May 25, 2018

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Members Login



Loaded Baked Potato Dinner Fund Raiser

Please join us for an evening of Food, Fellowship and Entertainment by PB & J, starting at 5:30. Free will donation and raffles to be drawn that evening. *Proceeds go to helping the office remodel project.

Mental Illness & Suicide Awareness

To those who visit,

I am not quite sure what all this page will entail.  Mostly it will probably just be thoughts and ramblings of a distraught parent trying to make sense of something that cannot be made sense of.  After our youngest son, Ben's death on December 8, 2014 I have become more aware that mental illness and suicide is something that we in society need to talk more about.  Maybe this is one way that I can help to keep the conversation alive. 

 

If you would like more information on mental illness and suicide or would like to make a donation the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at http://www.afsp.org/ is one place that our family has found and where we have a memorial fund set up in Ben's name.  If you would like to give specifically to Ben's memorial the address is: http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.search and type in Benjamin Kraft in the search.  

 

May 20, 2018

Romans 8:22-27, Acts 2:1-21, & John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

 

“Be cause”

 

I am going to date myself a little here.  How many of you remember the organization W. C. T. U.?  How many of you know what W. C. T. U. stands for?  W. C. T. U. stands for Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  It is an organization of women that was started back in 1874 devoted to social reform.  It peaked in membership in the ‘60s’ and ‘70s’ with around 250,000 members.  There was a little elderly lady who used to make the rounds to all of the country schools in the Wessington Springs area as part of the W.C.T. U.  Her task was to talk to the grade school students about the evils and the destructions of drinking and smoking. 

 


I have to admit that as grade school and high school students, we were not very nice to her.  Oh sure, we would sit patiently and listen to her presentation as we were taught to do.  But behind her back, she was the little old lady with a cause.  Her cause was to save us young people from the evils of drinking and smoking.  The truth is that we did not even know her story.  We just knew her cause. 

 


Many causes that people pick up are born out of personal tragedy.  They have been touched in some way by a tragedy and they want to work so that others do not have to go through what they are going through.  The trouble with having a cause or some issue that you are passionate about is that it seems like eventually people quit listening.  People quit taking you seriously.  You become “that person with that pet project.”

 


But here it is Pentecost Sunday and it falls on Mental Health Sunday.  It has been determined that in a given year, one in every four people (26.2%, according to the National Institute on Mental Health) will be affected by substance abuse or a mental illness that is severe, moderate, or mild.  Many who are affected by mental illness and their families are afraid of the stigma that comes with mental illness and suicide.  Many are afraid of being labeled as crazy or as weak minded.  After all, just think your way out of your mental illness thoughts.  As a result, many with mental illness suffer in silence and alone.  With the statistics given, there is a chance that one in four people that walk through our doors has been or is affected by a mental illness, whether as an individual or a family member of an individual dealing with a mental illness.  What do we, as a church, have to offer them?   What do we, as a church have to offer individuals and families who are dealing with the realities of mental illness and its consequences? 

 


One of the things that the church has to offer is hope.  For a person suffering in hopelessness, hope sounds like a pretty good thing.  Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians states that “faith, hope, and love abide.”  Faith, hope, and love are the three pillars of our faith.  We talk a lot about and hear many sermons on faith and love, but we do not talk much about hope.  Hope is kind of like the forgotten middle child …and understandably so.  Hope is elusive.  Hope is not concrete.  It is out there …somewhere.  It is not something we can grab a hold of or see.  It is a future thing.  It may or may not come to pass.  If I am going to give something to someone, especially someone who is already dealing with a mental illness and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness already, I would like to give them something tangible …something they can hold on to, to get them through what they are currently going through. 

 


So, we don’t talk about hope much in the church or in the Christian faith.  When we do talk about hope in the church or relate it to our Christian faith it is usually in the context of eschatological or soteriological understandings.  Eschatological is just a big word that means talking about end time when Jesus returns to earth and God brings everything into completion …a new heaven and a new earth.  Soteriological is just another big word that means talking about salvation.

 


Now don’t get me wrong here.  Salvation hope and end times hope are great things.  We all hope that this life is not as good as it gets.  Here in the church and in our Christian faith, we hope for salvation and an eternity with God in all its glory whatever that might be like.  But for a parent who has lost a child to suicide brought on by a mental illness, if the only hope we have to offer is salvation and end times hope, it gives me grave concern.  As one pastor on the reservation stated, “We, in the church need to offer more hope than just a salvation hope or we are going to keep losing our young people.”  In other words, we need to offer a hope for this life, not just the next. 

 


In Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church he states, “In hope we are saved.”  Notice that he doesn’t say that salvation is our hope.  Apostle Paul says that in hope we are saved.  Hope is our salvation.  The hope that we have right here …right now is what saves us.  It is not, “in hope we will be saved.”  It is “in hope we are saved” …present tense, not future tense.  Today we experience God’s saving acts. 

 


Apostle Paul also recognizes that our hope is futuristic and intangible as well.  “Hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen.  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Most of us can wait, but many of us have a difficult time waiting patiently.  It is a human weakness …especially in today’s age of microwaves, instant messaging and movies on demand.  Waiting patiently is not a virtue many of us have.  Apostle Paul understands that as well and reminds us that we have a helper in our weaker moments.  That helper is the presence of the very Spirit of God, strengthening us in our weakness and praying for our needs when we are at a loss for words. 

 


Our primary hope then remains in the presence of God, not only in the future, but in the Spirit in the here and now, knowing our struggles, strengthening us in our weaknesses, and praying for our needs.  Jesus, in the Gospel of John expands on the Spirits activities to include advocating for our needs, guiding us in truth and righteousness, comforting us in our time of sorrow, and reassuring us in our times of struggles. 

 


So, it appears that what we have to offer as a church and as Christians remains, if not futuristic, at least intangible.  God’s Spirit is just not one of those things we can hold in our hand and give to another person.  God’s Spirit does not come in pill form where we can say to someone, “Here, take this.  Now you have God’s Spirit in you and everything will be all better now.” 

 


But we do have something tangible to offer to others.  We have our presence empowered by God’s Spirit.  The story of the first Pentecost experience is a reminder to us that through the baptism of the Holy Spirit we have been empowered to be the presence of God with God’s Spirit working through us.  Not only have we been empowered by the Holy Spirit, but we have been empowered for a reason.  We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit for a cause.  Our cause is to share the love of God as exemplified in Jesus Christ to the world …to everyone. 

 


Baptized into the body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit makes mental illnessour cause …not exclusively, but rather inclusively.  Meaning, mental illness is not our exclusive cause, but rather inclusive with all the rest of the issues that put people on the margins of society or are in special need of experiencing God’s love and compassion.  The Church is the body of Christ.  We are to be the body of Christ present in the world today.  We are to live and act as Jesus Christ lived and acted; reaching out to those on the margins, offering healing to the sick, showing compassion to the hurting, lifting up the downtrodden …in short welcoming and living God’s love and compassion to all, but especially the forgotten and those on the fringes. 

 


How might we specifically live that out as a church?  I’m glad you asked because I knew that that was what you were thinking.  Within the United Church of Christ denomination, we might consider becoming designated as a W.I.S.E church.  A WISE church is one that is Welcoming – Inclusive – Supportive – Engaged of all persons, specifically around issues of mental illness.  It is something for us to consider as a church. 

 


As individuals, we can remember that God calls us to be loving and welcoming of all people.  We can be supportive and nonjudgmental of individuals and families who are dealing with issues of mental illness.  We can encourage those with mental illness to seek help and support them in their journeys.  We can be engaged in issues around mental illness by helping to break the stigma that comes with mental illness and debunking the myths around mental illness and suicide.  There is much that we can do around issues of mental illness.  It begins with awareness and education around the issue. 

 


Because of our baptism into the body of Christ, we have been given a cause.  Our cause is to show and live the welcome, love, and compassion to all people.  Through our baptism of the Holy Spirit we have been empowered to live out that cause.  On this Mental Health Sunday may we especially remember that individuals and family member affected by mental illness are a part of that cause.  Amen. 



December 20, 2017

The question of a “merry” Christmas

“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” for some the debate continues as to which is the proper “Christmas/holiday” greeting.  For many, this debate is mute because they really do not care.  For many others, there is no debate.  There is no debate because the Christmas holiday season is neither “merry” nor “happy.”  There are many who struggle to find the joy in what has become for most a joyous time of the year.  Knowing that others are feeling the joy and you are not, makes the struggle with this time of year even more difficult.  It makes one wonder if they are odd or the Christmas Scrooge or Grinch because others are expecting you to feel the same joy and holiday spirit that they are. 

I remember stating at our son, Ben’s funeral three years ago that for me and my family there will be no joy this Christmas.  Maybe in the future, joy would once again return.  This will be the fourth Christmas and the joy has yet to return.  While many of you might find that sad, quite honestly, I am “okay” with that.  I am “quite comfortable with not feeling the Christmas spirit that most other people do.  Joy is not the only message of Jesus coming into our world. 

Luke is the only Gospel that refers to joy at the time of Jesus birth and that joy is mostly reserved for the lowly, the forgotten, and the marginalized.  The Gospel of Matthew is the only other Gospel that records a birth story of Jesus and his message is twofold: he will save his people from their sins and Emmanuel, “God is with us.”  It is a message for the all peoples.  There is no birth story in the Gospel of Mark where the message of the coming of Jesus is to turn back to God.  Again, there is no birth story in the Gospel of John where the message of the coming of Jesus is God’s light coming into a darkened world. 

The underlying and deeper message in all four Gospels is the message of hope.  Joy is sometimes fleeting at best, many times circumstantial, and often reserved for a privileged few.  Hope is universal and eternal.  No matter our circumstances, we can all use hope.  Without hope, there is no joy. 

So no matter your circumstances this Christmas holiday season, whether this is the “happiest time of the year” for you, or you are still grieving the loss of a loved one, or you are experiencing depression and anxiety or you are stressed out from the pressures of the holiday season; no matter where you are at in your life’s journey, in Christmas there is always a message of hope for all of us.  There is hope that God reaches out to be in relationship with us.  There is hope that God’s presence is with us.  There is hope that we have not been forgotten.  There is hope of God’s light shining in the darkness of our lives and our world. 

It is “okay” if there is no “merry” in your Christmas or “happy” in your holidays.  There is always hope for you, your life, and our world as witnessed through Jesus coming into our world.  Wishing you a blessed Christmas. 

                                                                                    Blessings and peace,

                                                                                    Pastor Keith

 

November 11, 2017

Blessing and a curse

There is something that has been bothering me since Ben’s death.  I was reminded of it again the other day through a short visit I had with a mother who has just discovered that her two young adult daughters have a rare form of cancer.   I can only imagine what it must be like for the parents of these two children …the constant worry …the frantic concern …the sense of desperation …the sense of helplessness.  I can only imagine that there must be this constant nagging in the pit of the stomach that never seems to go away.  I can only imagine the sleepless nights of worry ...wondering about an uncertain future.  I can only imagine. 

I can only imagine because we did not have that with Ben because we did not know.  I have often wondered how I would have handled it if I would have known.  We knew somewhat that Ben was dealing with some, or at least had dealt with some mental issues, but we did not know to what extent.  We were never fully aware to what extent Ben suffered from mental illness of depression and anxiety.  He never shared that with us.  Because Ben never shared that with us we never really experienced the constant worry of when were we going to receive that phone call that said Ben had died by suicide.  We never had that sense of desperation of whether or not there was viable treatment out there for Ben.  We never had the sleepless nights wondering if Ben was safe or not.  We never had… We never had because Ben never shared his illness or let us know.  Ben was very good at hiding the seriousness of his disease from us and others. 

As I have experienced it, this not knowing (to borrow a phrase from the television series, Monk) has been a blessing and a curse.  Yes, we did not have the constant worry, the sleepless nights, the feeling of desperation and helplessness.  But we also did not have the opportunities.  We did not have the opportunity to help or offer guidance.  We did not have the opportunity to encourage Ben to seek treatment or help him seek out treatment.  We did not have the opportunity let Ben know how much we loved and cared for him in spite of his illness.   We did not have the opportunity to let Ben know that we accepted him in his illness.  We did not have the opportunity to work with Ben in the hope of finding healing and wholeness.  We did not…

Do not miss understand me.  I am not the least bit envious of these parents or any parents who face the challenges of their child dealing with a serious illness.  I am just saying that knowing and not knowing come with different and unique challenges.  So which is preferred?  …knowing your child is seriously ill and experiencing the helplessness, worry and anxiety that go with the journey?  …or avoiding the stress of the journey because you did not know, receiving a visit from the police informing you your child has died, and wondering how things might have been had you had the opportunity?  My preference would be “neither.”  My preference would be healthy adult children.  But it is not to be.  So we just have to figure out a way to continue to move forward with the challenges life gives us whether it is “knowing” or “not knowing.” 

My heart truly goes out to the young ladies and their parents.  They are truly special people.  I hope they whip this thing that we call cancer.  I do not and cannot know what the young ladies or their parents are going through right now.  I can only imagine and I am guessing that what I imagine might not even be close.  I can only say might thoughts and my prayers are with them.  To them and to all of you I truly wish you all…

                                                                                                Blessings & peace,

                                                                                                Pastor Keith

 

October 29, 2017

The thief

Silently it comes, the thief in the night

Violently it steals, keeping out of sight

Leaving behind destruction and pain

Lives that will never be the same again

 

It steals the happiness that once was there

In its wake leaves sadness beyond compare

It takes with it the joy and leaves the strife

Death is the thief that takes more than life

Keith C Kraft

 

 

August 21, 2017

What’s in a word?

After my last reflections writing a week ago I received an email from a parent who lost her son to suicide after a long battle with depression and anxiety.  In her email she suggested that I no longer use the word “committed” suicide and instead use the term “completed” suicide.  Her reasoning was that “committed” gives the connotation that the person committed a crime, which they didn’t.  Her email got me to thinking about words and terms we use, how they are perceived, and where did they first come from. 

First of all let me say two things.  One, thanks for the email.  I appreciate comments and insights on things that I might not think about.  Secondly, my writings are meant in no way to offend anyone especially anyone who is already dealing with the loss of a loved one from suicide. 

