Aimee and I held hands at Victory Life Church in Akron, OH, sitting next to a few other friends from college, on a warm summer morning, in 2012. We had gathered to celebrate the life of our college friend who shocked us all when he committed suicide earlier that week. Steve was the guy “who had it all:” the looks, the voice, the personality and everything he needed to succeed as an actor in musical theatre and film. Evidently, he didn’t have “IT” all, otherwise we would have been together gathered for a reunion that would have included his smile and laughter.
I can still remember his brother approaching the pulpit, doing his best to fight through the tears, to say a few words about his beloved sibling. Of all the great things he said about Steve, it was what he couldn’t say to him that still seemed to haunt him. His message, while looking at the casket, was this,
“Steve, if I could have just talked to you in that final moment when you were hurting so much and gotten through to you in your pain, I would have reminded you how much there is to live for. All I would have needed to do was give you one reason not to do it.”
Maybe we all felt the same way… I know I still do.
This story I share of the day we honored Steve is about something bigger. It’s the reminder of how many people need to hear, see, or feel that one reason life is special despite their pain. Yes, it’s easier in theory to remind others of the beauty of life, but in reality, words can mean little for an individual feeling hopeless. All the feelings of Steve’s funeral came back to me after a rough week for me emotionally.
Much has been said lately in the media about anxiety, depression, and even suicide in young people. If I am being completely honest, I am sick of talking about the TV show “13 Reasons” or even hearing the debates so many people are weighing in on. If you are not familiar with it, it is about teen suicide (click here to get the full synopsis.) In what I am about to share, I am reminded why this discussion is important and why it should matter to you, and to all of us, to have the necessary discussions with those we love about how precious life is; even if it’s not comfortable.
Before I go on, I must admit, in this moment, I’m mad, I’m hurt, I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m confused, I’m tired – I’m all these things… But I’m OK. So why do I have all these negative emotions? Over the last seven days, I have been led to minister, and be a friend, in two very different situations.
The first is a special friend of the family, an 18-year-old beautiful young lady who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital because the thought of taking her own life was greater than her will to live. Luckily, enough people cared about her to avert a life-changing situation which would have culminated in us losing another young soul with so much to give. Visiting with a child feeling so lost and hopeless like no one cares or understands, initially makes you feel helpless. Her pain is boldly apparent in her eyes. Still, we spend time with her, call to check in, pray for her, cry for her, love her as our own and we fight for her. You don’t necessarily need words for any of those things, but we hope it makes the difference so her heart can begin to mend in ways her mind won’t let her. We want her to know all the reasons she has to live, and the contributions she has yet to make, in the hope she hears the one reason which can begin an ultimate healing.
Later in the week, I spent an afternoon holding the hand of an old high school friend at the Cleveland Clinic. At forty years old she lay in a hospital bed suffering the effects of a terminal illness. She was recently given only a few weeks to live. I feel blessed (and scared) that during this hard time she reached out to me for spiritual guidance. The single mother of three is trying to understand why, when she has so much to live for, that God is preparing to take her home. I could only assure her that the promise of Heaven will wipe away fears of this world and the pain she is currently in. During our time together, we also, talked about the young lady’s situation I mentioned previously. In a tired, yet passionate, manner she mustered the energy to deliver this message:
“Tell her to live, I wish I had the chance to make that choice. I don’t, she does.”
It was like someone ripped every ounce of emotion and energy from my body as the tears rolled down her cheeks while she pleaded for me to deliver those sentiments. Maybe it’s something we all need to hear when we evaluate our struggles. We spent the remainder of our visit praying, laughing, and simply “being.” My insecurities say I failed her miserably while searching for the right words to offer comfort. I don’t know, maybe in the end it wasn’t words she needed because what her heart longs for is peace to know that whatever the outcome on this Earth, the One Reason she can still have everything is her trust and belief in God. I think she felt He sent me just to be there with her. It struck me afterwards how surreal it is that both of these young ladies were on the opposite spectrum of life and what it means for them.
Three different people, on different journeys, with three different perspectives and I hope with three different outcomes. I feel they share a connection through me. They will never meet, nor will they fully know each other stories, but by sharing a little of their accounts with you, together they might change you and I forever.
Our lesson in all of this is direct: Make sure every day you appreciate life. We don’t need thirteen reasons why running away is easier or justified, we simply need one reason that makes this life worth it. Instead of waiting till it’s too late, or missing our opportunity to be an instrument of hope, make every effort to give others the positive reasons they need to help them see their value. Even if it’s living our life in honor of someone else who isn’t afforded the privilege to continue in theirs. We are blessed to have this life no matter how hard the struggle. No matter how rough the moment. To know that you are loved is reason enough. To know that you are a child of God is more than enough. In their darkness, they may not be able to comprehend these notions, but we have to be willing to continue our efforts at all cost as a reminder that they are not alone and they are loved. This could be their “one reason.”
I ask that you pray for my special intentions of Steve’s family and these two very different ladies journeying on a path that only has them connected through me but the beauty that we are all praying to the same God.
Author’s Note: The mental illness epidemic is real for teens and adults alike. It has contributing factors many of us didn’t have growing up or faced in other decades. We can no longer ignore it, chalking it up as bad days, or just a phase. Instead, we need to have real conversations to show we care. To stop at nothing to get help where needed. You don’t have to understand everything a loved one is going through to journey with them during a period of desolation. What you can do while seeking the professional support they need, is constantly remind them of all the reasons they have so much to live for. Even if it’s only one reason…you.