sitting on the bench

On Tuesday, our neighborhood lost a beautiful, talented, 17 year old boy to suicide. Shock and sorrow reverberated through the high school as students and teachers learned the news. In the hallways, students freely wept and in the choir classes the teacher said, “It’s OK if you don’t want to sing today.”

It’s a sobering thing when someone among us takes their own life. I imagine every student and teacher in his acquaintance, and most especially his family wonder, “What could I have done to prevent this?”

Who knows? Devin’s facebook and twitter feeds are filled with smiling photos, upbeat statements, clips from his favorite songs and original compositions. Most of us put forth our best, happiest self on social media, but “in the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see.”

Today, every Skyline student wore red– Devin’s favorite color– in memoriam. When the students arrived at school this morning every locker had a sticky note affixed to the front. Every note bore the same message: “You are loved.”

 

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thanks for the photo Bonnie

Those weren’t mere words. I think every student at Skyline feels a renewed appreciation for each other. My boys say there’s been an extra measure of kindness in the hallways the past few days– a lot of hugging, making room at the lunch table, a sort of hush over usual conversations. They want to find a way to keep everyone in the nest, to prevent this from happening again. If you have any suggestions, please let us know.

******

Ben told me several of his BYU professors have talked about depression in the past few weeks. It’s the time of year– they say– the demands of life overwhelm people. We expect so much of each other, we expect so much of ourselves. The campus offers free counseling to all students, and the instructors advised students to take advantage of the service. Ben wrote to Stefan:

“Within two days this week I had four separate and unrelated conversations about depression or therapy or mental illness. One was with a professor and three were with people who I love like crazy. It’s one of those things that can sometimes seem so far away, but then suddenly the universe decides that it’s time to pull off my blindfold and show me how real this is and how closely it touches me. And I guess that’s why I’ve been thinking about it so much and why I’m writing a big long email about it.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking. First of all I’ve never really thought depression was for weirdos or weaklings, but I have been surprised by what amazing and beautiful people it does affect, I mean the people I’ve talked to this week are some of the very best people I know. As strange as it seems, it’s almost like the two are connected. One of my friends told me that he’s actually really grateful for his depression because it’s taught him more than anything else in life including his mission. It also helps that I was reading about Mozart and how he suffered from depression. Maybe there’s something valid in the idea that especially passionate people just feel more in life and when life gets rough they feel it deeply. It’s a double edged sword, being, like, smart and stuff, because it opens you up to the good and the bad equally. It’s definitely a weakness that my friends have been turning into a strength.”

and Stefan’s reply:

“That double-edged sword cuts well right here. And you out of all people could make it beautiful. So thank you for that thought. There’s not really much I can say. There’s not really ever much I can say. As a branch president and a missionary I realize this every day. A man loses his job, a divorce hits a family, someone gets deathly ill. Before we can say what we all want to, that everything will be okay, you just have to sit with them. You have to acknowledge the loss, the pain.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff in his Lament for a Son speaks of the healing value of just sitting with someone. He speaks of grief, but I think his words apply to all of life’s ailments. Too often, humans tend to minimize other’s wounds. We tell each other to count our blessings and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

“If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”  (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 34.

Fittingly, just yesterday, Mormon Messages released a new video titled Sitting on the Bench: Thoughts on Suicide Prevention

I applaud the makers of this video, the people featured who spoke so honestly and beautifully. We need to continue these conversations, to talk so openly and often the stigma of depression disappears. And we need to sit on the bench with each other.

Most people would heroically step in if they felt like they could prevent a suicide– pull someone off the edge of the bridge, offer CPR, call 911. But are we willing to listen when someone is sad, to mourn with those who mourn, to offer sympathy even when we don’t understand why they are hurting?

Why are we on this swiftly tilting planet? Not to accumulate ‘likes’ or possessions, not to make our mark or show our strength. All those things, even “the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing…All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” Isa. 40:15,17

What does matter? People. Men, women, children, old, young, strong, weak, foolish, wise. We are here to help each other along. To lift the hands that hang down; to offer kind words, firm hugs, listening ears. Stumbling along the path, we will bump and bruise each other, but we will also feed each other, make each other laugh, work in offices and fields, celebrate holy days and small victories, admire flowers and sunsets and babies and with every step, bring each other home.

Rockwell

 

October 19, 2014
October 26, 2014

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7 Comments

  1. Andrea

    October 23, 2014

    Well written as usual. I have suffered from depression since I was 12. Even before that I was a pessimist. I always knew bad things happened because I was there. Of course in my logical mind I know that isn’t true but logic isn’t always at the front of our thoughts. I know that this life is a precious gift from our Heavenly Father and I know that it is a sin to end this life ourself, but at times I have worried about suicide. I know that sometimes it takes real effort to stay alive and I worry that when things are really bad I will stop that effort for a few moments and kill myself. People think that suicide happens because a person decides to end their life but I have come to realise that it can happen because that person looses their focus on staying alive.

    Please forgive my writing. My grammar isn’t it’s best when I am depressed and I could never write as well as you do.

    • mlehnardt8@msn.com

      October 26, 2014

      sending my love to you, Andrea.

  2. Handsfullmom

    October 24, 2014

    Thank you so much for sharing. I especially loved the Wolterstorff quote. I’m sharing this on my blog today.

    I so appreciate the way you have with words and the light that shines through your words and pictures on your blog. I hardly ever leave comments (probably should do it more) but I wanted you to know I value the beauty and light you bring to the world through your talents.

  3. Charity

    October 24, 2014

    This just happened in one of our local high school’s too, and with one of my friends son’s roommates. Where I live, Alaska, we have the highest suicide rate, highest domestic violence rate and highest alcohol abuse rate. I wish there was an easy fix, but there’s not. Today, I will pray the the quiet, comforting hand of God reaches out to those who are suffering with feelings of worthlessness, depression and sorrow.

  4. Emily B

    October 25, 2014

    Hello Michelle! Thank you for your beautiful post, it is timely for me. I am saddend to hear about this suicide, very sad.

    I have been pondering lately about depression. I think there is a drive for perfection in our community, where if one is not feeling happy, many chose to pretend they are anyway. There is some sort of shame people associate with being sad, like we should be happy all the time. People are loathe to share or expose themselves as unhappy or depressed. I wish things were different and I am grateful for your message reiterating to mourn with those that mourn and to be with others that stand in need of comfort. Thank you Michelle.

  5. Kerri

    October 28, 2014

    My cousin took his life almost two weeks ago. It has been a painful time for our family. Mental illness is a subject I know more about than I wish I did, but I still don’t know enough about what can really be done to help when darkness overtakes people I love dearly.

  6. Melissa

    November 4, 2014

    Michelle, you know that I care passionately about this topic, about these people–the grievers, the grieved over—and for you. My swollen-heart gratitude to you for writing this.

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