As I said, her email got me to thinking.  “Committed” is the only term I have ever heard when referring to death from suicide.  It is engrained in my head.  I wonder if the term “committed” didn’t first become used because (I think) at one point suicide was considered a crime …albeit, a crime against one’s self.  A quick google search shows that suicide has been decriminalized in most countries but “failed attempt suicides” in some countries can still be considered a felony.   

So if “committed” gives the false implication that one has committed a crime, what then is a better word or term?  Another quick google search and I came across an article titled “Language about Suicide (Part1): The Power of Words written by Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW.  http://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2013/04/13/language/  Dr. Freedenthal suggest that both words “committed” and “completed” are insufficient.  Dr. Freedenthal suggests that instead to use the phrase “died by.”  You can read Dr. Freedenthal’s article by clicking on the link above.  At the risk of misquoting it, I will let the article speak for itself. 

For some the discussion on an appropriate word to use might seem like overkill on political correctness.  For me it is trying to be sensitive to those who are ready dealing with the pain of a loss of a loved one.  That is important.  Personally, “died by suicide” seems to be most appropriate and it is the term I will attempt to use from now on.  My son died from a mental illness of depression and anxiety.  His death was by suicide. 

Realize that old habits, especially old habits that are so engrained in my psyche are sometimes hard to break.  Again, thanks to the one who sent me the email.  Any time we can share thoughts and raise awareness around mental illness and suicide, it is a good thing. 

                                                                                                                Blessings & peace, Pastor Keith

 

August 13, 2017

Another look at anger and grief

A couple of months ago I was visiting with a lady who had lost her husband to suicide when she was a young mother with young children.  She told me that she was very angry with her husband for him taking his life.  She suggested that maybe I did not experience the same anger because of my son’s age.  Ben was younger than was her husband at the time of their respective deaths. 

This thought bothered me.  Shouldn’t my loss give me the right to be as angry as anyone else who has lost a loved one?  Age shouldn’t be a determining factor.  In some ways, don’t I have the right to be even more angry because my son did not have the opportunity to live as long and experience things in life as others do?  Shouldn’t I have the right to be more angry because I have deprived of more time and experiences with my son?

After some thought I began to wonder if maybe this lady was right …to an extent.  Maybe she was right, but I wonder if it was not age that made the difference but the relationship.  As a young parent, I too would have been very angry to have been left alone to raise children that two of us had brought into this world.  I would have been angry that my spouse would have singlehandedly destroyed the hopes and dreams of a life that we had planned together. 

But it was not my spouse who committed suicide.  It was my son.  As a parent, I am supposed to raise and protect my children.  It gives me great sadness to realize that I could not protect my child from the darkness that drove him to suicide.  Yes, I am angry with the situation, but it is a situation that was beyond my control.  The darkness of the mental illness made it a situation that was beyond my son’s control.  I am not angry with Ben.  For me, it is the sadness that over shadows the anger. 

In one of my earlier writings I mentioned that pain is relational …dependent on the individual and the loved one who is lost.  The reality is that the whole grieving process is relational.  No one can judge or determine where another might be in their journey through grief.  Grief, and how we experience it is both individual and relational. 

                                                                                    Blessings & peace,

                                                                                    Pastor Keith

 

June 18, 2017

Father’s Day the Third

It is Father’s Day and I wore my bright pink dress shirt to church this morning.  It might seem odd to wear pink for Father’s Day and probably more appropriate for Mother’s Day.  One of the things that I learned from my son Ben is that it is “okay” to be a little odd and to break tradition once in a while as long as you are true to yourself.  I wear my bright pink shirt on those days when Ben is even a little more on my mind than usual.  Father’s day is one of those days. 

This is now our third Father’s Day since Ben’s death from suicide.  It is a day when I think of Ben a little more and again I am reminded about how much I miss him.  One of the things that has always concerned me through this grieving process is that I hope that my other two children do not feel lost or abandoned in the process.  I hope that they do not feel that my love for them has somehow been diminished because of the pain and love expressed over the loss of Ben.  I’m not very good at expressing love the way it is, even when the love is there. 

I can understand how a parent can get so wrapped up and overwhelmed with the grief from the loss of a child that the other children might feel neglected.  They might wonder where they fit in to larger scheme of a parent’s love.  When praise is given to the child who has died the other children might begin to question, “Where is my praise?  Am I as appreciated as the child who has died?”  They might begin to question, “Am I loved as much as my sibling who is no longer with us?” 

I hope my children have never wondered or questioned those things, but I do understand how they could when I continue to blog about thoughts on Ben and his death.  As a parent who has lost a child it can become a challenge to balance the pain and attention given to the child who has died with love and attention given to the children one still has living.  So to my children I say, “I love you both very much and I consider you God’s greatest gift and blessings to me …outside of your mother, of course.  Thank you for your patience and your love for a grieving parent.  It is something I should have told two years ago.” 

To the rest of you who might read this; hug those you love for they truly are God’s greatest gift and blessings.

                                                                        Blessings and peace,

                                                                        Pastor Keith

April 7, 2017

 

The death of innocence

 

In the process of preparing for their mother’s funeral who was the secretary of the Mobridge UCC church when I first came to Mobridge, the daughters came across a couple of pictures from my installation service from almost seventeen years ago now.  It was a picture of everyone who had some part in the worship service which included all three of our children.  Yep.  There was Ben, a fourth grader at the time, standing in front with that big impish grin standing.  And a little piece of my heart broke one more time. 

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I really do appreciate the thoughtfulness of the family giving me the pictures.  It is just that for some reason I am still having difficulty looking at pictures of Ben.  These little pieces of mementos of happier times which should be sources of blessings and joy, two years and four months after Ben’s death I still find heartbreaking and difficult to look at.  I don’t know if that is common for others, but it is my reality. 

 

As I struggle through this continued process of grief I have come to realize that what I see when I see a picture of Ben I do not just see Ben.  I see the young child …the innocence …the happiness …the wonder …the curiosity …fun loving, maybe a little mischievous …loving child …all of those things that are so contradictory to the act of suicide.  Thinking about this it made me wonder if one of the things, among others, that make it so difficult for a parent who has lost a child to suicide is because they do not just lose a young adult child.  With the death of a young adult child to suicide a parent is also experiencing the death of the innocence of a young child.  They are losing, or at least feel like they are losing that fun loving young child of wonder and curiosity.  In other words, we do not just lose a young adult child and the hopes and dreams that go with them.  We feel like we are losing the young child of innocence and the wonder as well because the suicide has taken that away.  And a little piece of us dies with it. 

 

I do not know if any of this makes sense to anyone else and maybe this is true for all parents who lose adult children.  I do not know.  I am just continuing to try to make sense of my experience with the death of my son. 

 

                                                                                                Peace & blessings,

 

                                                                                                Pastor Keith



February 16, 2017

“Is suicide a choice?”

Okay, so I apologize for more ramblings concerning suicide but there is just something (actually many things, but one thing in particular) that has really bothering me lately.  I have heard several times since Ben’s suicide that family members should not feel guilty about their loved ones death because it was their loved one’s choice to commit suicide.  I agree with this statement to a point.  There may be several reasons to feel guilty, but the cause of the suicide is not one of them.  A person might feel guilty of hurtful words said or words left unsaid or something such as that, but not the cause.  The person and the person alone chose to commit suicide. 

But there is where I have a problem.  Is suicide really a choice or has something inside the brain taken away that choice from the person?  I ask this question based on my own experience of knowing my son.  I truly believe that at any other given time other than when Ben’s mental illness dragged him down into that deep darkness that he experienced Ben would have chosen life, not death.  I truly believe that Ben wanted to live but there was something in his mind that took him to a place where he was robbed of that choice.  

I might be completely off base in my thinking here.  I have no way of really knowing.  I am simply going off of my personal experience with my son.  But if I am correct or at least even partially correct I wish that there was a better way to say it than to say that someone chose suicide.  Some might think I am splitting hairs here or even wonder if it makes a difference. 

As a father of a son who committed suicide, it does make a difference to me.  To say that a person who commits suicide has a choice makes it sound like someone just decided to check out of this life because they did not like the way things were going or did not like the other options.  It over trivializes the reality of the situation and somehow puts it into the same category of someone trying to make the choice of going to college or a trade school or going right into the work force.  It makes the suicide victim sound selfish or weak because they “chose” the easy way out. 

Is suicide really a choice?  Some might argue that it is a choice.  Some might argue that in some cases it really is a choice.  Possibly. 

Yes, my son chose to commit suicide in that no one else influenced that decision.  But if one’s mind takes a person to a dark and painful place where one’s judgment can only reason that the only way out is suicide, is that really a choice?  Just wondering. 

                                                                                                Blessings & peace,

                                                                                                Pastor Keith

 

February 6, 2017

There are days

There are days I wish I had permission to throw a big ol’ temper tantrum. 

I wish I could just stomp around, yell, scream, throw things, break things

…maybe even kick something. 

There are days that I wish that I had permission to just be sad

…that I could sit and sulk in my sorrow and self-pity

…that tears would flow on command

And then there are days that I wish I could just feel nothing at all

…that I could just sit and feel

…nothing

…no pain

…no sadness

…no grief

          …no

…nothing. 

Some days they all come in one day. 

Keith C Kraft

  

 

February 1, 2017

 The tattooing experience/ (connecting with Ben)

For over two months now I have been debating whether I should write about my tattooing experience or not.  Even as I begin to write this I am still hesitant to share it.  It is not because I find this deeply personal.  As most of you know by now, when it comes to Ben’s death and suicide I am more than willing to share.  No.  What makes me hesitant is that I know that once something is put down in print and shared publicly the writer has lost all control over how it is understood.  It is really up to the individual reader as to interpretation and understanding.  So please understand that what I write is strictly a sharing of my experience and nothing more.  I am not promoting or justifying any type of activity.  This is just me and pain continuing to seek understanding.  I will leave it at that. 

 

If you have read my blogs before, you know that this past fall I got a semi colon tattoo to continue the story of my son Ben.  My tattoo artist knew my purpose and understanding of my reason.  During the process of getting the tattoo I mentioned that Ben had three or four tattoos.  Without missing a beat my tattoo artist asked if Ben “cut”.  I replied that I honestly did not know, but that a friend of Ben’s suggested that he possibly had.  Again, without missing a beat the tattoo artist commented that it is not uncommon for people who cut to get tattoos. 

For those of us who have never experienced the inner pain and torment of a mental illness, we can only wonder and surmise at the reasons for cutting.  To purposely cause one’s self physical pain does not make sense.  I had always thought perhaps the reason for the cutting was to cause one’s self physical pain so as to take one’s mind of the inner pain.  Maybe it is for some.  I do not know. 

But my tattooing experience opened for me another possibility.  At one point as I was going through the pain of the tattoo process an odd sensation came over me.  It is really hard for me explain or describe in either printed or spoken word.  It was as if, at least for a little while, that my skin had been cut open and some of the inner pain was being released.  There was a sense of release and relief …at least for a little while.  Again, it is hard to explain.  The best way I can explain is that in some ways it was like poking a hole in a throbbing blister and the relief that comes when then the infection starts to ooze out. 

It was at that moment that I began to wonder if that is why Ben did it.  If Ben did cut, did he cut as a way to release some of the inner pain that he was dealing with inside?  Is that why Ben got tattoos?  Did Ben experience that same release of inner pain?  Were the times that he got tattoos at times that he was feeling the pain of the darkness closing in on him? 

I will never know.  Only Ben could answer those questions.  I only know that there was a moment during my tattooing experiences I felt a connection and a little deeper understanding of my son, Ben.  It was enough to bring a tear to my eye …not from the physical pain, but from the release of a little bit of the inner pain and the connection to my son that I felt. 

For that connection and possible understanding, I will always be thankful. 

                                                                                                Blessings and peace,

                                                                                                Pastor Keith

 

 

 

December 8, 2016

Just a humble “Thank You,” to members of the church, friends, family and to all of you for your support and prayers for Deb and I and the family over the past two years. A special “thank you” to the church for your patience as I struggle to find my footing. Wishing you all continued blessings and peace, Pastor Keith

 

Two years

It’s been two years,

You’ve yet to come home

I miss you as much now

As the day you left.

If it is possible,

I miss you more.

Confirmed by the pit in my stomach

And the pain in my chest

 

I know why

You have not been home

But the passing of time

Makes it that much more real

Real as the love

That creates a special bond

But it is that special bond

That makes it difficult to heal

 

But this I reassure you;

You are never far

From my thoughts

You are always in my heart.

In that way, you are always

Here with me

And we have never,

Never …ever

been apart.

Keith C Kraft

 

November 28, 2016

Ever twenty-four

 

To your mother and me

You will always be

Ten days plus year twenty-four

That was your age

When you last turned the page

Not one day or one year more

 

It just doesn’t seem right

That you lost the fight

To the darkness that dwelled in your mind

Or that our lives go on

With your unfinished song

And the peace that we struggle to find

 

Our comfort and peace

In your sweet release

Is only found in God’s healing power

And knowing nothing could erase

God’s all-encompassing grace

Present with you in your darkest hour

Keith C Kraft

 

November 26, 2016

Semicolon tattoo

 

So I just did something that at one time I swore I would never do.  I got a tattoo.  While Ben might not have been shocked with this, he would have been surprised.  I’m pretty sure he knew that I was never overly thrilled with his tattoos.

 

But this is more than just a tattoo.  It is a tattoo with a very personal meaning to me.  I suppose that most tattoos have significant meaning to those who get them.  But this is personal for me.  I got a semicolon tattoo with the inscription Genesis 1:1-2.  I struggle some with the idea of getting a tattoo, but the reality is that the tattoo is an outward sign of an inward reality.  The reality is that our son, Ben’s death has left a permanent mark of pain tattooed in our heart.  I will guarantee you that the pain in my arm will long subside before the one in my heart. 

 

The semicolon comes from the concept of the Semicolon Project.  The semicolon is a symbol for those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide or family members who have been touched by suicide. 

 

Similar to a semicolon in a sentence which is placed where there could be a period but instead a semicolon and the sentenced continues on, the semicolon represents the fact that a person’s story continues.  The stories of those who struggle with mental illness and the families who have lost loved ones to suicide must be told and they must be told without shame or humiliation.  The stories must be told without shame or humiliation or the mental illnesses will continue to be hidden and family members of suicide victims will continue experience the isolation of the stigma that goes with it.  A semicolon represents a person’s willingness to share their story of how suicide and mental illness has touched their life. 

