I am not a big fan of “Bandwagons”. I’ve never really liked them, never followed them, seldom jumped on them.
The tragic death of Robin Williams this week is definitely the hot topic of conversation for many, and I don’t doubt that his name will find its way into many pulpits and sermons come Sunday.
I really had to think long and hard about this post before deciding to type. I’ve been deeply affected by this death. I saw Paulfg’s post this morning about the nature of being a “public figure” and how we… the “public”… tend to encroach on the private grief of family and friends who truly knew a celebrity who has passed away. There is a truth to that, yes.
On the other hand, “celebrities” (whatever that means), who earn their livings by moving us to identify with them, laugh with them, listen to them, cry with them, or otherwise enter in to an emotional (and therefore somewhat “intimate”) relationship with them… especially when they employ OTHERS (PR professionals and such) to bind together our lives and interests with those of their client… well, such people DO enter in to some form of “relationship” with us. Not that that relationship should give us access and entree to the private, family, personal environments of their lives and mourners, but it certainly explains (perhaps legitimizes) the true and heartfelt grief we feel at their passing.
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So, ever so briefly, I want to address the loss of Robin Williams, and the grief I feel at his passing…
But right here, right now, and as I hope his name will be mentioned among Christians, I choose to focus not on “death”, but on “Life”. There’s a ton of reporting, and speculation, and discussion surrounding the mode and manner of Mr. Williams’ death. which the sheriff’s department released as being caused by “asphyxia due to hanging”. I leave all that to others, as millions of words are being generated as we speak regarding depression, substance abuse, emotional distress, copy cat concerns, and social media.
Suicide is an ugly word. It is seldom heard in Church. It is seldom discussed by “good Christian folk”. It epitomizes “darkness” and somehow seems to negate the very Gospel and mission of Christ.
“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” [John 10:9-11]
I have no idea what was going on in Mr. Williams’ life, what was in his mind, what was in his heart, in his last days, hours, or moments on earth. It would be the height of presumption for me to address that. But I am deeply and passionately involved in ministry to others who struggle with the decision to end their lives, and with families and friends who seek to recover from the grief of such a loss. I speak, teach, counsel, belong to committees and organizations, aid survivor efforts… all of that. For more than 20 years, in God’s infinite wisdom, He has involved me with churches and people touched by suicide loss.
I want to take this moment to grasp and bring “Light” out of this Dark Moment.
Normal people, ordinary people, non-professional people, are being touched every day by friends and family recovering from a loss to suicide. You may have heard me mention before that in this county, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people between 10 and 25 years of age… and is staggering in its prevalence across many age groups. Suicide is the 7th leading cause of death overall in this country, last I looked.
There’s no “Jerry’s Kids” here. But there should be!
Normal people, normal families, normal churches, can have a positive impact in bringing life to people who struggle with that decision. There is community based training available for non-professionals that can take as little as 90 minutes. I am such a trainer, and I’ll make it public right here… I will come to any church or group that wants to bring me… to train folks in suicide prevention!
Two things I hope get discussed with Robin Williams this week:
(1) Hopelessness… the sense that “this pain” will never end, there is no relief for this… is a hallmark of the decision to end one’s life. A friend of mine observed this morning, as we discussed this, that Victor Frankl had this right… that people are capable of enduring unimaginable pain, as long as they cling to hope. The sense of hopelessness is perhaps the most oft-observed characteristic of the decision to end one’s own life.
Our BUSINESS!!! as the Bride of Christ… as an Holy and Royal Priesthood… is to communicate, affirm, and embrace people with HOPE! “Christ in you, the hope of glory”…. to Love one another, as He loves us… Life, and that more abundantly… these ARE the Gospel!
And I encourage EVERY Minister… clergy or lay… preacher/teacher or otherwise… boldly to proclaim that Life is filled with Hope… and Hope is central to Life Himself!
