Today's blog piece will be a bit different. I debated about putting it out here, but think it may resonate with others and let them know they are not alone. This is a piece I wrote in the very early hours of Sept. 6th, following my brother-in-law's death on Sept. 1st, 2014. It is very personal and I hope you will treat it as such. If you have any questions concerning my faith, send me and e-mail, I would be happy to respond.
Lost Lives, But Not Lost Hope
By PR Henriksen
It's the very early am of a week we'd hoped never to live through again- the death of a loved one. Worse it's the second time for me, and the third or more for my sister's family, of being touched by suicide. Unlike the old MASH theme song, we've learned the hard way that suicide isn't painless for those who have been left behind without answers, or for those who have left.
We lost my youngest brother about eight years back. He is the youngest of six children, he was barely in his 20's, and was just shy of his first wedding anniversary. It was completely unexpected, out of the deepest, most extreme left wing of blue. He was gone. There was apparently a mountain so profoundly difficult and impossible to climb, or something he must have felt he could no longer live with or be forgiven for, that he thought the only way out was to leave abruptly. We won't have any answers until we can see him again.
I think it was sometime during this same awful week of "arrangements", that I was given a slight glimpse into the eternities. I had been thinking about these very questions and the nature of our eternities and of our God, when I had a brief dream. I call it a profound gift. In the dream I saw my brother at Christ's knee, crying at the sudden full realization of what he'd done, and Christ’s arms were wrapped around him, holding him, while He cried with my brother. I felt the depth of sorrow from my brother and equally felt the deep compassion, love, and understanding from Christ. I realized at that moment and have often thought since.... that if I knew nothing more about Christ than this one thing, I would want to follow and be with Him always.
I wish I could say that was the end of this story, but it's not. A couple of days ago, we lost my brother-in-law to suicide as well. He leaves behind a father, brothers and sisters, a wife, four children (one of whom is preparing to leave for a mission in three weeks), and all of the rest of us, his assorted family. He is the only member of the church* on his side of the family. He joined after he and my sister had been dating for a while, he took the missionary lessons, joined, they were engaged somewhere in there, and they waited to be married in the temple.
Ever since his mother died earlier this year, he has been a ghost of himself, mentally and physically. Unlike my brother, with my brother-in-law this did not come completely unexpectedly. I would like to talk a bit about his battle. It is far more profound, we are discovering, than we had previously thought or known. My brother-in-law has had severe, depressive mood swings, he was bi-polar, and we've even been finding notes from grade school teachers listing him as ADHD (before that really became a common term). He is also a veteran, having served in both the Army and the Air National Guard. I don't know, or know if he ever thought, he might also be affected by PTSD. He was extremely anxious and nervous about having to speak or perform in front of anyone, in any way. He preferred behind the scenes kind of jobs in the church, like ward clerk, but he really stretched and fought to fulfill assignments like being a councilor in the bishopric. We knew it was not easy for him, but I don't think we knew how hard it really was for him either. He fought though with diligence and bravery.
His mother, although she technically died of colon cancer, had the same depressive mood swings with bi-polarism, anxiety, and other things. Even as he went over daily for the last weeks of her life (she hadn't left or wanted to leave the house for a long time - we'd see her for occasional birthdays and holidays), and spent hour upon hour with her, she would continue to tell him how much she hated him. This coming from the woman, who with her husband embraced and supported his choice to not only join the church, but to be married in the temple. His parents came to the temple with him, even though they couldn't join them for the ceremony. I think he understood some things. Things the rest of us are only beginning to get inklings of understanding about.
Thank heavens for snoopy nieces that are nosy and know about a few things they weren't supposed to. As my sister and her children began going through records to find important and needed documents, one pulled out a secret, treasure box that was her dad's. She seemed to be the only person that knew about this little box, and she had even snooped some of its contents. Unlike all of the folders, files, and scanned and organized documents he had down in his "office" area, this box was different. It looks like a child's craft project. A small cigar-like box with a "hinged" top, decorated in a technique most kids get to try at least once- ripped taped mosaic wiped over with brown shoe polish. Inside this box is their dad. A glimpse into him anyway, who he was, what he thought was important to him. Things he wanted to treasure and remember.
Inside the box were some old love letters and getting to know you notes from my sister to him and vice versa. There was also a letter I had sent to my sister while I was on my mission (they waited a little longer than a year, so I could join them in the temple). Some poems, notes from the kids, and a slew of pictures, one with a friend who had died nearly thirty years ago of cancer, when they'd been In their twenties. Most of the pictures were moments or people that he wanted to remember, a cousin here, a picture from when he was in Korea in the military, and to my snoopy niece's surprise, a couple of new pictures had been added over the last couple of weeks (since she'd last snooped) of her with her volleyball team, from her own picture stash, she thinks.
It has not been easy for my sister and her family and it had gotten a lot tougher over the last ten years or so. From the outside, we could only see some of the effects or know what was occasionally shared with us. The toll had been heavy on the relationship my brother-in-law had with his family. Mental illness affects both the individual and all those around them. I believe it may be the toughest battle anyone has to face and loved ones are forced into the front lines with you.
I once thought Alzheimer's was so horrible, because you would keep losing/forgetting pieces of yourself and your life. I think it is horrible for the family, but I don't think it's so bad for the individual anymore. They just forget, so their "knowing" of things isn't so extreme. But, what if you knew? What if you could see and notice yourself changing, but no matter how hard you fought, you couldn't fix or change the changes? Would it make you even more depressed? Would you have a "treasure" box to help you remember who the "real" you was? What if you were losing the battle and becoming NOT YOU? What would your choices be?
For my sister and her family, this little treasure box, and the stories and moments that have been shared with them, about them, from their dad's friends, and others it is a glimpse into who their dad really was and is. The man they've not known in their lifetime, or who they had begun to think may never have existed. A glimpse outside the war, into the heart of the warrior, fighting daily, not to "find" himself, but to BE himself, his real self.
Mental illnesses, and the many drugs prescribed to help with them, are still often outside of our understanding, especially as to how they may effect, or literally physically and psychologically change the person. When you put together a drugged, ill mind, with a strong spirit, and a body being affected by both, you get a battle, the proportions of which only those that are waging it and their Heavenly Father are likely able to understand.
Thank heaven we have a loving, perfect, compassionate Father in Heaven and an older brother, Christ, who was willing to go through all of this for and with us that will be our judge. Give strength to those who battle for themselves and their souls daily. Bless, strengthen, and comfort the loved ones who are often trying to fight the battles with them. I am ever grateful for the plan of salvation and that we will once again be whole (physically, mentally, and spiritually) as individuals and can be together again as families.
We never know the battle that someone or their family may be waging, nor how the tide is turning that day. May we all follow the example of the Christ that held onto my brother and cried with him while loving him completely, and remember the love of a son, who understood, better than we knew, his mom's battle. Let us love one another more deeply, for we are all family.
*The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also sometimes known as Mormons.