 

For me personally death might have ended our son, Ben’s life, but his story continues on in his parents, siblings, and friends.  I will gladly and without shame share his story and my experience to anyone who would like to hear it.  I want family members of other suicide victims to know that they are not alone and that suicide is not a sign of mental weakness in their loved one any more than losing a family member to cancer is a sign of physical weakness.  Suicide is a mental illness that needs to be talked about to help eliminate the shame and the stigma that goes with it.  This tattoo is, at least I hope, a conversation starter. 

 

The Genesis text is a comforting reminder to me that the same God who was present in the darkness, chaos and uncertainty in the beginning of time is the same God who was present with our son in his darkest hour in the time leading up to and at the time of his death.  That same God continues with us in our times of emptiness and uncertainty.

 

                                                                                      Peace and blessings,

 

                                                                                      Pastor Keith




Anger and grief

September 18, 2016

Twenty and a half months since Ben’s death and I still have not experienced the anger.  Those who know say that there are different stages of grief that people experience after the death of a loved one, one of which is anger.  I even had someone last spring tell me that I needed to experience and express the anger if I was going to move through the grief process.  Sorry, I still have not experienced the anger …at least not the deep intense anger usually associated with the unexpected death of a child by suicide. 

Over the past two weeks I have witnessed the anger that others have experienced.  With the anger has come the blame.  In some ways I feel cheated.  I have nothing and no one to be angry with or to blame.  There are many times that I would like to have something or someone to blame.  If I had something or someone to blame it would help to make sense of this senseless death.  But I can’t.  I cannot blame the army or his experience in Afghanistan.  I cannot blame bullying.  It wasn’t drug or alcohol abuse.  Ben was not experiencing humiliation or shame.  Ben didn’t come from a broken family.  Ben had his whole future ahead of him.  Ben had friends.  Ben loved life.  Ben had a loving and stable family life.  There is no reason that Ben should not be alive today …at least in my mind and my reasoning. 

So the only thing that I am left to be angry at and to blame is this illusive thing that we call mental illness …this thing that no one can really see or explain and some might even question its validity.  The difficult thing is that Ben made it even more difficult because he kept his anxiety and depression so well hidden from us that it is even hard to with confidence that that was the issue.  But it is the only thing that make any sense at all. 

But it because I have nothing else to blame that have the courage and the determination to continue to speak concerning mental illness and suicide.  I do not wish to become an annoying parent with a cause, but I need to speak for I know there are those whose experience is similar to ours.  Another reason I speak is because every person who has experienced the loss of a loved one from suicide needs to know that they are not alone. 

In the meantime, I am still waiting for the anger stage of the grief process.  Maybe I have experienced it and don’t really know it.  Maybe my anger has been reserved for people who have tried to over simplify the cause of suicide or put the blame on the victim.  Anyway after these past two weeks I can hear Semmi Gond Kabin calling.  But that too will have to wait. 

                                                                                      Blessings and peace,

                                                                                      Pastor Keith

 

 

Crazy and mental illness

June 23, 2016

I just had a revelation about something I already knew.  That might sound a bit odd but it is true.  I just had a revelation about something that I already knew deep down in my inner being.  The revelation? …”Not everyone who has a mental illness is crazy.”  I do not know for sure, but I would venture to guess that most of those who have a mental illness are not crazy.  In fact, many of those who are suffering from a mental illness are probably more sane than most of us are who think we are sane. 

Since our son, Ben’s death from suicide as a result of mental illness I have been struggling with the use of certain words such as “crazy, mentally ill, and suicide,” especially when people use them in jest or to make jokes.  To me they are no longer a laughing matter.  I say that even as I recognize that we cannot take some things too seriously or too personally or we will go crazy.  So I have been struggling with the connection between the understanding of crazy and mental illness, and what just came to me is that not all people who are mentally ill are crazy.

Some people might argue that anyone who would commit suicide who would have to be crazy.  Ben might not have been in his right state of mind at the time of the act, but Ben was definitely not crazy.  He was the most in tuned, thoughtful, informed young person I knew when it came to certain topics such as current events, history, theology, and politics.  He knew and understood the needs and pain of those on the margins of society better than most.  In these ways Ben was more sane than many of the rest of us and probably added to the stress of his mental illness.  One of Ben’s friends remembers Ben saying just a couple of weeks before his death that he wished he could take away all of the pain in the world.  No, Ben was not crazy. 

I write this because I want my grandchildren to know that their Uncle Ben was not crazy.  I am sure I do not have anything to worry about because I know my children and my children knew Ben.   They know Ben was not crazy. 

But I want others to know this too.  Mental illness does not equal crazy.  “Not being in one’s right mind” does not equal crazy either.  It is simply a description of the state of mind that a person is at a certain point in time.  Maybe all of you already knew all of this.  I have known this since Ben’s death over a year and a half now.  It just took a revelation for me to realize what I already knew. 

                                                                                                                   Blessings & peace,

                                                                                                                   Pastor Keith

 

June 13, 2016

                                                       A continuing lesson in pain and loss

June 8th means that it has now been a year and half since our son, Ben’s death. To say the least, the past year and a half has been, “literally and figuratively,” a crash course in pain education. I have been reminded that the experience and the timeline of the journey through pain are unique to each individual. The experience of pain is directly relational to the relationship of the individual and the loved one passed. What has been more of a learning experience for me has been the timeline for the easing of the pain …not so much the length of the timeline as to how that timeline is determined.

 

At first I thought that pain was going to have to be one of those things that I was willing to let go off before it would get better. For many months I was not willing to do that. In some ways, while pain was not a welcomed friend, pain was a welcomed companion. It was, in many ways a place of comfort. It reminded me of the loss of a loved one. When love is felt, comfort is found, even in the midst of pain. Pain was also a familiar place. I knew, in the midst of my changing reality, pain would be there. It was something I could count on. So forgive me if you think I am a little bit crazy for not having the willingness to give up the pain.

 

But as time has progressed on this unwelcomed journey, I am developing a new theory about pain. I am beginning to think that you do not have to be willing to give up the pain in order for the pain to ease. What I am saying is that it doesn’t have to be, and I would guess most of the time is not a conscious choice. It is my experience that the easing of pain is forced on you whether you decide to let it go or not. Yes, time has something to do with it. But even more of a factor than time is that the pain becomes a burden too great to bear. The companionship of pain becomes too burdensome to carry. A person gets tired of constantly feeling the pain and little by little begins to let little pieces of it go.

 

Is the pain gone? By no means. The pain is still there even if it is not as sharp as it once was. It rears its ugly head in intensity from time to time, and many times at some of the oddest times and places. But little by little, and not by conscious choice, the pain begins to ease. As the pain eases, what is left in its place is a sadness attempting to fill an emptiness left by a loved one too soon gone.

 

                                                                                                Blessings & peace,

                                                                                                            Pastor Keith


 

May 5, 2016

 

Ben didn’t fit the mold

 

June 8th will be a year and a half since Ben’s death. In many ways it is hard to believe it has been that long. In other ways it is almost as raw as the day it happened.   Almost a year and a half …that is almost 18 months of trying to make sense of something that does not make sense. I am no closer than I was the day of Ben’s suicide. Maybe I am a little biased. Maybe I am too close to the situation. But almost eighteen months have gone by and I just cannot seem to get Ben to fit into the mold of what we, or at least I, imagine for a typical suicide victim.

 

Ben did not grow up in a broken or abusive home. Ben did not grow up in poverty or hopelessness. As far as I know Ben did not experience any traumatic experience, whether during his military service or otherwise. Ben was not and did not experience extreme bullying. Ben was not a loner. Ben was not about to be publicly humiliated by some scandal. Ben did not exhibit extreme mood swings. Ben did not show signs of bi-polar or schizophrenia. Ben did not show signs of extreme depression or anxiety. Ben did not…

 

Ben was an outgoing person who loved people and loved life. And those who knew Ben genuinely seemed to love Ben. Ben simply did not fit the mold of our, at least my understanding of one who would commit suicide. And yet, even as I say that, based on my present reality that Ben did commit suicide, he obviously did fit the mold. He was just very good at hiding it from his family, classmates, instructors, and even most of his closest friends.

 

Maybe what we need to do in society is re-think our understanding of the mold of those who commit suicide. Maybe, even better yet, we just break the mold and recognize that mental illness and suicide can happen in any family.

 

But who am I to say? After almost eighteen months, I am still just trying to make sense of something that does not make sense.

 

                                                                                    Blessings & peace

 

                                                                                    Pastor Keith




March 30, 2016

Yesterday, in conversation with a gentleman about mental illness and suicide I was asked, “If I could say one thing to parents who are dealing with a child struggling with a mental illness, what would that be?”

I have to admit that I did not have a very good response to that question.  I guess at this point in my life I have been too busy focusing on how to deal with the results of a mental illness when that result ends in suicide.  We never knew the full extent to which our son was dealing with his mental illness.  Talking about mental illness and dealing with the loss of a son from suicide is new territory for me.  I’m just doing my best to muddle through and try to make sense of it all. 

So it is twenty four hours later, and after much pondering I realize that I still do not have any good response.  This much I would say to every parent.  Love your child and support your child to the best of your ability.  And let them know that you love and support them.  I say this, yes, for the children who need to know that they are loved and supported.  But I also say this for the parents.  If you ever do end up in the unexpected situation that Deb and I have found ourselves in, you will know that you have done all that you could.  You will have the reassurance that your child has known that you have always loved and supported them. 

Mental illness and suicide can happen in any family, even loving caring families with unbroken relationships.  Part of what has helped to ease our journey a little is the comfort of knowing that Ben knew that he was loved and supported by his family.  So to parents who are dealing with a child who is struggling with mental illness, and to all parents; I still do not know how to help or save your child, but I do know that it hurts like hell to lose one. 

That might sound kind of harsh coming from a pastor, but I cannot think of a more fitting word to describe the pain. 

Blessings and peace,

Pastor Keith

 

Easter sermon 2016


John 20:1-18 & 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Easter promise/Easter hope

I begin this Easter meditation with a confession and an apology. I confess that even though it has been fifteen and a half months since our son Ben’s death I still cannot come to the Easter joy. For some of you, that might sound kind of odd coming from a pastor. After all, the promise that someone’s loved one rests in God’s eternal care should be a source of joy. And a pastor, if anyone, should have the faith in that promise. Faith in the promise of resurrection should mean joy.

But the reality is that the talk of death and resurrection is too much of a reminder of what we do not have. I find myself, like Mary Magdalene, standing in the garden, not just wanting to be reassured of the resurrection. I would rather be able to touch and to hold my loved one. For loved ones gone too early in life, God and the resurrection can wait. I’m kind of selfish that way. It is because of my selfishness that I struggle to experience the joy of Easter at this point in my life. So for those of you expecting and hoping to hear a message of joy, I apologize. I do not mean or want to be a killjoy, but I cannot authentically write or speak on that which I do not feel or experience.

I would guess that I am not the only one struggling to find the Easter joy. I would guess that there are many others struggling to find the Easter joy. And why should that surprise us. Not all four Gospels record the disciples as having the same emotion. Mark has the women running away in fear and amazement. Luke records the disciples as regarding the women’s report of the empty tomb as an idle tale. Matthew says that those who saw the empty tomb experienced fear and great joy. I’m not quite sure how you would do that at the same time. John says that the first disciples who saw the empty tomb believed but did not understand. I’m not quite sure how you do that at the same time either. The Gospel of John goes on to say that it isn’t until the disciples actually see Jesus that they experience joy. And there are still those who doubted.

Each of us comes this Easter morning as individuals. Each of us brings with us our own unique experiences and our own personal emotions to the empty tomb. We bring our sorrows …our emptiness …our doubts …our questions …our fears …our joys. We bring them to the empty tomb. And if there is one thing that the empty tomb can give each of us no matter what we bring …whether it is our sorrows …our emptiness …our doubts …our questions …our fears …our joys or whatever it is …there is one thing the empty tomb can bring each of us …and that is hope.

In our reading this morning Apostle Paul says, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Apostle Paul has suffered dearly for his faith. He has suffered hardships. He has suffered beatings. He suffered alienation. He has suffered illness. He suffered shipwrecks. He has suffered mockery. He has suffered imprisonment. He has suffered because of his faith in the risen Christ. Apostle Paul understood Christ’s resurrection as evidence of God’s power over sin and death. If Christ was raised from the dead, then we too shall be raised from the dead. In Thessalonians Paul writes, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.”

That is our hope. This life is not all that there is. This life is not as good as it gets. If a life of sin, sickness, struggles, and death is as good as it gets, then we are all a people to be pitied. It’s not that this life is bad. There are many good things about this life. Through God we experience many blessings. There is much about this world to be enjoyed. But really, look around the world. If this life is as good as it gets than we are truly a people to be pitied.

Earlier in the Gospel of John, as Jesus is sharing his last night and his last meal with his closest friends he shares with them his impending death. Seeing their pain and their sorrow as he shares this news he goes on to share with them these words of comfort. “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Jesus leaves us and his disciples with a promise … that we will one day see Jesus again. It is in that promise that we find our hope. It is a promise that was sealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

So this Easter I might not come in Easter joy, but I do come in Easter hope. If you stop and think about it, hope is better than joy anyway. Joy is circumstantial. Joy is dependent on what and how things are going in our lives at any given time. Joy is temporary and fleeting. It might be here on day or even minute and gone the next. Whereas, hope when centered on God, is eternal.

My wish …my prayer for all of you this Easter is that you might experience Easter joy. But more than that, my wish …my prayer for all of you is that you might experience and live in the hope of the resurrection founded the promises of God. Amen.

 

February 16, 2016

Baseball caps and youthful innocence

It really isn’t much. It is a simple thing really. All it is, is an orange child’s baseball cap with a black “O” prominently positioned over the bill of the cap, hanging on a hook at the bottom of our basement stairs. How long it has been hanging there, I have no idea. It hasn’t been worn in years. It should have been given to the Thrift Store years ago. It has only been collecting dust. But lately it has been a painful source as a reminder of days of youthful innocence and memories playful enthusiasm. It was the baseball cap that Ben wore the two summers between his first and third grade years while we were in St. Louis while I was going to seminary. They were the Orioles.

