“Pay close attention to those you care about,” I read today in a blog I enjoy. What does that mean to you? For that matter, what does it mean to me? I first answered with a bit of righteous indignation. “Of course, I take care of those I love most. I cook. I clean. I buy clothes and I do laundry. I try to lead by example. I help where I can.” But after re-evaluating the question from a more calm and sincere state, I wondered, “Am I overlooking something in someone I love that I should catch? What can I honestly do to help without being overbearing and plain out nosey?”
The writer added this warning, “Sometimes when a loved one says, ‘I’m OK,’ they need you to look them in the eyes, hug them tightly, and reply, ‘I know you’re not.’ And don’t be too upset if some people only seem to remember you when they need you. Feel privileged that you are like a beacon of light that comes to their minds when there is darkness in their lives.”
Oh, my, this guy is dishing out some serious, heavy duty, thinking kind of advice and I am receiving it loud and clear. All of us have had someone in our lives that seemed fine on the surface, but inside their being, they were churning with raw emotions, undecided, perhaps ill, and often suffering depression like we cannot know about unless we’ve been there ourselves.
I have had at least three people in my own life that were losing the battle with depression and wanted to die. Each of their deaths changed the course of my own life. I have known others that took their own lives, but not in the same way that I knew these three precious people. My questions bounced off the walls of my mind: “Why didn’t I see this coming? How did I not know he was in real trouble? What could I have done differently to help him? How many of us went on living our lives and did not take the time to offer help or concern?”
The death by suicide that I will always remember for as long as I live was a great preacher friend of mine in the Atlanta area. My husband also knew him, but not as well. They just never seemed to have much in common, where my friend and I could laugh and talk Scripture, maybe gossip a bit, and brag on our family members. We’ll call him Jerry for this reflection. I heard a light tap on my office door one Thursday afternoon at the church where I worked and I was happy to see Jerry standing there. He came in and we chatted a bit. He seemed fine to me, although I did pick up on the fact that he had no new meetings scheduled for the coming spring and summer months. In fact, he asked me to ask my pastor if there might be a possibility for a meeting in our church. I asked, in turn, about his wife, and daughter and son, and told him goodbye warmly as he left. I stood at my window and watched him cross our parking lot and get into his vehicle.
Early on the following Sunday morning, I received a call from a dear friend. “Brenda, can you come over here to Jerry and Ann’s home?” I said, “Surely, but why?” “I would rather not say on the telephone,” my friend said. My husband and I dressed quickly and drove the few miles to my friend’s home. Cars were everywhere and I noticed what I thought was an ambulance, several police cars, some unmarked vehicles that I took to be law enforcement, and several that I did not recognize.
I started toward the front door and was greeting by an officer who said, “Sorry, Ma’am, but you cannot go inside just yet.” I asked what had happened and my friend spotted me as I did. She came out and told me with tears running down her face that Jerry had gotten up earlier than usual because it was his wife’s birthday, but instead of cooking the breakfast that she had thought he would, he took his shotgun, sat down on the foot of the bed, and put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. I was there when they removed the body.
He had left a birthday card on her pillow stating that he just could not go on with his life the way it was and he hoped sincerely she would now be happy. Oh, what a terrible thing to have happen and how horrible it would be for Ann to live with this nightmare. And his darling children — what would become of them?
The entire community was in a state of shock. What had we missed? Why had we not realized that something was very wrong? I am not debating whether he went to heaven or hell. No one really knows that except Jerry and the Lord. I know he was a good man. He was a kind person and he genuinely loved people. How had he become so depressed?
I have never forgotten that Sunday morning, or the Thursday afternoon that preceded it in my office. God help us all to take better care of ourselves, and each other.
“Fear thou not. I am with thee. Be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).
“Wait on the Lord. Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).