Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Becky and Marielle

Becky's Story
"...If you have capacity for another earthquake story, here is mine.    
I lost my younger brother Tom to suicide eleven years ago at the age of 34.  He was a wonderful Christian man with a heart as big as Texas.  He lived in Denver after college having fallen in love with the Rockies as a young boy and was a superb athlete, focusing on cycling, mountain climbing, and triathlons. He was well loved and respected by many, evidenced by having four children named after him before his untimely young death, including my younger son, Tommy.  Unfortunately, he battled severe clinical depression, particularly in the last six years of his life.  He never married, fearing he would pass on the gene. He was hospitalized twice with debilitating bouts that lasted for several months each.  Approaching another, the disease took away his hope and he hung himself and went to heaven to be with Jesus.  He left a tableau of items neatly arranged on his kitchen table: a note to his family telling us he loved us and asking for forgiveness from God, his Bible open to the passage in Matthew about Jesus driving the demons out of the swine, and family pictures. 
Police came to my parents door in Kansas City to give them the worst news a parent could ever receive. Then my parents called me and my middle brother with the same tragic news and in the blink of an eye, the world we had all known had been shattered in a million pieces.  I am struck by how it seems that very often it is the phone that delivers the news of sudden earthquakes in our lives.  Somehow, my husband got me on a plane home to Kansas City a few hours later.  I remember him helping me pack, and breaking down with the thought that I was packing to attend my little brother’s funeral who had died by his own hand.  It was impossible to process at the time.  Then I had the thought that the only thing I could imagine that would be worse than this would be if it were one of my own sons.  And then it hit me – that’s what my parents were experiencing.  They had just lost their baby.  And our family would never be as it once was.  
The plane was stalled at the gate at National after boarding. I was just staring out the window; numb, shocked and grieving. Then an image appeared in my window.  It was an image of Jesus in burgundy robes sitting next to a seven year old blonde haired little boy with his fists up to his eyes, crying.  It was exactly the face of my brother at that age.  Jesus had one arm around him in the most reassuring way. The image stayed in the window until we took off about twenty minutes later. I knew it was significant and somehow found the presence of mind to write down a description of the image on the back of my office directory, the only piece of paper I had on me, so I would remember it. In the days and weeks and months and years of grieving that followed, I returned to this image again and again. It became Psalm 34:18 to me - "God is close to the broken-hearted."  It became a message from God that my brother was safely in His arms.  It became "mourning with hope". 

I did many years of what I call "bibliogrief."  I read everything I could on depression and suicide.  I interviewed Tom's friends, doctors, business colleagues, neighbors, anyone that would talk to me, to piece together pieces of his life and final days. I had to find a way to get my arms around what had happened. Suicide is such a unique grief, because it is accompanied by so much anger and guilt for the family, especially a Christian family.  You ask yourself a thousand times over, "What didn't we see?" "if only . .", "what could we have done to prevent him from doing this?", “How could he have done this to us?”, “Is he in heaven?”, “Can God forgive this?” I got involved in suicide prevention and suicide survivors groups, and a group addressing the response of the faith community to suicide and its survivors. It was all helpful in my grief journey as I traversed from anger to understanding to peace.  But I kept coming back to the image. 
When my brother died, thank goodness we were in a small group Bible Study at our church, The Falls Church, as that group was a rock for us during those initial months.  A woman we had met in the group was also a talented artist.  Mary became a dear friend and I learned that she had also lost a sibling just a few years earlier.  We talked a lot about sibling loss and that common connect to your childhood.  A few years later, I told Mary about the vision and asked her if she would paint it for me, just so I would have a visual reminder of a time when God literally came down to touch me deeply in a time of need.  Mary took the assignment on as a special spiritual project.  It took many years to complete, but I knew Mary was the only one who could paint it with the reverence it deserved.  And she captured it just as the way it was in my airplane window. We named the painting "The Comfort". 
I still miss my brother and, at times, I am still seized by grief for his loss – the waves still come unexpectedly and there is nothing to do but let them come.  Ecclesiastes says “there is a time for weeping”.  And when the loss is great the weeping is also great. But God has taken me on a healing journey and has enabled me to rest in the peace that he is with Jesus and without pain, and one day I will see him again in heaven... 
I think prior to my own earthquake, my faith was real, but not really tested.  And truth be told, I relied more on my own perceived abilities to get through life than on God.  But I found one of the greatest lessons of an earthquake is understanding fully our complete and utter dependence on God for everything and that we are most definitely not in control.  The other great lesson is compassion.  I had never really been in a place where life was just so painful and hard to face that I didn’t even feel like I could get out of bed in the morning.  So I think tragedy also serves to open our own clenched and prideful hearts to others’ pain in ways we couldn’t before, because we have been at the bottom of the well ourselves.  And sometimes it just takes an earthquake to “get it”.  It did for me."  

