What do you say to someone who no longer believes life is worth living, who feels they have lost all they ever cared about? Who, when they go home and close the door, are met with silence? As Christians we are encouraged to comfort those who mourn. A beautiful sentiment in the Beatitudes. But how do we cope when its time to put this into practice?
Too often we are at a loss, we are scared and embarassed by the silences so we try and fill the gaps with our many words. Recently, I hugged a stranger, an old lady who had lost her husband and was obviously utterly bereft. Perhaps it was an invasion of her privacy? All I know is, when I saw her standing there weeping I could not make myself heed the social conventions, I had to comfort her.
I, myself, am not a stranger to depression. Most of my maternal relatives suffered with post natal depression to some degree. MIne was particularly bad after the birth of my 4th child, an event I had looked forward to with no qualms whatsoever. A combination of a difficult birth, an uncaring consultant and a small age gap (20 months) between children left me feeling out of control. A chance remark from a friend about her child who cried all the time buried itself in my subconscious and I became convinced I couldn’t cope. I used to phone my husband at work in floods of tears, begging him to come home. Because I felt not taken seriously I made superficial cuts to my wrists and took myself to a & e hoping they would keep me in and she would be looked after by someone else. But they just gave me a psych evaluation, asked if I was likely to try again and sent me home with the baby!
I know now this was for the best because if she had been fostered I may have lost her forever. Things came to a head when I packed a pitifully small bag, hopped on a bus and left the kids at home with my husband , and ran away. I don’t know what my intentions were. I traveled an hour away , lasted a few hours by myself, gave in and called my husband and he came to get me!
We decided on a radical solution that no one agreed with , that, because his mood was constant and not up and down like mine, that he would stay at home with the children and I would go out to work. His workmates told him he should divorce me. I got a job in my local supermarket, still not knowing if my breastfed baby would take a bottle from her daddy until my break in my first shift. I was still highly emotional, particularly when a crying baby came in. I felt incredibly guilty leaving her.
You might be wondering where the church was in the middle of all of this? My church at the time were fantastic, to the point of coming down to help dress the children if it felt too much. They organised a rota of people to be with me all the time, before the job swap. They couldn’t have done more. Unfortunately depending on who was sitting with me my moods were up and down . I just wanted to sit with my baby and feed her and that was about it but some well meaning people wanted me to tidy the house and get dinner on ready for my husband when it was all I could do to get out of bed!
At the worst of my depression I felt as if I was in a big pit of darkness that I couldn’t climb out of. I felt abandoned by God. I was scared to go out and scared to stay home and felt like there was nothing to look forward to.
Gradually with the help of going out to work and antidepressants I began to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I used to count the number of nights I had managed to look after my baby and my other children and realised I was coping. On a bad day I just tried to get through a couple of hours, on a really bad day I just tried to get through the next half hour. Gradually the hours built up and one night I stopped counting.
Once I was on a more even keel I realised God had been there all along, I had just been blinded by my feelings and my circumstances.
Jesus was no stranger to difficult feelings. He felt rejection from his family and peers, he felt abandoned on the cross and he wept over Lazarus’s grave.
I want to tell my friend who is suicidal that there is a possibility these feelings will pass , that she won’t always feel as bad as she does now. That maybe if she can get through the next hour she can get through the afternoon. My heart aches for her.
In the past I have been guilty of well meaning Christianity which offers platitudes and instruction but no real comfort. I have spoken volumes when I should have listened and not spoken when it was needed.
Today you will encounter people, maybe a hug or a listening ear or a hold of their hand may do more than a well meant word. People just need to know desperately that somebody cares.
” All I know is He who I am supposed to serve would not have passed by without looking on you and making you well” (unknown quote).