So now this cap brings back memories of those summers of youthful innocence of an awkward little boy, whose body grew faster than his coordination, learning how to play baseball …this little boy who would with all enthusiasm play any position put him (he liked catching the best as that gave him the most action) …this little boy who thought competitive sports were a social activity and what was for snacks after the game and being with friends was just as important as winning and losing. It is so difficult to think that this young boy who once wore this orange cap …this young boy so full of youthful innocence, playful enthusiasm, and love of life, could grow to be a young man so tormented by a mental illness that he would take his life. So difficult to understand…

But this orange baseball cap has brought something else to my realization these past couple of days. It is something I think I already knew but really couldn’t explain and even now find it hard to explain. I have realized that when a parent loses a child as a young adult, (and probably at any age) they have lost more than just an adult child. They have lost more than just the hopes and the dreams that they held for that child. They have lost more than just the possibility of grandchildren. They have lost more…

They have lost the baby (that they held in their arms.)

They have lost the infant (that they used to carry and try to comfort when the child was running a high fever.)

They have lost the toddler (that they had to frantically search for who had wandered off at the state fair.)

They have lost (that awkward little boy whose body grew faster than his coordination.)

They have lost (the little boy who, in middle school, thought wrestling was a social event, not necessarily a competitive sport.)

They have lost (the teenager who they have helped to guide through high school and all of the challenges and changes that come with it.)

The list could go on and on. (Any parent who has lost a child can add their own memories and experience between the parentheses.)

An orange child’s baseball cap hangs at the bottom of our basement stairs as a reminder to me that Deb and I have lost more than an adult child with hopes and dreams of a future. We have also lost the youthful innocence and the playful enthusiasm of a young boy, and so much more. The combination of the future and the past can make for a painful present. It is something that I am becoming more aware of and still attempting to learn how to live with.

Blessings & peace,

Pastor Keith

 

January 29, 2016

 

It is the end of January. There is very little snow left in my yard. And yet, there still sitting at the end of my driveway is a dead brown wilted zinnia plant. I still haven’t gotten the resolve to pull it up yet. It has been thirteen and a half months since Ben’s death. The zinnia plant really has no other connection to Ben other than the connection that I have attributed to it over the summer. And yet, as arbitrary as that connection is, I still cannot bring myself to get rid of the plant. In some ways it is almost as if while during the summer the plant was a symbol of hope and beauty to me, it has now become a symbol of my unwillingness and reluctance to let go of the pain. I …just …can’t …bring myself …around to doing it. In many ways I am just kind of hoping that someday it will be gone. The plant, that is.

 

I know that pulling out an old dead plant does not mean I am pulling up roots and moving on without Ben. I know that getting rid of an old dead plant is not symbolic of getting rid of all connections I had with Ben. I know that putting a dead plant in the trash does not mean that I am discarding all memories of Ben. I know that the reality is that this plant has nothing to do with Ben. I know …and yet…

 

I am beginning to think that that is the way it is with grief. With grief, a person does not think rationally. Grief causes a person to see things in weird ways. Grief makes a person make strange connections between things that most people would not even consider. Grief causes a person to experience things in ways that a rational person would consider odd. A rational person would have pulled the dead plant out a long time ago.  

 

When it comes to matters of Ben, I am not a rational person. I am still a person in grief. While I assure you that it is getting some better, I am still a person in grief.

 

Blessings & peace,

 

Pastor Keith



December 25, 2015

Second Christmas without Ben

This is our second Christmas without Ben.  In some ways, this Christmas was harder than the last.  Last Christmas his death was still fairly new and emotions were still really raw.  I'm not sure if the whole reality of the event had fully sunk in yet.  This year the reality is much more real.  You realize that the thing that you want most for Christmas will never ever happen.  The flair and the glitz of Christmas has lost its shine.  The excitement has lost its edge.  And much of societies take on Christmas seems even more superficial and meaningless.  The best that I can come back to for Christmas is "Emmanuel, God with us."  There is little else to say. 

This is the first year in several years that Deb and I have spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day without any of our kids at home.  Even if the older two kids were busy with work or family these past few years, we could always count on Ben being home for Christmas Eve service to help sing in the church choir and home on Christmas day.  The only year he wasn't home was the year that he was in Afghanistan with the national guard unit from Mobridge.  Even then we had the opportunity to Skype with him.  We were able to see him, even if the picture was a little dark and fuzzy. 

Lately I have been wondering, "How is it that parents who have lost children do not keep from going crazy?"  I guess if you look through history there are some who haven't.  I guess what amazes me is that any stay sane.  I guess we have to simply because we have no other alternative.  Somehow we have to keep moving forward.  So it is that we continue to move forward into another year ...forward, still empty, still wondering...

Peace and blessings,

Pastor Keith

 

December 21, 2015

This is the first year that the Mobridge Ministerial Association held a "Longest Night" worship service.  It was in recognition that this time of the year and the Christmas season is not always a joyful time for everyone.  There are those who have lost loved ones, suffer from depression or anxiety, or just the stress that comes with the holiday season combined with the extended hours of darkness and short days who struggle with this time of the year.  The following is the meditation that I shared at this service. 


 

Genesis 1:1-2 

 

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

 

I’m going to pause there. I’m going to pause there because I want you to hear these words again, not just as a creation story as we are so used to hearing them as, but I want you to hear them as a description of life in general. Many Biblical scholars figure that this first creation story was written at a time when ancient Israel was in exile or had just returned from exile. They were experiencing a time of chaos and uncertainty. The future ahead looked dark and scary. Waters, in ancient times, were a symbol of chaos and uncertainty. You never knew what lurked below the surface of the waters. They were dark, dangerous and uncertain. When you were out on big bodies of water storms could come up unexpectedly and swallow you up. Such is life …chaotic and uncertain where storms can come up unexpectedly. So hear these words again.

 

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

 

That might be where many of us, or at least some of us gathered here tonight, are at right now …or at least, feel like that is where we are at right now. We feel like that formless void …this emptiness within us with no real directions. Life has no real shape to it. There is this sense of darkness that covers us. There is this sense of chaos and uncertainty in our lives. For whatever reason, that might be where we are at in life right now. That is okay. That is not a bad place to be. It is good for us to acknowledge where we are at. If we are in that chaotic, uncertain, scary dark place, then we need to claim it. And it is even okay to remain there, at least for a little while. It is okay to be there because into this chaotic, uncertain, scary, darkness the writer of the first chapter of Genesis brings us a twofold message of Good News.

 

The first message of Good News is that God is present. God is present in the mess and the brokenness of our lives. The same wind of God or Spirit of God that was present in the beginning of creation when all was dark and chaotic is the Spirit of God that is present with us in our dark and uncertain times. We must remember that. Even when we do not feel God’s presence, God is still present. Even in our darkest, most hopeless times of our lives, God is present with us.

 

The second message of Good News comes in verses 3 and 4.

 

3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

 

Into this chaotic, uncertain, scary, darkness, God speaks, “Let there be light.” And there was light and God separated the light from the darkness. God is working to bring order out of chaos. God is not only present with us in our times of uncertainty and chaos, but God is also working to help bring back order into our lives. It will not come quickly. It will not come easily. This is where I very from the creation story. Coming out of the darkness, chaos, and uncertainty is not as easy as steps 1 – 2 – 3. It takes time. It will probably even be a process of going back and forth between coming out and returning to the darkness and the chaos. It might even mean remaining in the darkness for some time and looking out into the light. That is okay. God is present with us whether we are in the darkness or in the light.

 

God is present with us and God is bringing light into our dark and chaotic world; that is the message of Christmas as well. Matthew writes that the coming Christ child is known as Emanuel “God with us.” The Gospel of John tells us that God sent Jesus into the world to be the light of the world. I am going to conclude with one more scripture.

 

Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11  

 

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Psalm 46: 10 "Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth." 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

 

Sometimes the best that we can do is; attempt to quiet the storms that are within us, and trust in God’s presence and the coming light into our lives and our world. Amen.



December 8, 2015

 

Today was the last of the firsts for our family. Today is the first anniversary of our son, Ben's death from suicide. Last year December 8th meant nothing to me. It was just another day. The day that Ben died I couldn't have told you what day it was other than that it was a Monday. Now I will never forget December 8th or how it changed my imagined ordered world. The pain will ease with time. The memory of the pain of that day might even fade some, but I doubt that it will ever be forgotten.

 

Deb and I commemorated the day by closing the church, skipping work, and going to Wessington Springs to visit Ben's grave. It also gave us the chance to see my Dad and Step-mom as well as my one of my brothers and his wife. It was good to see them. My brother brought my dad to the gravesite. It was good to have him there. While showing Dad the veteran's plaque on the back of the grave marker I mentioned that Ben was proud of his service in the National Guards and his service overseas in Afghanistan. Dad nodded in agreement. It was, I believe, my dad's way of saying that he was proud of Ben too. A stroke has taken my dad's ability to talk.

 

It has been a good, difficult, and emotional day. The day has brought back many memories of that day one year ago. In some ways the emotion and the pain are almost just as raw as they were when we received the news of Ben's death. I can still hear the phone ringing at 5:00 in the morning and Sgt Heil's voice saying, "Keith, I need to talk to you." I can still feel the dread building within me as I went to the door knowing that no news is good news when it comes from someone outside of your family during the darkness of night. I can still feel my heart sinking when I opened the door to Sgt Heil with Officer Mewjeski soberly standing behind him. I can still feel the shock, disbelief, and numbness when they gave Deb and I the news of Ben's death and how he died. I can still vividly remember those first reactions of our children and Mike when I told them the news: disbelief, sobs, and silence. It still breaks my heart when I remember.

 

A year later it is still hard for me to believe. It is hard to accept the fact that this young man who was so happy most of the time …had so much promise …had so many plans …was so bright in so many ways …had so much compassion for others …enjoyed people and life, and had so much to live for could possibly take his own life. There are times I still expect him to show up at my door, text me or call me on the phone, and yet… reality says otherwise.

 

Even though I am pretty much convinced that Ben's death was caused by a mental illness that we were not fully aware, there are times that I still question. I question whether I was a good parent? Did I pressure Ben too much one way or another? Did I not take enough interest in his life? What did I do that Ben was not comfortable enough to share this horrible secret with me? For the most part probably foolish question which I do not spend a lot of time on, but still they are there.

 

The reality is, for the most part I feel that I am doing pretty well …as long as I don’t stop and think about it too long. What kills me inside the most is when I think about the actual event of Ben’s death. There is great pain in thinking about the pain that Ben must have been in that lonely dark night and the violent nature of that death. I cannot stay in that place too long. I am still broken and always will be. I have come to accept that and that is okay with me. For Ben, I will gladly remain broken even as I know that healing will come.

 

So how have I changed since Ben’s death? I am more emotional. I have always been somewhat emotional, but it is worse now. I choke up and the tears come easier. It is more difficult for me to watch television shows and movies that are emotional, whether they are happy or sad. Even the news with all of the death reports are harder to watch. It is harder to leave my other two kids after we have seen them. What used to be something I always took for granted, now I get emotional inside and tear up a little when we say good-bye. (I try not to let them know.)

 

In some ways I am less tolerant of some things and some people that I feel like are obsessing or fretting over what I feel are insignificant things. In other ways I am more appreciative of other people. There are so many people that I would like to thank but to name you all and how you are special to me through this past year would go on for too long and I would probably leave somebody out. I think, at least I hope you all know. I hope I have told you and shown you. I wish I could give you all a hug (and I am not the kind of person who normally cares to hug) …another change.

 

I know I will remain broken. I know that the healing is coming and will continue to come. I hope and pray that society will continue to grow in understanding and awareness to the connection between mental illness and suicide.

 

Ben, you are so missed. I just wish...

 

Blessings & peace,

 

Pastor Keith




November 15, 2015

 

One final lesson from my oddly placed zinnia

 

Well, my zinnia finally died. Last weekend’s freezing temperatures were too much for it and it finally died. I knew this day would come. I knew that the zinnia would not last all winter. Such it is with the ways of nature and plants in South Dakota. They grow in the summer and die with the coming of winter. I know it. I knew it. And still, in some odd way, it makes me a little sad.

 

Most of you know what I am talking about with my zinnia. For those of you who do not, I have a zinnia that has chosen to grow at the end of my driveway in an odd place that I never planted it. The zinnias that I planted were some twenty feet away and even some of those that I planted didn’t want to grow. And yet here in this odd place is this odd zinnia plant that has graced my yard for much of the summer and fall. In an odd way it has been my yard companion. It has been there when I come home, or went to get the mail, or mowed my lawn.

 

With a little help, this zinnia has with stood fifty mile an hour winds. It has sprung back to life after it had been all but ripped out of the ground and barely hanging on by the tips of its roots. We protected it from weed spray. In the midst of everything with the death of our son last winter, this zinnia, in some odd way that I cannot explain has been a source of comfort, wonder, and beauty, and a symbol of hope and resilience. And now it is dead. Like I said, I knew it was coming, but it is still a little sad. I really should pull the dead plant, but for some odd reason I just can’t bring myself around to do it. Even though it is dead and brown, it still is a reminder to me of the source of wonder and beauty, and a symbol of hope and resilience that it once was. To remove it would be to remove that reminder and that symbol.

 

With the changing of times I am reminded of Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church. In times of uncertainty and change our only real hope is in that which we cannot see …in that which is eternal and will not wither and die. Our hope is in God and God’s love and grace.

 

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” Romans 8:18-24

 

There will always be pain, suffering, and uncertainty as long as we are journeying through this thing that we call life. Nothing lasts forever. Sin and death are a part of the human condition. Earthly things crumble and decay and are replaced by other earthly things which crumble and decay. The only one that is eternal is God. The only thing that lasts forever is the love and grace of God. It is in God and in God’s presence that we must put our faith and our trust …and our hope. It has to be. It has to be …because there is nothing else. Blessings and peace, Pastor Keith

 

 



November 1, 2015

 

Today I took off my Alb and my stole during worship.  We celebrated Totenfest as part of worship service today.  Totenfest is when we read the names and light a candle for members of our church who have passed away this past year.  We also read the names and light a candle for each of baptisms and births from our church this past year.  It is a part of the service that deacons of our church take the leadership and I usually just sit.  What was unique about this year is that it was the year our son Ben’s name would be spoken.  We also had communion as part of the worship service. 