Marielle's Story:

...My husband and I are about Katherine's age, and we are newlyweds (been married for a little over 2 years.) Our first year of marriage, I had a cancerous tumor taken out of my salivary gland.  This was followed by radiation for 6 weeks.  The experience was devastating. I had my surgery right around the time that Katherine had her stroke.  I definitely hadn't expected my first year of marriage to look like this!

Shortly after I finished radiation, I took on a very stressful job (I had just gotten my Master's degree right around the time of my surgery).  This job stressed me to the point of giving me chronic digestive issues. I still have them, and have faith that the Lord will heal me of the daily pain and discomfort that I am facing.  Thankfully, the cancer is in remission, praise the Lord!  :)   My prognosis looks good, and in the autumn, my  husband and I plan on trying for children.

Both yours and Katherine's blog has been the biggest godsend in my life.  Always a pessimist by nature, I agonized over what had happened to me and had little hope for the future.  As if my physical ailments weren't enough, my emotional issues really took a toll on my poor husband.  He tries to be here for me, but he is human after all.  

Reading Katherine's blog, and yours, has really helped me to increase my faith in God, taught me lessons about suffering in marriage, and how to be a mature Christian.  It is a lot of hard work.... as I'm sure you know!  Even on the mornings when it is hard to get up, I think, "maybe Katherine or her mom will post something today," and that helps to cheer me up.  Really.  Both your blogs have brought me to tears and inspired and encouraged me so much.  So thank you, for being open and transparent with your lives and experiences.


Thank you so much, Becky and Marielle,  for your willingness to honestly share your painful stories. 

Both touch upon a topic that I feel is still greatly misunderstood. 

Depression is a very serious and devastating condition that can affect anyone. Although there may be precipitating factors, clinical depression can rapidly become a biochemical issue which, if not treated, can be life-altering or, tragically, even life-destroying. 

It is not a faith issue or a strength-of-character issue. I have known many very strong people of great faith who have succumbed to this complex condition. It is naive and simplistic to believe that people suffering from depression can just "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." That can be like telling someone with cancer to "get well" without undergoing treatment. 

Sometimes it is not possible to climb out of the slimy pit of depression without help.

I feel that anyone suffering from depression deserves great compassion, not judgment. People I know who have experienced both intense physical pain and severe emotional pain have told me that they would willingly choose the former over the latter.

Including me.


I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire:
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.
(Psalm 40:1-3)

If you are experiencing severe depression today, please know that there is hope.

I promise.


  1. I've been in Marielle's situation, young with an unexpected diagnosis, and it is shocking. Like someone pulled the rug out from under you, betrayed by your body. (Not that I think what I've dealt with compares in any way to Katherine's struggles.)

    And I've been pretty close to Becky's. I have a sister I am very close with. She reached a point in her life where she was not officially suicidal, but it certainly occured to her that things would be a lot easier if she ceased to live. It is horrible to love someone so much who has enough pain that they truly have no interest in remaining alive. Especially when they bring so much joy to those around them. It seems incongruous that a person can be a spark, a light, to their friends and family without feeling the warmth that we all bask in just being near them.

    Those feelings Marielle describes closely mirror my own: If she loved us as much as we love her this could not be. But you have to remember that you are judging a sick person by the measure of someone well.

  2. Two very amazing stories. Thank you both for sharing.
    The power of blogging through the written word is incredible. Connecting us, and letting us feel hope.
    God Bless.
    xo, misha



Thank you so much for taking the time to write.

It helps to know we're not alone.