I started writing tonight… some musings on depression… launched from the context of the tragic death of Robin Williams by his own hand.
After reading the paragraphs I’d written, I erased them. Too simplistic. And I think, “man, sometimes I think I don’t understand this at all.”
Sometimes I wonder if the wrestlings I’ve been having over the last 24 months could be depression. And I self-analyze, trying to figure out the WHY’s behind the feelings. Its not that I haven’t worked through (or attempted to do so) my stuff with Chuck, my counselor… but what happens when its still there, kinda lurking? Cliches & over-simplistic ‘answers’ don’t do anything to help the situation… just make one feel a little more inadequate to address the waves of thought, coupled with unidentified emotions.
I think about my friend Bobby. He was 16 – & his girlfriend had broken up with him. He was home alone, despondent. And he decided to take his life using a shotgun. His little brother found him the next morning when he didn’t show up for breakfast before school. I remember riding my bike in front of their house, dutifully delivering newspapers at 6 a.m., & the alarm in my heart to see 2 police cars. An ambulance. And the feeling of hopelessness that accompanies such moments.
I went to his funeral. Heard people talk about depression. Said it was such a waste that he had killed himself, that he had so much still to live for, if only he could have gotten through that night. I can still see the family – attempting to keep it together, grieving at the horrendous loss they had just experienced. And I also sensed the family’s guilt & shame… as though somehow, someway what they were experiencing was a result of their own failure… that they’d neglected something important which led to the depression & death.
And I didn’t know what to say.
I think about my first year as a pastor in Reno – I was 30, & many of the people I was called to care for were as old as my grandparents… I can remember thinking, “How am I supposed to pastor people who have more than double my own life experience?” I knew I didn’t want to offer up cliches or Bible verses as “pat answers” (I’d learned as much enduring the onslaught of well-meaning but oh so terrible words of ‘encouragement’ I received after the death of my own brother, Johnny after his battle with cancer.) I’d only been at the church a couple of months, & I’d preached on the topic of hope (looking to Jesus as our Living Hope – I still have the cassette tape of the message. Which is weird.) A frail looking lady who looked to be in her 70’s came up & wanted to talk to the pastor about her problem. Depression.
After a couple of minutes, I discovered that she wasn’t in her 70s. She was around 50 – the care-worn face bore the scars of years of a life of pain, & a life lived having seemingly experienced all the rough spots & none of the grace. She knew Jesus. Had a relationship with Him. And she was depressed. Down in a hole. Mental, emotional, & physical pain. And suicidal. Would I talk with her? And pray with her?
I remember the lump in my throat – the quick & silent prayer I sent to God asking for His insights, to intercede on this lady’s behalf, to work a miracle, to take away her pain. I don’t remember anything I said to her – I do remember listening a lot. Crying with her. Praying with her for hope. She told me she didn’t want to die, but also that living hurt so much. And she felt so alone.
A couple of days later I got a phone call from someone in our church in the early morning… she relayed that this lady who I had been talking with on the previous Sunday, this lady who lived in the same mobile home park as she did, had been found by her family that morning. Dead by her own hand. I felt numb.
I went to the mobile home park, & walked up to the police car outside her home. Yellow “crime scene” tape was being put up… I wandered around, looking for someone to talk to, someone official. One of the officers asked me what I was doing, & asked if I knew her – & I told him that I was her pastor, & I’d just heard what had happened & I didn’t know what to do. The officer shook his head, & said something like, “this kind of thing happens all the time.”
And I didn’t know what to say.
I just re-read what I’ve written above… & I took some time to think about it. And pray. And here’s what came to mind.
When I don’t know what to say or do, & when I’m overwhelmed with intangible & hard-to-identify cloud of doom & gloom, I know I’m not alone. I know that I know that I know that in my middle of my own helplessness in attempting to care for others, in the times where I feel like I can’t even help myself so well, I have hope. At the worst, I’ve never been in that hole that many others find themselves in, depressed & hopeless, where suicide seems like the solution.
And I feel something inside rising up – I want to know what to say when I come in contact with others in their point of despair. I want to be able to transmit to others the hope that I cling to, the rock & safe place where I hide.
I’m praying that God builds me in my heart & my guts to “be becoming” a man of depth & compassion – a person God is healing, that He will use to help heal others.
Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about tonight.