 

I performed the usual parts of our worship service in my usual attire of wearing my stole with my Alb.  Totenfest was the last part of worship service following communion other than the final hymn.  After communion I took off my Alb, my stole, and my mic, and I went to sit with my wife and with the rest of the congregation.  I took off role pastor.  I am not sure that the rest of the congregation got the symbolism but it was important to me to sit with Deb without my Alb and stole.  Today I was a supportive spouse and a grieving parent. 

 

Blessings and peace,

 

Pastor Keith



October 28, 2015

More ramblings after ten months

The first anniversary of Ben’s death is quickly approaching. I am no closer to understanding suicide or mental illness than I was ten months ago. I can only still surmise that the two are related …at least in Ben’s case. I am convinced that there would not have been a suicide without the mental illness. Maybe there are cases where suicides occurred without the mental illness, but it would take some persuading to convince me. What I do know is that those of us who have never experienced the “dark places” that Ben spoke about in high school and obviously followed him after high school will never ever fully understand what that experience is like. We can only imagine, and even that makes me shiver.

One thing Ben’s death has done for me is that it has given me a greater awareness of what the families are going through that I minister to upon the death of a loved one. As a pastor, we have the privilege of being invited into the pain of family members as they journey through the loss of loved ones. I have always thought that I was, at least fairly compassionate and empathetic. I have always thought that I was a fairly understanding person. After all, I have experienced the loss of a mother and a mother-in-law. After Ben’s death I realized that I was absolutely clueless to the depth of pain that family members could be experiencing.

Thankfully for me I still do not know what it is like to lose a beloved spouse. For those who have, you have my utmost respect and sympathy. For those of you who I have ministered to in the past, I apologize. I did not and could not know the depth of your pain. I realize that each person’s experience of pain and sorrow are unique depending on the person and the relationship to the one who has died. But I do have a better understanding now of pain that can cut to the core of one’s being. In the words of the television character, Monk, “It is a blessing and a curse.” …with emphasis on “curse.”

One thing that has surprised me about traveling through this grieving process is that it seems that as I get closer to the anniversary of Ben’s death it is once again getting more difficult to cope with things. The emotions are getting stronger and yet at times it seems like there are times when there is no emotion at all. It seems that there are no tears left to cry …only an empty hollow feeling. …nothing …emotionless …and then guilt for feeling emotionless. And at other times the tears are hard to hold back.

What is common is the anxiety and dread of facing the coming days. I can only rationalize that it is because we are coming to the “last of the firsts.” In the next two months we are facing: my first deer hunt without Ben in several years other than when he was deployed in Afghanistan; our first Thanksgiving without Ben which was the last time we were all together as a family; Ben’s birthday; the anniversary of Ben’s death; our first Christmas without Ben. (I’ll be honest. I don’t remember much of last Christmas other than pain and sorrow.)

I think another reason for the anxiety is that as a person gets further away from the death of a loved one it is easy to feel a little more alone and isolated in your grief. Most everyone else has moved on …which is to be expected. They are not as close to your loved one as you are. The other thing is that everyone else wants you to move on as well. This too is normal. It is not because they are unsympathetic. It is because they want things to be back to “normal” and things will not be back to “normal” until you are “normal.” The reality is that you will never be back to the way you once were before the death. One has to learn to live into a new normal.

For those of you who take the time to read these ramblings I hope you know that I do not write them to illicit sympathy. My purpose is really fourfold. First and foremost, I write as a way to help me process what I am thinking, feeling, and experiencing. Second, I write these words as a way so that I might not forget. I hope it will help me continue to grow in compassion and understanding as a pastor.

Thirdly, I write for those of you who might be or probably some day will be going through the same experience of the loss of a loved one. I know that my experience might be unique to me, but pain is universal when it comes to losing a loved one. I hope that maybe these thoughts will help you process what you have, are, or will be going through. In the end, my prayer is that you will experience some comfort and peace through these writings. Fourthly, I hope these words serve as a reminder that mental illness and suicide is real in our society. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness and suicide is not an easy way out …not for the victim …not for the families left behind.

Blessings and peace,

Pastor Keith.

 

 


October 11, 2015

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 & Mark 10:17-31

 “Losing it”

 

As some of you may or may not have seen, we have two new trees planted in the front of our church. These trees were donated by members of the church for Ben’s memorial. Last Saturday I went to Aberdeen to pick up the trees. I mentioned to the young lady who was helping me with the trees that one of the trees was a memorial for my son. In sympathy she asked me about my son and so I told her how old Ben was and how he died. It does not bother me, although it can be a little emotional at times, to tell people about Ben or Ben’s death. I feel it is an opportunity for me to try to get people to begin to think about the connection between suicide and mental illness and their reality in our society.

 

Through the process of conversation I learned that this young lady had also experienced the loss from suicide in a very close friend and a family member. I was doing pretty well with the conversation until she asked about the rest of the family …our other children and grandchildren. It was at that point that the emotions became a little overwhelming and I had to pause, take a breath, and try to collect myself before I could respond. Otherwise, I would have lost it and I really didn’t want to lose it in front of this nice young lady who I had just met.

 

I have been very intentional about not bringing Ben’s death or mental illness or suicide into my sermons. I chose to use other writings as an outlet for that. I did not and do not feel that the pulpit is an appropriate instrument and a sermon an appropriate tool as means of expressing mine or mine and Deb’s pain. But my conversation this weekend with the young lady from the garden nursery and today’s reading from Job is a good reminder that pain, suffering, and loss are universal. There is no one who is exempt from these experiences. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you won’t have to wait too long and you will. It is true that you will experience pain, suffering, and loss to varying degrees. Some will hit a person harder than others. Most likely in your life time you will experience them at all levels.

 

In today’s Old Testament reading we meet Job. Job is in the middle of his pain, suffering, and loss. When it comes to rating to what degree Job is experiencing pain, suffering, and loss, I think it would be safe to put him at pretty much the highest degree. Job has lost pretty much everything. Job has lost all of his property. He has lost his children. He is suffering from an irritating skin disease. The only things Job has left are his life and his wife, and his wife is telling him to curse God and die. That might not sound like the most supportive things to say, but in Job’s condition it might have been the most humane. It was probably difficult for her to see him suffering the way that he was.

 

Enter Job’s three friends. They have come to offer him comfort through explaining and rationalizing his pain and suffering that he is experiencing through his loss. If we can explain something and make sense of it, then we can fix the problem. Job’s friends figure Job must have done something wrong to make God angry for all of this bad stuff to happen to him. (We are usually pretty good a blaming the victim.) Job maintains his innocence.

 

Finally, Job has had enough. He loses it. He lashes out at God. He complains to God. He questions God. He challenges God. Where is God in all of this unjust pain and suffering? There is not just pain and suffering in his life. There is pain and suffering in the world. Where is God in all of the world’s pain and suffering? In the end, with no answer or response from God, Job feels that it would be better if he could just die.

 

The real beauty of the book of Job is its humanness. How many of us haven’t wanted to lash out a God …complain to God …question God …challenge God? How many of us haven’t wondered where God is in the pain and the suffering in our lives and in our world? How many of us haven’t really wanted to lose it with God? And Job does. Job complains to God …questions God …challenges God, even as he is afraid of God. Most of us would be astonished at what Job did. We would say that he has totally lost it.

 

What is it that we are so afraid to lose and why are we so afraid to lose it? The “it” is control. When we lose “it” we are losing control. Our feelings and our emotions have taken control. Heaven forbid that I might lose control of my emotions in front of the young lady in the garden nursery, or in front of you all for that matter. She …you might realize that I am human …even vulnerable. We do not like to show or let other people know that we are vulnerable. We will do whatever it takes to stay in control of our emotions and our situations.

 

And yet death and other tragedies in our lives have a rude way of reminding us that we are not in control. We cannot control or prevent the deaths of our loved ones. We cannot prevent or control many of our illness. We can do our best to stay healthy and take care of ourselves, but some things we have no control over. Some illnesses come along with the natural aging process. Some we can treat. Some we cannot. Some life situations are beyond our control. Our friends in Ukraine are a perfect example of that.

 

But many of us here in the US have had many things go our way. We have been taught that you can control your destination. With the right job …with the right amount of money …with the right position in society, and we are in control. Then tragedy strikes. Flood, fire, or tornado takes your house. The stock market crashes. Cancer, heart disease or some other terminal illness raises its ugly head. The sudden death of a loved one. Suddenly you are reminded that you are not in control.

 

Jesus says, “That’s okay. Go ahead and lose it.” In fact, Jesus wants us to lose it. You see the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man isn’t just about money and wealth. The story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man is about who or what is in control. Money and wealth is about power and control. Have money and wealth – have power and control. Many times we think we control it, but the reality is that most of the times our possessions control us. So Jesus says lose it. Lose control and find God.

 

Earlier in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will find it.”

 

It is only when we let loose of trying to control everything that we can really begin to live. It is only then that we will experience true freedom and peace. But to let loose of control means that we first will have to trust. We will have to trust that God will take care of us. We will have to trust that God is present with us. We have to trust that God will take care of our loved ones – even in death. It is okay and even helpful to lose it. We are, after all, only human.

 

Feeling angry with God, God says, “Go ahead. Lose it. Be angry with me. I am big enough I can handle your anger.”

 

Feeling tremendously sad, God says, “Go ahead. Lose it. My compassion is beyond your understanding.”

 

Feeling overwhelming fear of the future, God says, “Go ahead. Lose it. I will take care of you and guide you into that future.”

 

God says, “Lose control. Give it to me. Experience my peace. Find joy in odd and unexpected places. Find life and peace in me.” Amen.



September 29, 2015

 

Zinnia - Copy

The Zinnia – the continuing story 

So this is a continuation of the story of the oddly placed Zinnia. What many of you do not realize is that there was a week between the time that I wrote about the Zinnia and the time that I put the story on the website and in the newsletter. In between writing and posting, Mobridge experienced a 50 mph plus wind over the weekend while Deb and I were gone. Upon returning I found my oddly placed Zinnia pulled out of the ground. It was barely hanging on by the tips of its roots. The only flower that had bloomed on the plant had been ripped off. The plant looked terrible and I, surprisingly, found myself feeling sad over the loss of the flower. This simple oddly placed flower had brought little pieces of joy into my life and now it was gone. I know it seems trivial, but I missed the flower.    

I was also concerned that I had written an article about this Zinnia flower and now there was no flower. What would people say if they read the newsletter article, drove by my driveway, and now the flower is gone? With very little hope I took what was left of the plant, propped it up as best as I could, and took my thumb pushing the roots of the plant back into the quarter inch shallow soil. Underneath the soil was asphalt. I wasn’t holding my breath.  

Much to my surprise and joy, the day that we mailed the newsletter out with my poorly timed article on the Zinnia, another bud opened up. I kid you not, there is once again a Zinnia flower sitting at the end of my driveway bringing a little beauty to an otherwise ugly looking part of my yard. The plant looks a little odd as it is bent and crooked. But the flower is there at the end of my driveway greeting me every time I come home or mow my lawn.  

I imagine you could get several metaphors out of this little story like: the resiliency that God has created within nature to recover after being whipped around by life’s storms. As part of God’s creation, God has given us that same resiliency to weather our storms of life. Or there could be the metaphor that sometimes what we need during difficult times is a little help from a loving and caring hand. We are not in this alone in this world and sometimes we need the help of friends to keep us grounded. Or another metaphor could be that we need to keep our faith rooted in God to withstand many of the things that life throws our way. There will be times when we feel like our faith is barely hanging on by the fingertips. But even that can keep us rooted in God. 

All of these metaphors would be appropriate and there might even be more. As for me, the Zinnia is a reminder of the amazing mysteries and wonders of God and God’s creation. There is much that I do not know and do not understand. And I am okay with that. At least for now I am learning to be “okay” with that. It is called living in faith into an unknown future and living with at past that we cannot change.  

I know that with fall here and winter right around the corner, the days for that flower are numbered. It won’t be long and it too will wither and die. When that happens I am sure that I will be a little sad again. It is called life. But for now I once again have a purple Zinnia flower sitting at the end of my driveway bringing me little pieces of joy, a smile to my face, and a wonder in my heart whenever I see it. That too is life.  

Sometimes we have to look for the little pieces of joy and happiness whenever and wherever we can find them …even in the seemingly simple, oddly placed, and odd looking things of life.

                                                                                     Peace & blessings,

                                                                                     Pastor Keith



September 12, 2015

 

So this past Friday Deb and I went to the Lion’s eye & Tissue Bank banquet in Rapid City.  Before the banquet we had the opportunity to meet the recipient of one of Ben’s corneas.  I will be honest with you in admitting that I was very hesitant about going.  It is another physical, visible reminder of Ben’s death.  It is a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that we had to make for the donor process to happen.  With that being said, I am glad we went.  It was good to meet the wonderful lady who now will experience a better quality of life because of Ben’s donation.  Carmen and her husband are pediatricians in Pine Ridge and working with the Lakota people.  Ben would have been pleased.  Carmen was one of the speakers at the banquet.  You can find the letter that Carmen read on our church website. 

  

Carmen Ruis’ Letter

 Dear Family,

 I would like you to know how grateful for the blessing that I have received from your loved one.  I am a double cornea transplant recipient.  I have given a great deal of thought and want to share with you how your love one is a legacy in changing my life.  This has been a physical and emotional healing process. 

  

At the age of 35 I was diagnosed with progressive corneal degeneration that would lead to blindness without a corneal transplant.  The idea that one day I could be in complete darkness terrified me.  When the time came for the transplant I was depressed knowing there was no other option.  I thought about rejection of the transplant and how I would react about having a cornea from a total stranger. 

  

I was humbled, honored and overwhelmed with the responsibility of this ultimate gift.  I think of your loved one and your family every day.  After the transplant my life changed completely.  I’m a better person now because of it.  Your loved one donation taught me that kindness and love can change the life of others for the best! 

  

I am a pediatrician who works with children that are underprivileged in our community.  Thanks to your loved one I will continue to take care of them and see the miracle of life every day.  Their innocence, ingenuity, and happiness even in the worst of situation has always amazed me.  They deserve a better life for I believe they are the future.  Thanks to my donor I can help them be healthy and see that future. 

