shards of glass embedded into the soil of my heart, and in the depths of Christmas, I have difficulty dredging up enthusiasm for finding the “perfect” tree. Where once we all would have trouped out in the snow and the dark to examine one tree after another, now Eric and I head to Home Depot to grab one that exposes the fewest imperfections. Perfection no longer exists in a world without Alex.

Decorating the tree is even more painful, because the shards of glass sit there in the box of ornaments, waiting to be picked up and jab memories into the holes of our hearts. Each of us has a large box of the personal ornaments gifted to us, marked with the year and giver, that we personally put on the tree. These days, we share the task of putting Alex’s ornaments on the tree, though I’m not sure how many of his ornaments my daughter actually handles. Like our last visit to see Alex’s body, this is a painful procedure mostly left to us parents.

We’ve always undressed the tree together, or at least as a couple, until this year. While I was denuding the family room of its Christmas attire, Eric tackled the tree alone. Only later did he tell me how agonizing it was to remove the ornaments.  Never again will one of us do this alone. Pain shared is truly pain halved.

This year also found me tripping over an exposed root covered by snow in the Christmas landscape of my heart. I try every year to somehow redeem Christmas and hope that a Christmas dream of laughter, joy and grandchildren around the tree will someday come true. As I peeked through the Christmas boughs in my heart-world this year, I acknowledged that additional shadows will always dwell there–the shadows of the grandchildren that will not be present, because Alex isn’t here to father them.

I thought I had dealt with this loss of Alex’s never-to-be-born children already. But this old pain cast a new shadow over Christmas. The shadow of this loss stretched over Christmas past, present and future as I said goodbye to images of Alex’s children, with eyes like his shining bright over Christmas presents of Alex’s favorite things: Legos, books and Nerf guns.

The New Year of January brings new opportunities, second chances, new journeys upon which to embark. Like most of us, I start a new exercise and eating routine, hoping to shave off a few pounds more than I put on over Christmas. On the elliptical today, watching Places In The Heart for the first time, I dropped into a heretofore unexplored hole in my heart.

A pre-adolescent Frank Spaulding approaches his mother to ask for a dance, and my world turns black as I close my eyes and sob, realizing that I will never, ever, put my arms around my beloved son and dance with him. Such an opportunity never arose for me, although my son waltzed onstage with a girl in his arms and twirled a pair of girls as the rabbi during the wedding feast in Fiddler. (Apparently, practicing with his mother never occurred to either of us.)

Images of wedding dances kaleidoscoped in my brain, and I tried desperately to feel Alex’s hand in mine and arms around my waist. I have no idea what kind of dance was happening on the screen; I was crying too hard to watch. Instead, arms pumping and feet still sliding back and forth on the elliptical, I was inside my head, gliding across floors in dances that would never happen.

Posted by: riverchilde | December 19, 2015

I wish you a reconciled Christmas

In my last post, I mused about the idea of Advent and Christmas as a time of reconciliation, and I wanted to share some further ideas I’ve had on this topic.

I’ve thought about how when we demand to see what God is doing about the mess that humans have created, we are harkening back to God’s hesed (covenental faithfulness, often translated as steadfast love), as witnessed by the biblical authors. During Advent we await the fulfillment of the promise of a savior, the Messiah, who will reconcile the world to God. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that promise, the ways and means by which that great task will take place. God is already reconciled to the world. But think of the enormity of the other side of that equation–ALL THE WORLD becoming reconciled with God.

We can’t even reconcile ourselves to each other. When harm occurs within families, some members will become reconciled with the violator, but others will not, not matter how repentent the apology. South Africa has modeled reconciliation as a nation after apartheid, but all is not yet healed there. How then can I expect swift reconciliation with a God that some do not even know (and of which some have flawed or incomplete knowledge)? How can they understand this God of reconciliation unless (as the Ethopian eunuch said in Acts 8) someone guides them?

But who is to guide them? Why, each of us, of course. And how do we tell them? Not by tossing Bible verses at them, or driving those who don’t share our beliefs out of the country, or shaming others for their religious practices, but by demonstrating the same sacrificial reconciliation that God has demonstrated for us.