(2) To be Alone, Abandoned, Isolated… Some people have described it almost like a sort of numbness, like being emotionally wrapped in cotton wool… unable to feel others. There is the creeping conviction that the person is quite alone and isolated in their pain, and that no one else is touching them.
My friend noted a wonderful observation made in some posts he was reading on this today, from people who suffer from depression at times… who said these wonderful words (we both agreed).
Advice from a depressed person: “Please don’t try to ‘fix’ me, lecture me, or ‘cheer me up’. Just BE WITH me”
How wondrous and profound those words! For those of us who do shut in, or nursing home, or hospital ministry at times… how well we know that often our most powerful ministry — perhaps often our ONLY MEANINGFUL ministry — is simply the “Ministry of Presence”. There are times that no words are “right”. Simply to BE, to be in the presence of another, to be in the presence of their pain, and offer the tacit service of bearing part of it… yes, sometimes this is the most valuable thing one can do.
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We all know people, know stories, know churches… that have encountered the challenge of suicide recovery in the past few weeks, months, or years.
I encourage discussion on this. I encourage training on this… (QPR or ASIST are great programs readily available).
I encourage “judgment free” embrace of families grieving in recovery. (One great tragedy of the social stigma still associated with suicide is that churchgoing families who suffer such a loss, often feel so embarrassed and awkward that they cease fellowship. More tragic, their church family, often not knowing what to say or how to help, just watch them slip away to the margins of church life, then beyond… without embracing and accompanying them on their road of grief.)
And, naive and simplistic as this may sound… please pray as you feel led. For those in pain, for their families, for recovering families, and for those who help.
What to pray? Whatever your spirit leads… but for me, beyond all else… Light… that Light and Hope shine out and break through in dark and shadowy places where no one but God and grace can reach. Dying can be a very lonely business. Light and hope are wondrous things!
Grace to you — The Little Monk
August 14, 2014 at 2:48 PM
Thanks for this, I also have been deeply affected by his death. I identify with that deep, dark place and his death definitely brought up some of those feelings or me. I so agree with what you said, presence is everything. I am going to be writing a post about his death at some point, and one thing I know I’m going to be writing about is that depression is a silent killer. It eats away at you and for those of us that are skilled at hiding our feelings, nobody would ever know. In my recovery from sexual abuse and other related issues, I have learned to verbalize to someone (husband, mentor etc) how I am feeling and to have them just sit with me. It’s a weapon in my arsenal that Jesus has given me. Just to say, “Hey, I’m not ok, Will you just be with me.” Jesus gave me an escape route, it’s day to day and I don’t go beyond that. For those people that don’t have a plan, the silent sufferers, I pray they come to the Lord and if they already know the Lord that they seek someone they trust and seek help. Christ is at the center. Sorry for the rambling but felt moved to share and grateful for your truth.
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August 15, 2014 at 12:13 AM
Thank you so much for your comment. Your candor humbles me totally. Your observation, to derive peace and comfort from the simple presence of a “trusted other”, is wonderful. I don’t know that there is any practice so challenging, and yet so vital to our being “OK”, as the freedom to experience, embrace, and express our feelings in a time and manner we can trust.
Thank you again for your contribution!
Grace to you — LM
August 14, 2014 at 3:58 PM
Nice post LM. I’ve ready many over the last 3 days but this is the first one yet that I feel ht the issue.
August 15, 2014 at 12:15 AM
Thank you, Levi. You know how strongly I feel that this IS our business, one of the most important ministries we can engage in!
Grace — LM
August 15, 2014 at 5:07 AM
My eldest sister killed herself. The month was August. 2009. She was 54. Her husband told us that she had seemed brighter that morning. She was being treated for another mental health issue- over treated, and was in the middle of changing her medication. She saw her GP that morning. Everything seemed fine. Then she went to a country railway station and threw herself in front of an express train.
In my post “Facing death” I mentioned her sudden death and yet not the manner of her death. What were my reasons? One reason was that it was her story and not my story. Another reason was that it was irrelevant. I didn’t want it to distract from my message which was that sometimes a person does not have a good death. Perhaps in the same way that not everyone has a good birth.
