Jos and Zoe, a month before her death.
When the sad news that 27 year old Matthew Warren, son of Pastor Rick Warren, had taken his own life broke this weekend, millions of Christians stopped to say a prayer for the grieving family. I prayed, too, and then stopped to think of their pain.
I know how it feels to have a family member battle with mental illness for years.
I know all too well what it’s like to learn, so suddenly, that they had lost.
It’s been not quite five months since Joscelyne’s death. I’ve had to field a number of cutting questions since.
“So what, exactly happened?”
I honestly don’t know. I was with her just four days before and…
“But what killed her?”
I haven’t had the nerve to find out what the autopsy said.
“So it was suicide, right?”
“I don’t think she meant to… I think it was an accidental overdose…”
“OD? She was on drugs? Like crack?!?”
“No! Good Lord, she had been prescribed pain pills… she needed back surgery but didn’t have insurance to cover it. And she was depressed…”
“Oh! Pain pills… was she crazy?”
Yeah, people say this sh… sugar to me. Or worse, write it in Facebook messages. Worse because they actually had to take the time to type it. There’s no letting things slip over a keyboard. Or an iPad. Smartphone use for dummies.
There was no letter. She’d gone through hell in her last months, and descended farther in those last weeks. Free-falling through Dante’s rings. I saw her spiraling, and tried to grab ahold of her. I’d show up while her husband was at work so she wouldn’t be alone in that house by herself. The park, the diner, Target, Starbucks. Thinking back, I was running through a tour of places we’d frequented together for years. In stress, run to routine.
Some of those folks most blunt, most awkward about Jos’ death? Christians. If there’s something some Christians can’t stand worse than physical chronic illnesses, it’s mental ones. Forget pray the gay away. It’s routine to pray the cray-cray away.
Depression? Bi-polar? PTSD? Post-partum?
Rebuke that. Still down? Not enough faith. The devil has a foothold. You need deliverance.
Before Joe was born, my mother had a nervous breakdown. She wound up in a mental ward. Acute depression and borderline schizophrenic. She heard voices.
The voices of some of her Pentecostal friends said it was a trick of the Devil. Maybe, but the voices stopped when she was put on Prozac.
I believe in prayer. Lord knows. I am a Christian, too. So I pray this post will not be read as a curse at Christians but a call for us to do better when it comes to mental illness. Pray down the stigma. Confess our fear of this unknown. Embrace those who suffer from these maladies.
In “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”, Kendrick Lamar raps:
Sometimes I look in a mirror and ask myself
Am I really scared of passing away
If it’s today I hope I hear a
Cry out from heaven so loud it can water down a demon
With the holy ghost till it drown in the blood of Jesus
I wrote some raps that make sure that my lifeline
Rake in the scent of a reaper, ensuring that my allegiance
With the other side may come soon
And if I’m doomed, may the wound
Help my mother be blessed for many moons
I suffer a lot
And every day the glass mirror get tougher to watch
I tie my stomach in knots
And I’m not sure why I’m infatuated with death
My imagination is surely an aggravation of threats
That can come about
Cause the tongue is mighty powerful
When the lights shut off
And it’s my turn to settle down
My main concern
Promise that you will sing about me
Promise that you will sing about me
I promise to remember Jos. I promise to not forget Matthew. I promise, with God’s help, until my lights go out that final time, to be a voice for them.
Speak Truth to power for them.