We sacrifice our pride, our need for revenge and retribution, our self-satisfaction at having the upper hand, our power over others. In exchange, we take on the qualities of Christ demonstrated during his life on earth–forbearance, graciousness, servitude, compassion, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, and self-control. We become willing to be “interrupted” for the sake of another and seek always to be part of the Kingdom of God drawing near.

I fear that we have lost–if we ever had it–the understanding that we are to be the embodiment of the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom already here in part but not yet fully manifested. But isn’t that was Christmas is about? In Jesus’ birth, the Kingdom has not only drawn near, but become manifest in the flesh of Immanuel, God with Us.

We don’t seem to spend a lot of time talking about the Kingdom of God these days, it seems. And yet our participation in it is critical to its manifestation, particularly in our opposition to the kingdoms/power structures/politics that are at odds with the precepts of God’s kingdom.

In current arguments over what constitutes a “real Christian,” those who are challenging the authenticity of others’ beliefs and practices are appealing to the United States’ status as a so-called “Christian nation.” However, if we examine some of basic American precepts, we find that they are at odds with Jesus’ words and actions. So we must ask: Whose ideals am I embracing–those of the Kingdom of God or those of the kingdoms of the world?

Of course, if perfection is the tape measure of being a “real Christian,” then all fall short, as Paul says in Romans 3. But can we look at our beliefs, practices, relationships, values and habits and declare “This is of the Kingdom of God” and “this is not”? I believe we can.

In doing so, we demonstrate a kind of hope with teeth. We turn Advent and Christmas into “an act of protest, an act of defiance against all the powers that are threatening our future, and that of our children and grandchildren…of faith against despair, of love against hatred, of hope against hopelessness,” as John de Grucy  writes. “Such ‘hope against hope’ remains at the core Christian faith, it is the hope that tyrants will be overcome and violence cease, a hope that keeps us from despair, a hope that empowers us to act for justice. For to lose hope and stop working for peace and justice is to surrender to evil, to allow ugliness to conquer beauty, and hatred trump love. It is to give the king Herods of this world the victory. It is to stop celebrating Christmas.”

It is when we align ourselves with the Kingdom of God that we move closer to the reconciliation of the world, and the “true meaning of Christmas.”



Posted by: riverchilde | December 13, 2015

I need a little Christmas NOW

I rely on the faithfulness of God to God’s promises–particularly those inherent in Christ Jesus. But this year, during Advent, based on what I’m seeing in the news, it’s been hard to hang onto that hope. As Nadia Bolz-Weber  recently said, “especially given how anxiety has been ratcheted up for all of us the last couple weeks – not knowing when a legally obtained semi-automatic assault rifle might be in the hands of someone in the doctor’s office or a workplace party or concert or movie theater or classroom.”

In the midst of this anxious time, I’m having a hard time hanging on to the belief in the promise that the birth of God in the flesh, Immanuel, Jesus the Messiah, has made or will make any difference in the world. Apparently I’m not the only one.
My day-to-day survival depends upon my hope in the promises of a reconciling God, one who–through Christ–promises that this world isn’t all there is, promises love and faithfulness to us creatures fromed by that God, promises to hold us securely now and forever, no matter what.

I cling to the biblical narratives that record the reliability of God’s promises made to and experienced by those who received them. I trust in the promises of a reconciling God who holds my son–lost too soon to suicide–closely and securely, whether my son and I ever meet again on the other side of the river.

I have a daughter living in a black South African township for a year, and I am constantly asked if I am afraid for her safety. When we made the decision for her to pursue this learning opportunity, I turned to my trust in the faithfulness of God’s promises, promises not that she would stay safe and alive, but promises that God would be present in the midst of everything that happens, redeeming everything that happens, making good on even the worst of our experiences.

So perhaps you can begin to understand my despair during this Advent season, watching the events of the world unfold, watching the world seemingly fall to pieces, watching our “Christian nation” demonstrating most un-Christ-like attitudes and behavior, and losing faith that God does, indeed, rescue us from sin for everlasting and/or abundant life in and through Christ.

As someone who has flirted with suicidal thoughts, my life literally depends on this continued belief in God’s faithfulness to God’s promises. And I’ve been struggling with that belief, given the state of the world. I’ve tried to embrace ideas like “everything has to fall to pieces before it can be put back in place (or grace).” But I’m still p.o.’ed at God. In this Advent season, things are getting worse, not better, and I feel betrayed.