Yet I discovered, in the long run, it doesn’t matter.
The day following her death I had been concerned that my sister was lost somewhere between life and death on that railway track. A Methodist minister talked and prayed with us-our parents and my husband and me. I was reassured. We were still grief stricken. And yet during our conversation and prayer, I knew my sister was safe in God’s hands.
Another reason I didn’t mention the manner of her death was that I didn’t want to provoke shock or undeserved sympathy for me. I didn’t want to be known as the Blogger whose sister killed herself, just as my sister to be remembered only for the manner of her death.
And yet it has changed me. Perhaps it has made me wiser, more compassionate, perhaps not.
These are the poems I wrote:
As we stepped out of the Church,
At the end of your funeral,
We breathed in the fresh scent of pine.
That endless torrent of grey rain
A butterfly circling
Above the altar;
Tears crowded my eyes
So I failed to see
The freed spirit of you
Our sister Cassie
Making your journey
Beloved by God
You had stated
An act of Love is never wasted.
Yet make not a bond of Love
Which boldly I read out
From your poem, Midwinter.
Can we listen?
Can we still hear your voice?
And feel your passionate care
For all of us here,
We would be so wise
To continue to heed those words
Written by you
In former times.
By Julia Coughlan (September 2009)
I glanced up at my favourite hillside
Behind my parent’s home.
Fine golden grasses
Are rippled with sunlight
Like the sleek ginger fur
On the nape of Sheena’s* neck
Are ruffled by a giant hand.
The grasses are softly caressed
By that buffeting brute
Standing all on end in swift succession
Then flattening against the green/brown bank.
Autumn sun gleams on their silken tresses
As it speeds by on the violent gusts.
Shade and light
Both there in alternate seconds
At the winds violent passing.
Watch how it rages up the hill
As it raises us up
Then flattens us down against the hard ground
And we vanish without a trace.
Just as a life
There one minute
And lost in the next.
Yet beauty remains
As a butterfly stretches out its wings
Poised and sheltered
Basking in the late summer sun.
By Julia Coughlan (September 2009)
*Sheena was our dog.
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August 15, 2014 at 1:11 PM
How wondrous and humbling… your comment. Thank you so much for opening your heart here with such grace and truth. I have no “words of response” besides “thank you”. I know many things I will NOT say… all those platitudes that well-meaning loving hearts have probably already said. I do not say “I know how you feel”, because I cannot. So, I will receive your words and thank you for the light in them. I will sit/stand here silently with you as you embrace this event in your life, and simply share the moment.
Your words bring light into shadowy places. I know they have blessed me. I trust they bless others. I know they glorify the God who embraces and loves us so. Thank you for so beautifully demonstrating the grace and presence of the Comforter even in terrible moment. (Perhaps especially so.)
Your servant — The Little Monk
August 15, 2014 at 1:38 PM
Thank you for being there. For me and for others. Yes, today as I wrote the above I wept. It is sad. And just now, I went for a walk with my husband and tended the flowers I had planted on her grave. I planted them last friday in the pouring rain (rather foolishly). I wanted her to have flowers on her grave for August. Thank you for your reply.
August 15, 2014 at 2:20 PM
Reblogged this on Just me being curious and commented:
This “S” word is real.
It needs all of us to all allow those in pain to breathe their pain and to be accepted. To be included and to help themselves heal in some way only those in pain understand. If we as Christians will not allow those in pain to weep publicly – then how much do we love?
I love this honesty. I love this Love. Is not this love for ALL OF US – please God it is.
Thank you LM.
August 15, 2014 at 11:29 PM
Thank you for helping others see this information. You are ever supportive of grace! — LM
August 15, 2014 at 8:29 PM
Thank you for your thought provoking and sincere words.
August 15, 2014 at 11:30 PM
You’re welcome, Patti. Thank you for commenting. 🙂 — LM