Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Time to Talk: Christmas and Depression

Where to start? I love Advent - I'm never in a hurry to get to Christmas. I feel guilty - after all - it's about joy and celebration, isn't it? But somehow, I've always preferred Advent - deep, soft joy - in the midst of a night of waiting, longing, wondering ...
Found in Google images

I very recently presided at the funeral of a young person who took his own life. I woke up the morning of the service with an overpowering feeling, "I don't want to do this." Well, I didn't. And I began the homily at the funeral parlour by saying that - because none of us wanted to be there. Everyone knew what had happened. Everyone was overwhelmed with all of the emotions that accompany a sudden death - with a particular range that apply more to suicide. We were all living in a silent NNNOOO - so fierce a cry that it carries to the end of the universe. 

DEPRESSION:   Google image

So, I'm not breaking confidence somehow - at least I don't think I am. There was a room overflowing out into the hall with somewhere between 150 and 200 people - many in their 20's. All dressed in black. All grieving. All despairing. Some feeling guilty. Some willing to admit to anger - rage even. Many, maybe all, thinking in their secret depths what a waste of a life - a courageous, brilliant, kind, loving young man. And on it could go. Many without faith - or at least a traditional faith - and p'raps who, if they believe in God, hate this God that allowed such horror.

We live in unanswerable questions and must accept the unacceptable. NO! YES! Why? Why now? What could I have done or not done; said or not said? Reality: The person who takes his or her life makes a choice out of the depths of despair - and it is their choice. 

He was depressed. Very depressed. And this time of year, it is especially hard to admit to being depressed. After all, the Christmas carols begin at the end of October. Beautiful music piped in stores, on streets, on the radio that will end Christmas Day when those of us who celebrate the religious holiday are just beginning Christmas. 

The days are dark, so dark, and long. Joy (or what passes for joy, but may not be) and bouncy excitement and crazed shopping exhaust us - whether we're caught up in it all ourselves or aware of others in the whirlwind ... glitz and glamour and glazed looks. People are more likely to take their lives at holiday times. Perhaps because the noise and seeming happiness of those around them magnifies their sense of isolation and solitude. 

I reached out to one friend that morning who listened to my tears and fears,  sent me a few links, and offered to hold my hand from afar. This wasn't a church-y funeral... How to speak to hearts in a thousand pieces? Yet God was there. God of many names and above all the compassionate One.

A few thoughts:

We need to name the elephant in the room. To start talking. To speak truths. Our truths. Human truths. 

Grief is. It just IS. 

Mental illness is. Depression is. Suicide is.

GRIEF    Google Image from blog by Linda Vigen Phillips 

Buddha's first noble truth is suffering. 

Jesus says, "Blessed are they that mourn."  Urrgghh... sometimes I hate him. Need to remember that it wasn't facile, syrup. It is hard. Grief is hard. 

See the link below of Joanna Macy - in which she tells us we need to stop seeing suffering as the enemy - suffering is part of life. We don't need to like it obviously - but pain opens the heart.  I remind myself. 

The Wild Geese: Joanna Macy on befriending our despair  I hope the link works... 

Joanna Macy quotes a line from Mary Oliver's poem, Wild Geese: 

"Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine." 

And in the sharing, we can find hope - if not now, in time. Meantime, we break our isolation and take a step forward into remembering that we belong to each other. We are not alone. 

We never recover from grief. It will soften in time, but it doesn't go away. Maybe that's partly why I love Advent. It doesn't place expectations of jumping for joy on me. It allows me to wait and long and discover a deep spark of quiet joy while singing: 

"There's a voice in the wilderness crying, 
a call from the ways untrod: 
prepare in the desert a highway, 
a highway for our God!"  
Common Praise 106

The wilderness journey makes way for hope. And a re-connection with a community of truth-tellers and truth-seekers.


  1. Beautiful! Touching the reality of life!! Thank you!

  2. At my local library's bookclub, our December discussion was on Miriam Toews' All My Puny Sorrows...a fictionalized account of her own sister and father's suicides. The book touched many of us...depression is part of our lives with friends and family. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Sorry, I published with signing...Christine Norris