I need to see improvement, and I need to see it now, before Christmas, in order for Advent to not lose its promise. I’m not a starry-eyed believer who thinks that the turn of the calendar page from Dec. 24 to Dec. 25 is going to usher in miraculous changes in the world. And although I know that Advent is a time of waiting, I need to see some tangible change that helps restore my faith in God’s work toward reconciliation in all the world, reconciliation to God and to each other.

That word, “reconciliation,” has begun to eat away at my anxiety. All my adult life, I’ve wrestled annually with the “true meaning of Christmas.” The concept of reconciliation has become the focus of my meditation this year. Reconciliation is both a process and a final accomplishment. Where can I demonstrate/foster/feed/point to reconciliation in my sphere of influence? Where can I begin to make real the promises of the Kingdom of God? Am I waiting for a Savior, or am I waiting for the finalization of a promise of a Kingdom, a Kingdom that has offered me a place not just as subject, but as actor making it manifest in the world?


Posted by: riverchilde | July 28, 2015

The Land of What Might Have Been

I try very hard not to live in the land of “What Might Have Been.” Alex’s death ended his life here on earth at age 14, and whatever his eternal life might hold is clouded in mysterious promise. I live in hope of being reunited with him and sharing stories of our time apart on the other side of the river, but try very hard not to dwell on what our lives together here on earth might have been like had he lived past his 15th birthday.

I have to admit that I sometimes search for glimpses of that impossible future–in the faces and bodies of the boys he grew up with at church, in rumbly male voices and baritone singers who bring echoes of his voice to me.

This spring was difficult, as Facebook featured senior pictures and photos of caps and gowns adorning his friends. The proud announcements and baby photos posted by parents of new 18-year-olds were also hard to read. We received a handful of graduation announcements, and were appreciative of them. In some way, they recognized our loss while acknowledging the importance we had played in the lives of those youth we had served at church for so many years. Eric even attended some of the graduation parties and enjoyed them. I could not. But whereas Eric could not bring himself to attend the baccalaureate service at our church, the church where Alex had been baptized, mentored, confirmed, eulogized and buried, I found myself drawn to it.

I tried to hold myself apart from the proceedings at the outdoor service, sitting high on the hill near the parking lot, trying to be observer and not participant. But my loving faith family would have none of it. I was embraced, held in tears, by two Mary Magdalenes during the passing of the peace, and escorted to communion by a knight in shining armor. Best of all, the young graduates did not steer clear of me, but approached en masse, and we talked about my pride in them, their hopes and plans, the beautiful potentials of life that lay before them. They asked for my embrace, and I gave it to them with my blessing on their futures.

I hadn’t intended on blogging this much when I opened this page, but I’m glad now that I have preserved these salty-sweet memories of the love that is built in a faith community and that sustains me each and every day.

My intention was simply to share these: photos of Alex taken while on vacation in California two summers before he died. When I took these photos, I thought “What great senior picture poses!” So while I may not have a high-school yearbook or graduation album, I do have these precious photos that hint at What Might Have Been, and for that I am grateful.

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Posted by: riverchilde | October 29, 2014

Surviving the anniversary

“…[R]emember that every day is a disaster anniversary for someone. For those survivors of disaster who are our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, clients, and patients, it can be helpful to understand these common emotional reactions leading up to and on anniversary dates. Some people will need emotional space and solitude, others close contact and a need to participate in anniversary events, and still others may want to try and avoid anniversary reminders altogether by going on a vacation or simply treating it as ‘another day’. No matter what the anniversary of Sandy or other disasters means to your loved ones, let them know the most important thing they can hear during that day or any day: They’re not alone, and you’re there for them no matter what.” Two Years After Sandy: Addressing the Emotional Needs of Survivors, Huffington Post, Oct. 23,2014


As many of you know, I am a volunteer with Camp Noah, a mobile daycamp that serves children who have experienced disaster-related trauma. I’ve been in Lyons, CO (flooding); Moore, OK (tornado); Joplin, MO (tornado); northern Minnesota and Wisconsin (flooding); and north Minneapolis (tornado amid ongoing trauma and poverty). Last year, Camp Noah responded to Hurricane Sandy, among other natural disasters in the U.S.

