"Killed by a single self-inflicted gun shot to the body."
Again, guns and mental illness are in the news. Yet another tragedy. A different kind of tragedy. Nonetheless, a tragedy. Death by suicide.
I heard a soft knock on the bedroom door. I looked at the clock; it was after midnight.
"Come in," I said. “What's wrong?" My child, age 14, a telephone in hand, whispered,
“The doctor wants to talk with you." I bolted from my bed.
Recently diagnosed with major depression, my child was seeing one of the best child psychiatrists in the country; taking meds and seemed to be much better ... almost okay.
Now, sitting cross-legged on the floor, looking up at me, hands clutching medicine, eyes full of sadness, my child uttered words I would never forget, words that I would hear again ... "I thought if I took more medicine, the pain would go away, but I was afraid that I would die. I don't want to die. I just want the pain to go away." Thus began the first of many suicide watches. For the next 20 years, I would pace and hope and hold my breath as my child fought fervently in a quest for mental wellness.
Matthew Warren, youngest son of mega-church evangelical pastor Rev. Rick Warren, wanted the pain to go away. His father acknowledged that in spite of America's the best doctors, meds, counselors, alternative treatments, and prayers for healing, "the torment of mental illness persisted." His son wanted relief.
As parents, we feel both an awesome responsibility and an uplifting joy. We strive to provide for our children. We want to give shelter, food, education, health care, clothes, and some of life's enjoyments. We also want to obstruct and reduce risks to danger, disease and destruction of life. We watch over, equip and defend against threats to purposeful, joyful living. And we make promises to our children. We want to expose them to beliefs, values and positive character traits for optimal wellbeing
Like parents of children living with physically debilitating conditions, we parents of adult children living with a mental illness have our own "horror" stories. We shroud ourselves in secrecy, even within the family. We experience resentment, anger, and fear. Often, we feel guilty, stigmatized, and alone. We witness death of a dream of how we had envisioned our child's life.
So I got help as a parent. I found other parents. Mothers of adult children who were living with a serious mental illness founded the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is the leading grassroots mental health organization, offering peer support, education and advocacy for parents and other family members as well as individuals affected by mental illness. I attended the 12-week Family Education Course. I started volunteering. I later took a position doing community outreach, event planning, and advocacy for the Metro-Baltimore affiliate.
God did not relieve my child’s pain, or end this tormenting illness, or grant my prayer for immediate, full and lasting healing of my child. But I still sought help through my faith. I refused to believe that God would abandon me. I fought, clinging to a shrinking faith. I sought the presence of God through my Women’s Ministry. These women prayed with me. When I could not pray, they prayed for me. A community of faith can strengthen and comfort parents of adult children living with mental illness. A connection to a spiritual being keeps me breathing so I can do my best to help my child breathe.
The good news is my child is still here. Prayer, perseverance and a combination of treatments have led to longer strides and shorter lapses. My love, knowledge and understanding of mental illness further support my child’s overall wellbeing.
Nonetheless, in spite of, although, still, and yet ...a part of me remains vigilant, looking for signs and symptoms ... on a constant suicide watch.