  

I have three children, a husband, and a dog.  God has given me many blessings but receiving this cornea from your loved one is definitely a precious gift.  I will treasure this gift forever.  Now I will be able to see the beautiful places that I have dreamed about.  Every day I will wake up every morning to a bright day and relaxing in a sunset.  With my cornea I will see the wonders of life and the faces of my love ones. 

  

I thought I may never be able to meet my donor family, but I imagined giving them a huge hug and telling them to be proud of the ultimate legacy of love that they gave to the world!  I will always honor their memory!

 

Forever grateful,

 Carmen



September 7, 2015

 

 

Two baptisms and a wedding

 

Two baptisms and a wedding in the Black Hills area, and I had the privilege of be a part of all three.  And at every event I couldn’t help but think, “Ben would have thought this was really cool!”  The first baptism was Saturday morning at Placerville camp …a camp where Ben participated in several Music, Art and Drama camps during his grade school and early high school years.  The baptism started in the camp chapel and we concluded with the actual baptism in Rapid Creek.  Ben would have loved the historical connections.  The second baptism was after worship Sunday morning at Blessed Sacrament church in Rapid City.  Ben would have found the traditions interesting and it would have made for some great theological discussions in the days to come.  Sunday concluded with the wedding of Ben’s good friend Louis and his lovely bride Brittany.  The service concluded with a blanket ceremony and an honor song.  Ben would have loved the cultural aspect. 

 

It is events and weekends such as these that makes one stop and wonder …what if?  …what if?  Unfortunately all of the “what ifs” in the world will not change our reality.  And so it is that we are left to reflect with an ache and a joy in our heart, a tear in our eye, and a smile on our face.  Congratulations to Charlotte Joy, Andrew and Jessica; Myka Joy, Valissa and Alex; and Louis and Brittany.  Thank you all and my church for allowing me to be a part of these very special and sacred events.  Blessings and peace, Pastor Keith


August 26, 2015

 

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! Psalm 130:1-2

 

The Zinnia

              There are days I just want to sit in the quiet sanctuary of my God (wherever that might be) and ask God, “Why?” This is not an angry question on my part because I know that Ben’s death was not a part of God’s plan. But yet my heart still cries out in pain, “Why? Why? …why?” It is the cry and the questions of a broken heart still in much pain. I realize that it must have been great pain that drove Ben to the act of suicide …and my pain grows deeper. “Why?” Although my faith says otherwise, the question seems to fall on deaf or uncaring ears.

 

It is not long that my questions turn to looking for reassurance. I desperately desire to know that my son is “okay.” When he was here I could call or text him to ask him if he was “okay.” There were times when I was around him I could sense that he was troubled by something. I could ask him. I could try to give counsel. I could try to give reassurance. I could, if nothing else, let him know that I loved him and I really did care about him and his well-being. Now that we are separated by this vast thing that we call death I can no longer do that. I feel the need to know that he is alright. I want to know. …I am only greeted with heavy silence. I want to hear a word of reassurance. I hear only silence.

 

This past summer I planted Zinnias along our driveway as I always have …three rows of them. What was unusual this year is that practically one whole row of them never even germinated. Only a couple plants came up in one complete row. Disgusted because of the time that it would take and unsure if they would take root, I thinned some of the plants from the other two rows and transplanted them to the empty row. It worked. My Zinnia flower bed looks full with no hint of the original set back. I was pleased with my success.

 

I was mowing my lawn in late July when I noticed a purple flower had bloomed in probably the ugliest part of my yard …right where the concrete of the driveway, the roughly patched asphalt of the city street, the broken concrete of the curb, and the weeds from the yard because nothing else will grow there, come together. It was a Zinnia. It is some 20 feet and across the concrete driveway from my other Zinnias. It is where nothing but weeds usually grow. It is where I always mow. I had a difficult time getting some of my Zinnias to grow where I wanted them to grow and yet here in this odd place and against the odds, this flower has not only grown, but has also bloomed. How it got there and why it grew there, I will never know.

 

I am not sure what it all means or if God is trying to teach me a lesson in this or not, but I cannot seem to bring myself to mow over it. Maybe it is a symbol of hope that God can bring new life to dark, ugly, unexpected places. At least that is the hope that I am holding onto. At any rate, I figure if God planted the Zinnia there then God must have wanted it there. I didn’t plant it there. I would have picked a better spot. So there it sits …all by itself right next to the street, probably noticed by very few. If nothing else this one Zinnia has shown me one thing; as much as I would like to be and as much as I try to be, I am not in control. I just have to wait and see what God will bring out of chaos and uncertainty that we call life.

 

I would still like the answer to my questions of “why” …why Ben’s death and mental illness. I would still like the reassurance that Ben is “okay.” But for now a Zinnia sits at the corner of my yard where the concrete driveway and the asphalt street meet trying to bring beauty under some difficult circumstances. Blessings & peace, Pastor Keith.



August 22, 2015

Deb and I learned our daughter was pregnant the day Ben died. Early yesterday morning Myka Joy came into this world. Some might say that God gives and God takes away. I would have to kindly disagree. I believe that God gives life. But I do not believe that God is into "body" or "soul snatching." God created this world good ...in fact very good, not perfect. Because of our  and the world's imperfections shhtuff happens. We have to some how learn how to live in the joy and the pain. Congratulations Valissa and Alex on a beautiful little girl. Blessings & peace to all. Pastor Keith.


August 10, 2015

Eight months since Ben’s death and the world is still not right. I know that there are people who keep reminding me that it will take time. I think there are probably other people who might be wondering what is taking so long. I don’t blame them. In many ways, a year ago I might have been one of them. But now that death has come very personal to our family I am beginning to wonder if the world will ever be right again.

I remember as a child reading about Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. I remember reading how as a youth and a young man, he was optimistic and very positive about life. In the later part of his life Samuel Clemens became very depressed and pessimistic. The change? The death of his daughter. I remember thinking as a child how sad that was. I wanted him to always be fun loving and positive. I didn’t want to think that this man could change to be dark and depressed.

Now I understand. There are days that it is a struggle to remain positive about life. There are days that it would be easy to slip into a funk that would be difficult to get out. I have always been somewhat emotional. (I blame that on inheriting from my Grandpa Ankrum). But it seems like now that the tears are much closer to the surface. I have always been a little impatient at times. (Don’t ask my family about that). But it seems that I am more easily frustrated with some actions or inactions of others. I have always been somewhat reflective. But it seems those tendency are showing up more and stronger.

Eight months and the world is still not right. I doubt in many ways that it ever will be …at least not my world. But it will be a world that I will have to learn to live into. It is still a world of family and friends whose love and support I will never be able to repay.

Blessings & peace, Pastor Keith

 

 

August 6, 2015

                                                     Pain seeking understanding

 self portrait

 

Reflections of a self-portrait: Pain seeking understanding

                National Geographic started a project in 2006 called "Getting your shot." Just recently they put together a book with the same name, "Getting Your Shot." The object was to encourage amateur photographers to improve their skills in the art of photography. They would attempt to accomplish this by every so often putting out a new challenge to photographers with a specific theme and then critic those "shots." One of the themes was to encourage amateur photographers to take a self-portrait i.e. a picture of themselves or something that reflected who they were.

                As I was thinking about what picture would best give others a look at how I see myself, it reawakened in me the reality that life circumstances and events really shape who we are at a given time. But I also realize that this photograph is not the complete picture nor is this photograph the last picture of a self-portrait of me. I know that this photograph will fade some with time. Other events in my life will happen that will begin to come into play in my life that will cause this picture not to have quite as much impact on who I am. Other events will help to lessen the impact of this one event.

                But one thing that will not change is that the event of the death of our son, Ben will always be there. It will continue to have a n impact on the rest of my life. I am forever changed. Ben's death and the event of Ben's suicide will always be a part of who I am. That will never change. Like a photograph taken at a specific time at a specific event, the event of Ben's death and the impact that it has on the rest of my life can never be changed. It might fade some. It might dim, but you can never change the content of the photograph.

                Just reflecting ...again.

                                                                                                                                                Blessings and peace,

                                                                                                                                                Pastor Keith

 

July 24, 2015

 How I wish

 How I wish

For just one more

Time to see you smile

Time to hear your voice

Time to say I love you

 How I wish

For just one more

Time to discuss things that matter

…thoughts about theology and God

…your hopes and plans for the future

…life

 How I wish

For just one more

Time to share

…a laugh

…a hug

…a tear

 How I wish

For just one more…

 But who am I kidding?

            The reality is…

Just one more would still never be enough.

                                                   Keith C Kraft

 

July 5, 2015

Pride and pain

Pride and pain …sometimes they are so closely related, they are one in the same. When we were at the South Dakota UCC annual meeting in Sioux Falls we had the opportunity to visit a little with Ben’s advisor from Augustana. He told us that Ben had been voted into the religion honor society at Augustana this past spring. Before I even asked, he assured me it was totally on Ben’s own merits and not out of sympathy. One of Ben’s classmates asked to wear Ben’s honor cords that he would have received in order that he might honor Ben’s memory. On Friday we received those honor cords in the mail. They are indeed a source of great pride and pain.

They made me think all over again, “If only Ben knew…” If only Ben knew the promise that he held with in him. If only Ben knew all of the people he touched. If only Ben knew what a gift he was to so many people. If only Ben knew the number of people who really cared and loved him. If only Ben knew the truth.

Such it is with mental illness. The darkness of the illness over shadows the realities of the truth. I do not have the answer as to how to overcome this darkness of mental illness that plagues so many people. If I did have an answer it would probably be an over simplified cliché that would be of little help. I only hope that if you are one of those who experiences the darkness of mental illness, in whatever form it comes to you, that you will seek out the light of truth. You are loved. You are cared for. You are a special child of God.

                                                                                                                Blessings and peace,

                                                                                                                Pastor Keith

 

June 27, 2015

 

Deb & I attended a workshop today at General Synod in Cleveland titled "Breaking the silence on mental illness." It was a good workshop. The small room was standing room only. It was a reminder that mental illness shows up in many different forms and affects many people . The only 2 things I wish would have been mentioned are: 1: do not forget about support for the families of mental illness. Mental illness affects the whole family. 2. Sometimes mental illness is so well hidden that it comes as a silent unexpected killer. Mental illness is more than just schizophrenia & bipolar. Blessings and peace from Cleveland, Pastor Keith


June 20, 2015

 

“Open my eyes”

 Open my eyes, that I may see Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;

 Place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. 

 

          Sadly, why is it that sometimes it seems that we have to be hit up the side of the head with a blunt object before we open our eyes?  I have heard of suicides all of my life, although not near as prevalent as I have in the last fifteen years.  I, I think like most everyone else, rationalized them in some way or other.  It’s a reservation issue.  It’s a silly young person issue.  It’s a poor coping skills issue.   I was also fully aware of mental illness: schizophrenia, bi-polar, severe depression, etc. …you know the ones when they are really obvious.  I felt sorry for those who had to deal with those things in their families and thankful it wasn’t in mine.  I never really gave it much thought to connect the two …suicide with mental illness.  And then reality opens my eyes with a personal tragedy in the family. 

 

It grieves me to think that it took the unexpected death of my son to open my eyes to begin to see the truth about the connection between mental illness and suicide.  But if it doesn’t affect me personally, I just don’t concern myself with it too much.  I have other things to worry about.  I would venture to guess that I am not unique in this.  I would guess that that is the way for many of us.  It doesn’t affect us so we don’t bother getting to concerned with the issue. 

 

“Open my eyes,” is really my purpose for sharing this blog.  I know that most of what I have shared is my pain and my journey through that pain, (which is and will continue to be an ongoing journey.)  But my real purpose is to help open the eyes and ears of those who read these words to the reality of mental illness and suicide, and the pain and isolation that it can bring to the individuals and families who suffer from their affects.  It does not matter to me that you become an advocate for mental illness and suicide issues.  My only hope for you who read these words is that you become aware of their reality.  They are more prevalent than most of us are aware.  And they can happen in any family.  My deepest prayer for you is that you never have to experience a personal tragedy in your family to open your eyes. 

 

The words to the hymn that I opened with were written in the 1800s by Clara H. Scott.  It is a prayerful hymn.  It is my prayer for you and for me, not only to open our eyes, ears, mouths, and hearts to those dealing with mental illness, but to all matters of pain and misunderstandings.  May we become more aware and more sensitive to the issues that others are dealing with in their lives. 

 

 

 

Open my eyes, that I may see Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;

 

Place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. 

 

 

 

Refrain: Silently now I wait for thee, Ready my God thy will to see;

 

Open my eyes illumine me, Spirit divine!

 

 

 

Open my ears, that I may hear Voices of truth thou sendest  clear;

 

And while the wave-notes fall on my ear, Everything false will disappear.

 

Refrain:

 

 

 

Open my mouth, and let me bear Gladly the warm truth everywhere

 

Open my heart and let me prepare Love with thy children thus to share.

 

Refrain:

 

 

 

Oh, and Happy Father’s Day. 

 

My Father’s Day wish is that Ben will not be forgotten.

 

Blessings and peace, Pastor Keith

 

 




June 7, 2015

Six month anniversary of Ben’s death

If anyone asks, I’m really not “ok.” Oh sure, if you ask me I will probably tell you I am fine. Most of the time my voice and body language will probably tell you otherwise. There are times I am not real good masking my emotions. Yes, there are times and even some days that aren’t too bad. There are some days that I do not feel anything at all. There is just kind of this numb sense of disbelief that Ben’s suicide could even have happened.

June marks the six month anniversary of Ben’s death and I still find it difficult to make sense of something that cannot be made sense of. June is also the month that our church conference holds its annual meeting. It was this past weekend in Sioux Falls. Our conference meeting began at Spirit of Peace UCC. Spirit of Peace was Ben’s church away from home. I did not know it until we got there that the planned worship service was Ben’s suggestion. The guest preacher was Ben’s advisor from Augustana. To add to the emotional entourage, Ben’s advisor told us that Ben had been voted into the Theological Studies Honor Society. He went on to say that one of his classmates asked to wear Ben’s scarlet rope across the graduation stage in honor of Ben.

This annual meeting was one that Ben was supposed to be able to participate in. Last fall I was looking forward to this meeting that it would be one that we could share in together. It was supposed to be one of those meetings when I could proudly say, “Yep, that’s my son,” when people would ask. Instead Deb and I were left with receiving words of condolences and sympathies, which were greatly appreciated, but many times overwhelming. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. (I hope my other kids know that I am very proud of them as well. Yes, Mike, that includes you.)

