As the Community Care Director for a counseling center, it’s not uncommon to be in conversations about suicide. Yet, no matter how common it may be, it has yet to feel normal.
And the reason why is because it’s not. It’s a sign of hurt and pain. We live in a broken world, which can result in people’s minds taking them down this dark road. And it’s no respecter of minds.
The middle-age pastor’s mind that goes home after leading a Sunday service and questions why he should go on.
The twelve-year-old middle schooler’s mind that leads her to a parking lot where she chooses to end her pain.
The senior citizen’s mind that says, “I’m done fighting this battle with my body.”
As I witnessed again this morning, when a hurting mind is met with love, empathy, and strength, healing is available. It’s not instantaneous; it’s one step at a time. A step, however small it may be, toward the light may be all that mind needs to stop spiraling into darkness.
Be light to those you know or suspect are lonely, hurting, or in pain. That is normal. And it needs to be more common.
This week I toured a new residency for a nonprofit whose mission is to provide homeless women and men with mental health challenges a hope for the future. Second Heart Homes is the name of this Sarasota-based nonprofit.
The facility my colleague and I toured-the first residence in their program designed for women-just opened in December. At the moment, three clients are in the program; the facility will eventually be prepared to house 12 women.
My first visit in one of Second Heart’s Homes was in the fall of 2020. I revisit that first tour every time I enter a new residence. Each visit in each residence breathes new life into everyone in the room. Why? Because their is love and hope in each heart and smiles on each face.
Yet, the reality remains that behind that smile is a heart and mind with wounds waiting to be healed. Steps have been taken to start the healing, but the journey has just begun.
This hit home as I heard a simple illustration about one of the new clients in the women’s facility. Although she’s been there for several weeks…although she was friends with one of the other women before moving in…although she no longer has to rely on the Salvation Army for shelter each night, she has to have lights on and her purse is under her pillow while she sleeps.
Take a moment. Imagine what’s behind these necessities.
The image of a purse under a pillow stuck with me. Many thoughts went through my mind, so many to chew on. The one that I most appreciated was this: Thank God someone got in the ditch for this lady.
True empathy cares about not just providing a pillow but what it might be used to protect. True empathy gets in the ditch.
Today is World Mental Health Day. And unintentionally, this afternoon I finished a book on the subject of overcoming grief. As I reflected on the book, the intersection of those two moments didn’t go unnoticed.
Pastor Wright gifted his book to me about this time last year. It’s his personal story of moving through the grief journey after losing his 32-year-old son in an accident. Knowing that context, it’s not a book you just read for fun.
It sat on my desk for much of the year, waiting for the right time to read it. I can’t say what that trigger was, but it came. Sixty-five chapters later, I’m glad it came now. I could make a lengthy list of reasons why, but here are a few:
Just last week I sat with a couple who will soon be experiencing the second anniversary of their son’s passing. Listening to them, it feels like it was only last week. Pastor Wright’s book helped me help them. And now I’m passing the book on to them for their journey to hope.
Speaking of sitting and listening, although I knew this already, this book has shown me how much room I have to grow in being empathetic. It’s probably true we never arrive at showing empathy right all the time, but I’m not where I want to be either.
I may not be where I want to be in the empathy realm, but I can say that I am much better in the grieving realm. In the last year, I’ve engaged grief-some by force and some by choice. Embracing communal grief due to the pandemic and other happenings along with the loss of a friend to suicide has deepened my appreciation and desire to let grief do its work.
In June I blogged about Ungrieved Loss. As I read this book, I engaged my own ungrieved losses. Some as far back as childhood and some as fresh as 2021. Some I didn’t know needed grieving; some were top of mind.
What I believe with Pastor Wright is that those who mourn are comforted. The timing will be what it will be, but it will be. On this October 10, if you find yourself in the throes of grief, know that hope is possible. And I echo Pastor Wright’s prayer to end his book:
Dear God, it was only through the dark night that we came to find your light. Had we not stumbled through the cold dark, we would not have come to the warmth of your hearth with frozen hands and hearts. We are grateful for your comfort especially as we have experienced your love through those who have journeyed with us. May your grace and compassion fill us. May we sense your hand in ours. May your tears blend with ours. May we be willing to walk alongside others. Thank you for the promise that one day you will wipe away our tears and that death and mourning will be no more. Amen.
Recently I received a card that included an article cut out of The Wall Street Journal. The columnist wrote about the effects of kindness to our brains, particularly if we are the giver. She referenced Jamil Zaki’s book The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Beside the article was a list of kindness suggestions, particularly needed in our current climate. Check it out below.