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Faces on Faith: A mother's cry: Thoughts about suicide
August 8, 2018

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It happened many years ago now - very early in my time as an ordained minister. I received a call from the local funeral home asking if I would be able to conduct a service for a young woman (in her 40s as I remember) who had just died. I agreed, and after getting the name and contact information for the young woman's mother, I called to set up a time to meet to learn more about her daughter so I could plan for the service.

They had been living together. The daughter had been dealing with some serious physical issues and needed her mother's continued support. But there was more. The young woman had also been suffering from depression, and soon it was revealed she had committed suicide. Needless to say, her mother was distraught.

I don't remember the details of our conversation. I couldn't have been much more than 30 at the time; 10 years younger than the daughter and, as they say, wet behind the ears. I knew enough to know what I didn't know. I hope I didn't say anything that exacerbated her grief. I do know I spent quite a bit of time simply listening as she told me about her daughter, and in the homily tried to reflect all the positive things she had told me. But I didn't speak openly about the suicide itself. I assumed that would just make things worse.

The service was held at the funeral parlor. And after the benediction, the funeral director invited folks to come forward and offer their prayers and last words at the side of the closed coffin. The last to come forward was her mother. At first she knelt on the kneeler placed at the side of the casket, but then she splayed herself across the lid and began to scream. "Don't leave me! How can you do this? Don't leave me all alone!" She wailed. Literally wailed. The funeral director waited for a short time, and then asked me to speak to her. The other guests were waiting to go to the cemetery.

I tried. I think I spoke a few words that I hoped would comfort her, but they didn't. She only cried out more loudly. Finally the funeral director, assisted by a male relative or two, peeled her off the coffin and held her up as she limply made her way to the waiting limousine.

I thought about that mother as news programs earlier this summer focused on the two celebrity suicides this past week. I thought about how desperate the daughter must have felt - and how filled with despair her mother was afterward. I don't know if the daughter had received the proper care for her depression or not. Sometimes the best of treatment fails to prevent suicide. But I also know of times that good mental health care has prevented what most surely would have resulted in someone taking their own life.

So once again here we are acknowledging as a nation the importance of taking mental health seriously. Maybe this time we will do something more than just talk about it. I hope so. For I have rarely seen the grief and despair like that of that mother trying to hold back her daughter from the grave.

Write your representatives. Write your senators. Tell them the time to act is now.

The Rev. Dr. John H. Danner is the senior pastor at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ.

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