At the meeting I did have the opportunity to visit with someone who is and has been dealing with mental illness for many years. She talked about the medication that she was on and the struggles with the side effects and trying to get the proper medication and amount. But it was helping. She also told me that she was learning how to understand her mood and her stressors. It was helpful for me to hear. I hope it was helpful for her to be able to open up and talk honestly about her struggles. But it also got me to thinking about Ben and if only he would had sought treatment. If only he would have let us know. If only he had learned how to monitor and his stressors. If only…   And yet I know that all of the “if onlys” will not bring him back. In the same way, I want to gain a better understanding of mental illness and what Ben was dealing with, but sadly all of the understanding will not bring Ben back either.

Much has changed in the life our family over the past six months. Six months ago I would have never believed that we would be where we are today. Six months ago I very rarely gave suicide or mental illness much thought. Yes, I knew that they were serious issues, but they were nowhere near my priority list. That all came to an abrupt change on December 8, 2015. Since then Deb and I have given 2 presentations as part of suicide prevention to South Dakota National Guard units and a presentation to a high school assembly consisting of several area high schools.

I have been asked to visit with a high school student who was talking suicide and called to the hospital to assist in the grieving of the family of a suicide victim. I can’t say that I did a very good job at either. I can only say that I would never be thought of for these tasks six months ago. I can also say that I am by no means an expert or even very knowledgeable about suicide or mental illness. I am only trying to muddle through the pain of loss and try to make sense of it all.

I am still struggling to believe that Ben’s death really happened even though I know that it did. I cannot believe that this is my life. There is something inside me that just wants to scream, “This is not your life. This is someone else’s life. Your life is the simple life with your kids and your grandkids and nothing really exciting or traumatic happens.”

There is one thing for sure. I miss my old simple boring life and I would love to have both it and our son, Ben back. Sadly, I know I will have neither. The best that we can hope for now is that maybe through our pain we can help bring understanding to some and help ease the pain of others.

In the words of our Hungarian friends, “aldas bekesseg” (blessings and peace). Pastor Keith

 

 

May 22, 2015

 

 

 

Yesterday I was asked to do the impossible. Late afternoon the hospital called me while I was still at the church and asked if I could come right over to the hospital. “Sure,” I responded, “can I ask why?”

 

“Yes,” said the nurse on the other end. “There has been a death in McLaughlin and the family is asking for a Congregational pastor.”

 

I was met at the emergency room door by a young man who asked me if I was the pastor. The nurse would like to talk to you before you go into see the family. The nurse warned me that the mother was very distraught and they had already given her something to help calm her down. The mother’s eighteen year-old son had committed suicide. He had hung himself.

 

I found the mother in the ICU room with her dead son and many other family members standing or sitting around. After holding the sobbing mother for a while she turned her attention back to her son, sobbing in great pain. She then turned to me and made her impossible request. She asked me to bring her son back to life. Her pain and desperation had convinced her that I could perform the impossible. I really question whether she thought I could bring her son back to life in spite of her insistence that I could if I prayed and asked God. It was really the pain and desperation that was talking. Pain and desperation can make us believe things that we wouldn’t otherwise believe.



May 18, 2015

Little boys and shoes

It is amazing what seemingly simple little things after the death of a loved one that can set off the emotions and bring on sadness and tears to the edge of the tear ducts. Of course there are those things that one expects, things like no phone calls on birthdays or Mother’s Day and the absence of planning Ben’s graduation from college. These things we expect. It doesn’t make them any easier, but we at least expect them. We can somewhat prepare for them. Sometimes they might hit us a little harder than we expect but we still expect them. But there are those little things that one does not expect that blind side you at unexpected times and places. Lately, it has come in two surprising places for me.

One is a little boy and his family who has moved into a house across the street from the church. His age must be around 2 or 3 years old. I do not know his name. For some reason when I see him out playing in the yard I am reminded of Ben at that age. I am reminded of the innocence and the carefreeness of a little boy. It breaks my heart to think that the innocence and carefreeness of our little boy gave way to become a young man who experienced the dark places of depression and anxiety that drove him to such a violent death. It also troubles me to think of how many other young innocent carefree children will grow to experience the same thing.

The other thing that has been stirring my emotions is that of a pair of shoes. Actually there are two pairs of shoes that have been set out to be put on a rummage sale. One is a pair of Ben’s army dress shoes. They are clean and shiny. I think they were the only thing that Ben kept clean and shiny, and that because he knew he had to. But for me it is a reminder that he was growing up. It was a reminder that my little man was no longer a little boy but a young man grown to the age and responsibility for military service.

But what is surprising to me is that it is the other pair of shoes that hits me harder. The other pair of shoes is a pair of brand new work boots that Ben never did wear. He bought them in anticipation of using them for working on stage sets and doing odd jobs. He bought them in anticipation of the future. Now they are a reminder to me of the future that was planned for but will never be.

And so it is that from time to time that I find myself haunted by memories of the past of a carefree innocent little boy who was content to ride in the saddle in front of me and could ask a million questions, and images of a reminder of a future that will never be. Now I am the one left with a million questions that have no answers and a future that holds only memories of Ben and broken possibilities.  

Thanks again for letting me ramble. May those of you who read this experience the blessings of peace of God’s presence. Pastor Keith

 

 

April 29, 2015

 

 Dear Ben,

 

I wrote a couple of letters to you while you were in Afghanistan as a way of helping process some things that were going through my mind.  Here I am again doing the same.  Besides, I have heard it said that it is good therapy for those who are grieving to write letters to their loved ones who have died.  Whether that is true or not, I do not know. 

 

I do know that I find myself many times wishing I could talk to you and wishing that you could help me better understand this thing that we call suicide.  There are times that I wish you could share with me those things that were going through your mind and what you were experiencing all of these years.  And then there are other times that I think that it is probably better that I do not know.  If the things that were going through your mind that final night and many other times before were so dark …so hideous …so hopeless …so frightening that it drove you to take your own life, than maybe it is better for me as your parent not to know the horrifying details. 

 

And yet there is something in my mind that keeps screaming (I have had a lot of things screaming in my mind lately) that we are missing the point of understanding suicide.  The topic of suicide on the reservation has come up on the news a couple of times these past few weeks.  It is an issue of major concern especially among the Native youth.  The response seems to be to plan fun recreational activities for the youth.  It is the hope to show them that life can be fun …to give them some hope.  These are positive and helpful things and I used to think that that was the answer too.  If we could eliminate poverty and hopelessness then we could eliminate, at least most of the suicide issues. 

 

Sadly, you have shown me that there is more to suicide than that.  You were not faced with the hopelessness, at least not in the economic sense like so many on the reservation face.  There was a world of possibilities open to you.  You enjoyed life and took advantage of many of the opportunities that were open to you.  You did not face many of the issues that so many of our brothers and sisters on the reservations face.   The future was bright and full of possibilities for you and yet the results are the same, again, as so many of our young brothers and sisters on the reservation.  And so I am left to reason that there is more to suicide than just broken families, poverty, and hopelessness. 

 

But since I do not have you to help me understand what you were going through, I can only ponder and guess.  It is my thinking at this point of my struggling to understand that at least the majority of suicide is the result of mental illness amplified and brought to culmination by stressors such as, but not limited to things like broken families, poverty, and hopelessness.  But there are many other stressors in our lives as well.  Many of these are common events like broken relationship, stress on the job, money concerns, occupational changes, career choices, and the list could go on.  Most people experience these things as a reality of life.  There are other stressors that are not common to most people such as being called to war, experiencing tragic events, being under investigation, and others as well. 

 

I guess my point is that I do not believe that it is just the stressors alone that cause most suicides.  It is the combination of the mental illness such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar or other mental illness, spurred on by some stressor or other that the person is experiencing at that particular point in their life. 

 

My concern is that we are not recognizing the complexity of the suicide problem.  We are only trying to deal with the cosmetics of the issue.  We think if people are happy with life, then they won’t commit suicide.  We can say things like, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and think that once people recognize that that they won’t commit suicide.  My mind screams “no!” because you knew all of that …at least when you weren’t in those dark places.  It is the mental illness that causes one not to think rationally. 

 

Anyway, I wish you were here to tell me if I was even close in my thinking or if I was clear off base.  It would be nice to know, partly to help me to better understand your death, and partly so that I can possibly help bring understanding to others.  Maybe through better understanding we can begin to prevent some of these tragic and unnecessary deaths. 

 

I know that you cannot give me an answer so I guess this one I will have to muddle through on my own.  I do miss our honest talks and conversations.  Know that your family misses you very much.  Your mom and I are doing the best we can.  We miss you dearly.  We trust that you are at peace and that God has brought light into those dark places. 

 

                                                                                    Peace as only God can give,

 

                                                                                    Keith aka dad


April 26, 2015

 

Life, death, and feeding birds

 

Yesterday we had our first annual Mental Illness, Suicide Yearly Awareness walk. We had a nice turnout of around 75 people. I hope people will continue to come and support the walk in the coming years. We know all too well that mental illness and suicide is not just a one-time event. Mental illness and suicide, though not often talked about are prevalent in our society. The next event that Deb and I have been asked to participate in is a suicide prevention training this Sunday, May 3rd in Rapid City for a National Guard Unit that is preparing to deploy this coming August.

 

As I am thinking about this and what Deb and I have done these past few months there is just something in my brain that wants to scream, “This is crazy! This is absolutely insane! I shouldn’t be organizing walks for mental illness and suicide awareness. I shouldn’t be receiving phone calls from South Dakota National Guard lieutenants from another part of the state. We shouldn’t be talking to some 500 high school students about suicide and mental illness. This is not who I am. This is not who we are. This is not who I want to be. We should be helping to organize our son’s college graduation reception. We should be talking to our son about which seminary to attend or help work through what he wants to do with his future. Not this …this is absolutely nuts.”

 

I have started feeding the birds again this spring. It is something that I have kind of neglected the past couple of years.   With so much of my thoughts being on the death of our son, I decided that our backyard needed some life in it. I was quickly reminded of what a mess feeding birds make in your yard. There are sunflower seeds all over the ground and birds scratching around trying to get the feed that has fallen out of the feeders. It really is a mess. I was also quickly reminded that you will also get birds that you do not necessarily care for. Once you put bird feed out, you cannot choose which birds can and which birds cannot come to your feeder.

 

Such is life. We cannot always choose what will land on our doorstep. There is much in this world that is beyond our control. We have to take the bad along with the good. I am also reminded of something one of my seminary professors used to say and Ben’s death adds the exclamation points. “Life is messy!!” The best that we can do at times is to somehow struggle to learn how to live in and through the messiness of life. Blessings and peace, Pastor Keith.



April 22, 2015

 

The Mental Illness Suicide Yearly Awareness walk is this Saturday, April 25th at 9:00 AM starting at the city park in Mobridge. 

 

The acronym MISYA speaks more than what one might first think.  Of course it speaks for those of us who have lost loved ones to mental illness through suicide.  But it also speaks for those who have loved ones currently dealing with mental illness.  During bouts of mental illness a person just isn’t the person they really are.  The mental illness robs them of their real personality and vigor for life.  I have a former seminary professor who told me his son took off for a year and a half and they had no idea where he was.  Through suicide, mental illness has a way of robbing the loved ones of suicide victims of their real personalities and vigor for life as well.  Mental illness has a way of taking away our loved ones in many different ways. 

 

It is to those who have lost their struggle with mental illness through suicide, those who are still struggling with mental illness, and to the families and loved ones of both that we say, “We miss you.”  It is for you that we walk. 



April 12, 2015

Another face of Mental Illness: depression and anxiety

 

There are many faces of mental illness: depression and anxiety. Many you would not recognize as such. They look like regular people going about their normal activities of life. And they are just that only they carry with them a dark secret deep within them. It is a secret that they keep hidden and masked. It is a secret that only a few others who are close to them might see or experience. But for most of us it is hidden away ...locked inside of our loved ones ...buried deep within until it can no longer be contained.

  vacation 09 029

 

This picture of Ben was taken in Colorado in the summer of 2010 when we were on vacation. Whether Ben was suffering from one of his episodes of depression or anxiety at this time I do not know and Ben is not around to tell us. My guess is that the mental illness was always there. It is just that the effects of it are stronger at certain times. I do not know. But what I do know is that the face that you see in the picture is the face that we saw most of the time. Oh sure, we saw the occasional face of frustration, reflectiveness, and even some anger at times. But nothing more than anyone else. The face you see in this picture is the face that we usually saw. Ben never let us in to see the pain and despair of depression and anxiety.  

The point is: the face of depression that you see on TV advertisements for depression medicine is not the only face that is out there. Many of those who are suffering from mental illness, depression, and anxiety do not show the usual signs that most of us think of as signs of mental illness. Many mental illness victims mask their symptoms and carry on with life quite normally. It is not until the illness gets to be more than they can bear that the truth of the illness shows its ugly head in ways that most of us do not and will not ever understand.  

My hope is that at some point there will be a time when those who are suffering from mental illness will not feel like they have to keep it masked from the rest of us, especially the ones who love them. It begins with caring, talking honestly and openly, and listening without judgment or criticism.  

Ben, you are so missed. To the rest of you, blessing and peace, Pastor Keith

 

April 9, 2015

Today I went to Wessington Springs to take care of some personal business. There is nothing really significant about that in and of itself. What some of you might not realize is that Wessington Springs is mine and Deb’s hometown. The Wessington Springs cemetery is also where we had our son Ben buried. I haven’t been back to Wessington Springs other than a quick pass through to see Dad around Christmas. It never really hit me how hard this trip would be until I was about half way to Springs. Being tired and alone didn’t help the emotions any.

When we passed through Springs at Christmas time I had a hard time just driving by the road that led to the cemetery. This time I felt that I needed to go see Ben’s gravesite. I really didn’t want to, but for some reason, I needed to. Once I got there it was a little difficult to leave. Maybe if the wind wouldn’t have been blowing so hard and the fact that I needed to get on the long road home, I might have lingered longer. I might have asked some questions that I know I wouldn’t have gotten any answers to. I might have tried to capture the feeling of being close to Ben …at least the last place we had laid Ben’s body to rest. I might have contemplated the meaning of life, which again, I know I wouldn’t have come up with any good answers.