This Huffington Post article, written with Hurricane Sandy in mind, does an excellent job of addressing the issue of how to interact with trauma survivors on the anniversary of the disaster. Here’s my personal perspective:

1. Recognize that the week(s) leading up to the anniversary can be as bad (or even worse) than the anniversary itself.

2. Make a statement recognizing the significance of this week: “I’ve been thinking about you this week.” If it’s an anniversary of someone’s death: “I’ve been remembering Alex this week.” The latter is the most precious gift you can give someone grieving the loss of a loved one–acknowledging that you remember them. We are so afraid everyone will forget about our loved ones and their very real lives in the world.

3. Don’t ask: “What are you going to do on the anniversary?” Often we don’t really know yet. Sometimes people create annual rituals; other times they just want to survive the week. Needs can vary from year to year. On the first anniversary of Alex’s death, I really needed activity that brought life and light into the world. So we invited friends and family to package food at Feed My Starving Children, a nonprofit organization that packs meals specifically formulated for malnourished children and ships them to over 70 countries in the world. FMSC was one of Alex’s favorite service activities, and his spirit was very much present with us that day. “Soy Boy,” as Alex was dubbed for his performance as soy-protein provider at his last packing event with his youth group, has a long history with FMSC, including outings with his classmates at school, with his Cub Scout troop, at a church mobile-packing event and even as one of his birthday parties. Packing food in his memory was a bittersweet activity, but very meaningful. In addition, that anniversary I asked people to “Pay It Forward” through acts of random kindness in Alex’s name and post their efforts on his memorial FB page. For myself, I shopped for and purchased small items for goodie bags that I later assembled and delivered to a local pediatric ward. I also grocery shopped for Alex’s favorite foods and delivered them to a food shelf specifically for teenagers. Doing so provided a distraction during the week leading up to the anniversary. However, on the second anniversary, my goal was to simply endure the week. I had just graduated with my MA degree the weekend before (an emotional experience in and of itself), and I had no energy or desire to do anything else. Next year, who knows?

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4. Realize that other dates and events may be as or more difficult than the anniversary. Birthdays, holidays, graduations, anything that provides a stark contrast between “what was” and “what now is” can be painful. Weather conditions, events that happened  immediately before the disaster, seasonal changes, can all trigger painful memories and feelings.

5. Don’t project your own feelings onto the survivor. Avoid comments like “You must be so sad this week,” “I’ll bet you just wish you could cut this week out of the calendar,” or any other statements that assume you know how someone is feeling. You don’t. Sometimes the survivor can’t even articulate how he or she is feeling. Don’t force them to sort through their feelings if they aren’t able to or don’t want to.

6. Be a patient, supportive and non-anxious presence. Whatever the survivor is experiencing at any moment is what he or she needs to experience. Listen to their non-linear babbling without trying to make sense of it for them. A listening, non-judgmental ear is the best balm there is for the jumble of emotions incited by anniversaries or other memory triggers.

Posted by: riverchilde | October 23, 2014

Passion from the Pulpit about Suicide and God’s Love

As I said in my Facebook share of this sermon: “Lord in your mercy, thank you for speaking through voices like Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s.” Please listen as well as read and share.

Posted by: riverchilde | September 10, 2014

Five Ways to Help Your Grieving Friend: A Ministry of Presence

Yesterday I sat with some other folks personally invested in the topic of suicide recovery. We talked about how difficult it is for people to know how to help those who are grieving from such a shocking loss. We can’t just rely upon clergy or professional therapists to provide support, I insisted. We must teach everyone how to perform the ministry of presence.

Today on my news feed, I discovered that Anna Wiston-Donaldson, whose elementary-age son drowned in a freak flood three years ago (Sept. 8, 2011), has begun that task in the most personal way possible: writing a book, Rare Bird, about her experience of looking grief in the face and turning the empty hole in her heart into a Holy Hole, as blogger Glennon Melton describes it. I ordered my copy immediately.

