God, Anger, and Hope

In a few days I'll be speaking at an event hosted by Together Colorado. Gotta say that I'm not thrilled to be telling my own story of loss - physical and spiritual - to a bunch of strangers.

I've been pissed at "the church" since Kaylan was nine or ten years old. After she died I didn't talk to God for four years, and after that it's been grudging. It's hard to think about going to speak with people who have never wanted to listen before, but there's nothing to be gained by holding a grudge.

Here's my talk:

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I was first affected by suicide when I was a child. When I was 5 years old my dad attempted and then when I was 7 years old my sister attempted. I also lost friends to suicide when I was 17, 19, and 42. Even with all that, I never thought suicide applied to me personally.

Then I lost my daughter when I was 51 and she was 25.

I'm a postvention advocate now, because I want to do whatever I can to help other mama’s keep their children alive.

My girl died during severe postpartum depression. She lost her baby in her first trimester and died on what would have been her baby's due date.

The reason I am here at this specific event is that my daughter was yearning for the comfort of faith family in the months before she died, but she didn’t feel “good enough” for church. The reason that she didn't feel good enough is because she experienced bullying by Christian kids in High School, and she never went near a church again.

This was so sad, because this kid LOVED Jesus when she was a child. I mean LOVED.

But, she felt that losing her baby when she wasn’t married, and then getting sick with depression because of it, made it impossible for her to walk into church and ask for love and compassion.

Three weeks before she died we were in Seattle goofing off, and we ended up talking about obituaries. One of my grandmas, one of my sisters, and my daughter loved reading obituaries every day - which I always thought was weird, but whatever.

Anyway, Kaylan said that she thought obituaries would be so much more interesting if the cause of death was mentioned. At the time, I said "ewwww gross" and she just laughed.

I remembered this conversation after she died, so I wrote an obituary for her that talked about her international aid work, her music and art, her friends, and her mental illness. And because of that, her friends in Seattle held a benefit concert for NAMI of Greater Seattle, which opened up a conversation of love-and-acceptance among their musician and artist community.

Nowadays I spend most of my advocacy time on behalf of my home Survivors After Suicide Support Group, which has been supporting loss survivors for more than twenty-five years.

I feel like my time is best spent working with those with whom I share experiences with loss.

I especially relate to other mamas who have lost children to suicide.

Over the past 7 years I've taken tons of training and read countless books, blogs, and papers. I've been doing my best to try and learn how to help.

What stands out most strongly are three things:

1.    We think we're freakish if we think of suicide, when in fact 20% of us will consider suicide in a year and 80% of us will think of it in our lifetimes.

2.    People who are suicidal think that their families and friends will be better off without them.

3.    Depression is a liar, and of the hundreds of loss survivors I've talked to - none of us feels better off without our loved one. Our lives are forever damaged by their deaths.

If you ever find yourself thinking that your family and friends would be better off without you, just stop. It's not true.

If you do ever start thinking of suicide, please go to the doctor. All kinds of things can cause suicidal thinking, like the onset of thyroid disease, physical exhaustion, dehydration, bladder infections, the flu, and lots of other illnesses.

If you find yourself thinking suicidal thoughts, go get blood and urine tests right away! It could also be trauma related or situational, and there's help for those as well. 

Suicidal thinking is not a character defect. It means you're run down for some reason.  And if it turns out to be mental illness, take care of yourself as you would any other illness - rest, exercise, chicken soup, learning all you can about self-care specific to you, and maybe even medicine. That's between you and your doctor.

Just please stay. Stay alive. We need all of us to find a cure.

For the faith community members here, I will just say this: Please prepare your churches to heal with practical help. I’ve loved God since I was 5 years old. I grew up with missionaries. My son and his wife were YWAM missionaries for years. Still, after my daughter died I was so mad that I didn’t speak to Him for 4 years afterward. Not one word. Not one prayer. 

Our family knows how to pray - but we didn’t know how to help. We did not know, and we lost her.

Love in a faith context is a verb. Jesus said, "love God and love others." He said to "Feed, Heal, Comfort, and Visit suffering people."

We know that prayers are essential, but we need to offer rides to the doctor, take people for walks out in nature, sit with suffering people, and make chicken soup.

It’s said that the most healing words are “when that happened to me.” ....

Let’s stop hiding our own struggles and stop trying to appear perfect.

We need to get real and stay that way.

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Wish me luck!

Peace to you, Erica