When It’s Not the Death We Mourn

Photo from: janariess.religionnews.com

Photo from: janariess.religionnews.com

Let’s talk about something for a moment that is unpleasant.

As younger adults functioning inside a Christian faith community how do we deal with mental health issues? Further, when we lose someone due to suicide, addiction, or overdose, how can we support each other and heal without creating more injury to those left behind?

This summer I lost a best childhood friend from complications involved with bipolar disorder. Her father, and the 20 year old son she had raised alone beginning when she was 17 found her on the filthy couch that sat in the middle of chaos in her tiny downtown apartment. Although we can  not say at this point with absolute certainty the reason for her death, the truth is that maybe it doesn’t matter that much. Was it intentional? Was it an accidental overdose? As the weeks pass, it seems to be coming more apparent that it is not how she died that was important, but rather who is left behind and how they can begin to honor and mourn the mother, sister, daughter and friend that had been such an enigma.

How can we be present for those that are touched by the tragedy of deep sadness, depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide and overdose?

Although I had not abandoned my friend, I felt like a failure. I ached for her parents as they sobbed to the small group that gathered for her funeral. I allowed myself to cry openly with the others in attendance, many of whom I had not seen in decades. And like them, I wanted an answer to the unasked questions. I craved comfort that was impossible to receive. How did she become the lost one? How had her life become such an unlivable hell? Was this partly my responsibility? What should we have done differently? In short, it was not the death that was cause for mourning, but rather it was witnessing the sadness that had seeped so oppressively into the life that was lived.

This was not a celebration of a life well lived taken after decades of happy memories. It was not a case of a life taken too early because of accident or physical illness. While I do not wish to minimize the pain of losing a loved one, losing someone by way of one of the myriad of issues or circumstances that can accompany mental illness is different. The mourning process for this sort of loss must also be different.

So I do not post this with any sort of answer in mind. I post because it’s a question worth considering. How do we support each other not just after someone dies this way but before? How can we support our friends, family, coworkers and church family members that are touched personally by mental illness? Aside from the standard referral or (usually) unhelpful advice or (even worse) judgmental statement about the behaviors of another, what can we do to be present and show our support not just for the mentally ill, but for those that love them?

2 thoughts on “When It’s Not the Death We Mourn

  1. Hi Catharine: I appreciate your blog entry today. I’m very passionate about promoting Mental Health Awareness and I do see a vital role that our congregations and ministers and just about everyone need to step into. My research has taken me out into the community and, to my surprise, deep into Scriptures. People suffering and those who support them are marginalized by society. They are present day untouchables. Our society structure is good at producing situations where it is hard for people to thrive well in mental health. When they struggle and fail, society does a poor job at protecting them. In most cases, our churches are much better at this. The good news is there so much we can do. Addressing issues concerning Mental Health doesn’t need to be scary. Education is a big part of it. As well as simply acknowledging the issue. Then we listen to people. It’s not a question of what can we do to deal with Mental Illness, but what we should do to thrive in Mental Health. Once we understand that this is about all of us then together we will see ways to address it. Our faith has much do with that too!
    In short, thanks for talking about this!

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