I “met” Anna through the Momastery blog, which introduced me to Anna’s blog, An Inch of Grey. While we have never spoken to one other, her blog speaks to me about the multiple facets of grief. Her experiences are both like and unlike mine. For example, she speaks of the “damned creek” that stole her son from her. I don’t think that way about the train tracks where Alex left this life. She moved away from their former house beside that creek; I’ve chosen to stay in the house by the train tracks, where the blowing whistle and clatter of wheels echo through the rooms every morning and all through the day, up to a dozen times a day.

Anna shares my interest in telling her story for the benefit of others and in fostering what I call a “ministry of presence” to those who are grieving or suffering. I wrote a blog posting called My Mary Magdalenes; she wrote a book with these five ways to help a grieving friend:

Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s
Five Ways to Help Your Grieving Friend

Show up.

Memorialize and Honor.



Don’t Give Up.

1) Show up. Go to her house. Go to the funeral. Mark your calendar for a few days or a week afterward to stop by with a latte and a hug. Do it again. Grief is isolating, while also being exhausting and overwhelming. Your friend will likely need you to initiate for a while, but if you remind yourself to “Just Show Up” physically and emotionally, you will help her heal.

2) Memorialize and honor. Honor your friend’s loved one by attending vigils, visitations, and any charity events held in his or her name. Support causes that are meaningful to the family. If you did know the loved one, write down your memories to give to your friend. If you didn’t, that’s okay too!  Let yourself learn about him or her through your friend. Keep your eyes and heart open for a meaningful way to honor him or her. A few women tied blue ribbons around trees and mailboxes in our neighborhood, and it spread throughout town as a way to memorialize our son. Small gifts such as a special piece of jewelry, a book, candle, or artwork, may give your friend something to hold onto even as her tangible connection to her loved one feels like it is slipping away.

3) Listen. Your quiet presence and silent hug mean MUCH MORE to your friend than any grand gesture. Supporting  a friend is scary because we are terrified of saying the wrong thing. Words are next to useless at a time like this, so give yourself a break. A simple “I’m so sorry” and a listening ear are enough. Your intention is pure, and your friend will be able to sense that. “Do you want to tell me what these past few days have been like?” might be a way to give her permission to open up if she wants to. But silence is okay.

4) Remember: Remember the birthday of the deceased, and the anniversary or the time of year of his or her death. Call, text, or send a card– “I’m thinking of you today as you miss your mom.” Or, make a note to reach out on a significant holiday such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or Valentine’s Day. Depending on the situation, this could also be the first day of school, or the opening day of baseball season when the pain could be acute. Don’t worry that you will be reminding your friend of her loss. She is likely already thinking about it, and your small acknowledgment will let her know you are too. Find a way to bring up the loved one’s name in conversation. The more you do it, the easier it gets, “I watched the Yankees play last week and thought of Jack,” or “Your mom really loved summer, didn’t she?”  This helps your friend know that even though time has passed, you still remember.

5) Don’t give up: Your friendship may feel one sided for a while. You may be tempted to back off, give your friend space, or let her reach out to you once she knows what she needs. You may even feel a bit let down that she seems to be relating to others more than you these days. Perhaps she has formed bonds with others who have experienced a similar loss, and you are wondering what this means for your friendship. The key is to keep letting her know you care. Let go of expectations of how/if she will respond. Grief is extremely disorienting and lonely, and you can stave off some of that by being consistently present even if that is just through Facebook, texts, and (unreturned) phone messages.  Yes, your friend has changed due to her experience, but she still loves and needs you. And if you are willing to walk beside her in her grief, you will both be richer for it.

– See more at:

Posted by: riverchilde | September 4, 2014

Robin Williams, Alex, and Me: A faith perspective

Wow–has it really been a year since I posted here? I guess that’s what happens when you start another blog for your master’s thesis (or simply put all your writing energy into a master’s thesis!).

Blogging isn’t easy for me–the achiever aspect of my personality finds it to be a rather inefficient use of time–and it does take a lot of time and emotional energy to write here. But I’ve also heard from folks who have found this blog to be helpful and useful in their own struggles around depression. anxiety, suicide, death and loss. So now that I’ve recovered from writing my thesis (and graduated with my degree, thank the Lord and all my professors and advisors!), I have the energy and drive to begin again, both here and on my other blog,, which is an exploration of my theological lines of thought.

