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Fragile Spirit

Last weekend I attended a celebration of life for a young man who died by suicide. This, I learned from the suicide counselor who was at the service, is the more appropriate way to refer to this kind of death. He was 22 years old, and the son of a former co-worker. I’d met the young man a few times but didn’t know him very well; I was there to support my friend.

A montage of photos played on a large screen at the front of the room and each one showed a life with so much promise. Guests were invited to share their thoughts and one by one his coworkers spoke about his fun personality, the light he brought to every room and his can do attitude. His supervisor talked about how no job was too small and he happily did anything that was asked of him. He made such an impact they’ve created a scholarship in his honor to annually reward an employee with the opportunity for the company sponsored leadership school.

Listening to all the stories I struggled with understanding how the person they were talking about was the same young man who was no longer with us. But the truth of the matter is, we never truly know what lies beneath the surface of a smile. Our interactions are often transactional. We ask someone how they are and wait for a brief response, never really expecting to have an in-depth conversation. But even if we make the time and extend the invitation to a friend or family member, that does not guarantee they will share what is hurting them.  

Mental illness is complicated, and while much is known, there is much that is still a mystery. I am certainly not qualified to write on the subject, but what I will say is that when we suspect something is “off” with someone, we owe it to them to make the time to invite a deeper conversation and to ensure we truly listen; not to just what is being said, but to what we sense is not being said, and to help in any way we can. Not everyone suffering will want to take this step, or be able to take it, but we owe it to them to try.

The young man above had the love and support of family and friends and still took a step that leaves a deep sense of loss.  There are no easy answers, and probably more questions will arise as those he left behind deal with the loss. For now, we can pray – that he is no longer in pain, for those he left behind, that we are more open to listening, and that the world becomes more compassionate toward mental illness.