I came back here today because of another blog I read and wanted to share here:

As Pastor Dave notes, the electronic social and news media universes blew up after the news of Robin Williams’ self-inflicted death (if you don’t know about this, just type Robin Williams death into any search engine). Reading my Facebook news feed in the days after this was very therapeutic. Intense, but therapeutic. And affirming and comforting and rejuvenating. (By the mercy of God and my Facebook community, the ugly remarks and statements about depression and suicide only appeared via postings that spoke out against them.) The kindness, support, honest story-telling, sharing of painful truths, brave vulnerability, and helpful resources and comments were validating. Who knew there were so many Facebook pages titled Stop the Stigma? (Check them out yourself to see which one resonates with you.)

I most appreciated those who told their personal stories, who opened the doors on their dark closets so we could peek inside and begin to get some sense of what it looks and feels like to live there, who were honest about mental illness being a constant war of daily skirmishes and battles, and who reminded us that the lonely jail cell of depression is an illusion, because the world is filled with so many others rattling their cups against the bars.

I once thought of my depressive state as sitting in that lonely jail cell pouring thick mud all over my body and rubbing it into my skin to preserve my identity as foul and rotten. I thought I had dispelled of my misery when I envisioned Christ reminding me that I had been washed clean at my baptism, and telling me that the bars only stayed in place because I held them there. When I let go, they fell to the ground and set me free.

But it wasn’t until I was officially diagnosed with moderate major depression (how’s that for an interesting description of a depressive state?) that I found a more accurate image–one that released all thoughts of guilt and responsibility for my depression and anxiety. Prescription medication enabled me to see myself as a person paddling her darndest to keep her tippy canoe afloat to keep from falling into the deep, dark water, but expending all her energy on just staying upright. Medication stabilized the boat, provided outriggers to ensure that stability, so that my paddling energy could move me forward.

Which is why I so appreciated Pastor Dave’s words on this subject, particularly these:
“Another things folks said and wrote after Robin Williams died is this: ‘If he only knew how much he was loved then he wouldn’t have been depressed. He wouldn’t have killed himself.’

Now, I’m never going to preach that love isn’t important, or that God’s love – both directly from God and shared by Gods’ [sic] people – is not the greatest thing in the world. But depression makes it tough for folks to experience that love. The way I think about it is the same way a diabetic can’t process sugar without help, someone who is depressed can’t process positive things in life – including love – without help. Another analogy might be color-blindness – someone who is depressed is like someone who can only see gray, and it’s not their fault or anybody else’s fault.

Not anybody else’s fault . . . Depression is not the fault of family or friends – it’s an illness. We only make folks feel guilty when we imply ‘They should have been shown more love’ or whatever. And that’s especially the case when suicide results from depression.”

Most importantly, this:
“For a Christian to receive therapy or take anti-depressant medication is NOT a sign of a lack of faith any more than it is for a diabetic to take insulin.”

And just like diabetics usually don’t diagnose their own conditions, people who wrestle with anxiety, thoughts of unworthiness, death, darkness and demons of all shapes and sizes often cannot recognize their own conditions for what they are. You don’t have to find a counselor on your own. You don’t need to ask for medication. All you need to do is tell a professional–your doctor, your school counselor, your parish nurse, your pastor, a trusted teacher or professor, your youth director–about your troubling thoughts and behaviors. They will know how to help you proceed. (And if you are one of these people, you darn well better be prepared in advance for how to respond to such a situation.)

If you are a friend, parent, or other confidant who doesn’t know what to do when someone shares that they are having these kinds of thoughts, sit beside them as they make an appointment with one of these by phone or e-mail, go with them to the appointment (or find someone more appropriate to do so), and persistently follow up with them to ensure they get the treatment they need. Because it’s very hard to save someone from drowning when you aren’t trained as a lifeguard. But it’s often the watchers on the shore who point out the swimmer in trouble.

We need to learn to listen and watch for the symptoms of depression and anxiety, not the just the signs of suicidal thoughts. By the time someone decides to take their own life, they may choose to hide their intention–and I worry that “suicide prevention” programs simply give them pointers on how best to do that. Let’s learn to recognize and address the cause, not just try to prevent one particular consequence of this deadly illness. And stop the stigma (but that’s a topic for another posting).

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