The one thing I did realize as I stood there and looked at the mound of dirt that now covers Ben’s grave is how precious life really is …and how fragile. Wishing you all blessings and peace this Easter season. Pastor Keith

 

 

April 5, 2015 

First Easter ramblings

Today I wore my new suit for the first time to church for Easter services.  There would usually be nothing significant about that other than I usually do not pay attention to those kinds of details.  I buy new clothing and I wear it.  It usually isn’t anything special.  The difference this time is that the last two suits I bought and the first time I wore them was at each of our two children’s weddings.  I was hoping and planning on doing the same for Ben’s wedding and caring on that tradition.  Reality had other ideas. 

As those of you who have lost loved ones know, holidays are particularly difficult.  Easter is a time that we would have seen Ben as some point during this weekend.  If we wouldn’t have seen him here at home, we would have seen him when we went to our daughter and son-in-law’s on Sunday evening. 

But as a pastor, at least for me, Easter brings with it an extra challenge.  How do you preach resurrection joy when you are not feeling it?  I apologize to my congregation and to those who came to visit our worship if they came expecting to hear a joyous message.  And yet, maybe it is those who have lost loved ones recently who can best understand what the disciples, including the women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning were feeling and experiencing.  I know for me, I can best relate to the women in Mark’s version of that first Easter morning who ran away from the empty tomb in fear and wonder.  The joy and the rejoicing will come.  It will just have to wait another year.  I am sure that God will understand. 

To all who read this; Happy Easter.  I truly hope that you do experience the risen Christ some time during this Easter season. 

 

The first Easter

(After the death of a loved one)

How do you experience resurrection joy

When all you feel is the pain of loss?

How do you live into future hope

When today’s hopes have all been tossed?

How do you celebrate newness of life

When your life is filled with emptiness?

These are answers I do not have

It is to this, that I confess.

 

And yet the realities of life dictate

Somehow we must move forward.

So the best advice that I can give is:

Look and learn from the risen Lord.

From Jesus I’ve learned each and every day

That on this earth I trod

While it might seem over simplified

I place my faith …in God. 

 

 

March 23, 2015

 

Smiling through the tears

 

Even joy can bring with it pain and time spent with family is more precious after the death of a loved one from suicide. I am sure that statement is true for anyone who has lost a loved one way too early in life, but I can only speak through my own personal experience, which is suicide. My personal experience from this past week is that Deb and I traveled to Denver to see our new granddaughter, Charlotte for the first time. Our son and daughter-in-law named their new daughter Charlotte after Benjamin Charles which brings with it its own kind of honor, joy, and pain which I am sure it did for the new parents as well.

 

It was good and necessary for us to make the trip to see the new granddaughter. It was exciting to see her and it was a joy to hold her. But the truth must also be told that there was pain as well. The new life, while joyous and precious is also a reminder of the precious life that was lost. It was a reminder of how much Ben is missing out on and the love that he had for his niece and the love that he would have had for his new niece. As I walked with Charlotte, holding her in my arms attempting to quiet her as she was fussing a little, I was reminded of the many nights and hours that I walked with Ben trying comfort him the many times he ran a high fever as a baby. I didn’t think so at the time, but those were precious times and I would do them all over again. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way we could hold and carry our loved ones in our arms to comfort them and ease their pain to help them through their bouts of mental illness? Oh, if life’s answers were only that simple as we get older.

 

Ben’s death has also made it harder to leave our other two children at the end of our visits. Time spent with them and their families is even more precious. Denver and Rapid City now seem farther away and time between visits is too long. Through it all I am learning a new definition of what it means to “smile through the tears.”

 

Hug your children and your grandchildren (if you have them). Pastor Keith.


March 15, 2015

Moving forward after the suicide of a loved one

Life goes on after the death of a loved one.  Not so much because you want it to but just because that is the way life is.  Those who have lost a loved one would rather just put life on pause for a while to allow us the time and space to grieve.  It also doesn’t seem fair that the rest of the world goes on seemingly unaware and unaffected by our loss.  We would really like the rest of the world to grieve with us.  We know that is not realistic, but it just doesn’t seem fair that much of the rest of the world around us is happy while we are in our grief and pain. 

Those of us who have lost loved ones eventually move on, or a phrase that I think better describes the process, “move forward” with life as well.  It might be more in the semantics of the phrase but I do not think that one ever really moves “on” after the death of a loved one.  Moving on sounds like the one who has died never really mattered in life.  We just go on as if there was this minor bump in our road of life.  Those who have lost a loved one know that you don’t just go on with life and the death of a loved one is more than a minor bump in the road. 

But we do have to somehow figure out how to move forward.  Not because we necessarily want to but just because life demands it.  Our life is not nor will it ever be the same.  There is an emptiness that will never be filled by anyone or anything else.  Life is a little more somber.  The joys in life are more subdued and bring with them a little more reflection. 

The death of a loved one by suicide brings with it its own baggage.  I guess in one way I have been blessed because I have not been burdened with a lot of questions and guilt that many people experience.  Maybe that is yet to come.  But at this point I am pretty much convinced that if the suicide would not have happened when it did, it would have happened sometime unless Ben would have sought out the help that he needed.  Don’t get me wrong though.  Ben’s death has raised many other questions for me.

 Why Ben?  How did this happen in my family?  Why didn’t Ben seek help?  What causes mental illness?  Why does it just affect certain people?  Why does it affect different people in different way?  Why does it drive some to suicide but not others?  How can we help those who are suffering from mental illness?  Why isn’t there more research going on to find medical solutions to help those who are suffering? 

If we could answer some of these questions, maybe we will not have as many loved ones asking:  What did I miss?  Or what else could I have done to prevent this?

Again, thanks for letting me vent.  My prayer is that people will keep talking.  We cannot afford to keep mental illness hidden or allow those who suffer from the loss of a loved one by suicide to suffer in silence and in shame. 

                                                Pastor Keith


 

Brokenness and Pain

 

 

 

We are not unique

 

We all belong, you and me

 

It’s just the way it is, you see

 

It’s a part of human reality

 

We belong to the broken family

 

Sad and empty from loved ones gone

 

Left to attempt to struggle on

 

 

 

So those of us who experience pain

 

And emptiness again and again

 

Must know our pain is not unique

 

Nor are we the only ones who seek

 

Answers, compassion and reassurance

 

And from the depth of pain, deliverance

 

 

 

For others I do truly empathize

 

But you must also realize

 

My pain is my pain

 

While like others, many ways the same

 

It is still my pain, so you see

 

In that way, it is for me,

 

…like your pain

 

…unique

 

Keith C Kraft


 

 

March 8 2015

Rambling: By Ben's girlfriend, Hailey

   Tomorrow marks 3 months without the only person who loved me for me, the good me, the ugly me, the depressed and angry me. Just me. All because a dark thing consumed his light and clouded his judgement. It pressed its cold, ugly lips up to his ear and whispered ugly things to him. It took my Ben, my partner, my best friend. This ugly, dark gloom took my light.
    I drove to Mobridge today to visit the Kraft's and drop off some of Ben's things, and as I made my way north on I-29, my heart got heavy and sank lower into my chest. Tears whelmed up in my eyes as I glanced at the passengers seat and was reminded it was empty. There was no sleeping Ben, no Ben on Twitter, no Ben singing along to show tunes or intently listening to Hard Core History. I was alone. I called a close friend of Ben's and mine and absolutely lost it. I told her how I wanted to be mad at him, but I couldn't; how do you get angry at someone like Ben. I blamed myself and rambled through my famous list of "what ifs?" I told her I wish he would have left something, anything; even if that meant a note saying how much he hated me. Anything would have been better than this nothingness he left.
    Another thing Kelle and I discussed was, how does a person who advocates self care above everything else, fail to take his own advice?  I've recently come up with two answers to this question: First, it's Ben, he was stubborn and didn't ask for help unless it was his last and only option. However, the answer that brings me the most understanding is this; Ben was so hindered by this ugly illness we classify as depression, that mentally, he wasn't present. Ben was basically absent at his own suicide. His coherent thoughts were on lock down and depression ruled his thinking. If that doesn't prove that mental illness took his life, I don't know what will.
 
How it should be: written December 11th 2014 at 8:50pm

We should be gathering for our wedding,
Not your funeral.
We should be picking out a ring bearer,
Not pallbearers.
I should be walking down the church in white,
Not watching you be pushed in a coffin
We should be picking out bouquets,
Not a spray to lay on your chest.
I should be putting this ring on your finger to say i do,
Not to burry you with.
I should be kissing you to seal our vows,
Not to say goodbye forever...

 

February 22, 2015

“Dark Places:

Reflections on mental illness/suicide from a father/pastor

I have been thinking a lot about dark places lately. No, I am not experiencing them. It is the phrase that our son, Ben used to describe what he was experiencing when he was in high school. That was the only time that Ben gave any hint to us that he was experiencing mental illness as he never spoke of dark place to Deb and I again. Why Ben kept it hidden from us, I do not know. Maybe he wanted to protect us. Maybe he was afraid of what we and others would think of him. Maybe it was something else. We will never know because the one who could share that is gone. It was Ben’s death by suicide in December that made me think of that phrase again. It has in many ways haunted me ever since as I have come to realize that those dark place were a part of Ben’s mental illness that he had kept hidden from the rest of us so well.

I confess that I know very little about mental illness but it seems to me that “dark places” is the best way to describe, at least Ben’s type of mental illness. For those of us who have never experienced it, it is hard for us to understand or imagine. It must be a place so deep and so dark and so frightening and so hopeless that when one is taken there, there must not seem to be any way out. Again, I cannot imagine what it must feel like for those who experience such a place.

The curse of having a theological education is that one attempts to put things in theological perspective. With suicide, I cannot. But the image of those “dark places” does take me back to the beginning of our Biblical scriptures.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and a darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:1-2.

It is an image of deep darkness, filled with chaos and uncertainty. It is a frightening place. It sounds like a place that no one would ever want to or choose to go. It sounds a lot like what I would envision Ben’s image of the “dark places.” I wonder now if the writer of the first chapter of Genesis had experienced those dark places. I wonder if he had experienced mental illness.

Of course the writer of Genesis one goes on to report that God brought light and order out of the darkness and the chaos in the following verses. But what is even more interesting and reassuring to me in times such as these is that God was present even in the darkness and the chaos. “The spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.” Deep sea waters were a symbol of chaos and uncertainty in biblical times because no one knew what lie below. I believe and I trust that God was present with Ben when he was experiencing those “dark places” just as God was present in the dark chaos in the beginning. I believe and I trust that God was present with Ben even in his suicide. I believe and I trust that there is not a place that we can go, physically or mentally, that God is not present with us. I find some comfort in that.

For those of us who are left behind struggling to make sense of the death of a loved one from suicide and attempting to put our lives back in order, I go back to the chaotic verses of Psalm 46.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” Psalm 46:1-3.

The Psalmist concludes the chapter with: “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Psalm 46:9-10.

Our world has been shaken to its foundation …and maybe even our faith. One thing is for sure. Our lives are forever changed. I, for one, am still seeking out those quiet places and reassurances.

Thanks again for allowing me to share, Pastor Keith.

 

 February 19, 2015

“Lost it”

Today I lost it over a birdfeeder.   (Meaning the sadness was overwhelming and yes, the tears came.)  As I was working at the kitchen sink, I saw my empty birdfeeders hanging on their hooks, and slowly but surely …I lost it.  Seeing the birdfeeders brought up a past memory of Ben.  Ben bought me a birdfeeder for Father’s Day several years ago.  No, neither of the two feeders I am using now is the one that Ben gave me.  That birdfeeder was retired a year ago or so. 

The gift was actually from all three of our children, but Ben picked it out and purchased it with the suggestion from Mom that I could use a new birdfeeder.  There was nothing special about this birdfeeder.   It was made out of plastic like most of the other ones.  The only difference was, this one was bigger than most.  It could hold more birdseed. 

What made the birdfeeder special was Ben.  He was so proud that he had picked out and purchased this birdfeeder for me for Father’s Day.  He knew I enjoyed feeding and watching the birds in our backyard and he thought with a bigger birdfeeder I wouldn’t have to fill it as often.  There was nothing special about the birdfeeder.  It was special because Ben wanted to give me something that I he thought I would enjoy.  Ben wanted to please me.  That was Ben.  Seeing the bird feeders in my backyard today brought that memory with all of the emotions and feelings experienced at the time of the gift flooding back.  I lost it.

What I am coming to realize more and more is that it is not just the memories of the person and time spent with the person that are so difficult.  It is the emotions and feelings experienced during those past experiences that can become overwhelming.  It doesn’t matter whether those emotions or feelings were positive or negative at the time.  It is the memory of the emotions and the feelings that can bring some of the greatest pain and sadness. 

It is surprising what simple little things can bring the memories, feelings, and emotions flooding back.  Today I lost it over a birdfeeder.

 

 

February 11, 2015

Helpful hints to those who wish to console mourners (addition)

Okay, so after the last writing I realized that I have another comment that I heard several times that I did not find helpful.  Even though we do not understand why people die un-expectantly, please do not say, “We just do not understand the ways of God.” Or “God called your loved one home.”  It is true that we do not understand the ways of God.  But Ben’s death had nothing to do with God, other than we are all created human.  We are imperfect in our humanity and come with all kind of physical and mental imperfections.  It was not God’s will that Ben die in the tragic way in which he did.  God did not call Ben home.  In faith, I believe that God did welcome him home. 

 

February 10, 2015

 Helpful hints to those who wish to console mourners

It has now been two months since our son, Ben’s death. I will not pretend that I have any more answers or any better understanding of mental illness or suicide than I did two months ago. The pain is still deep. I still feel broken. And I don’t think there is an hour of the day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think of and miss Ben.


With that being said I thought I might share some personal reflections on being on the receiving end of consoling. Upon hearing of Ben’s death I had someone who had lost a child about Ben’s age tell me to be prepared because there would be some welling people who will say some “not so helpful things.” This is a common mistake because most of the time we do not know what to say or how to act around someone who has experienced a tragic loss. We would also like to hurry the grieving process for those who are mourning so that life can get back to normal. For those who have lost a loved one, the old “normal” will never be again. Somehow we have to learn to live into our new normal. I write this, not to be critical, but hopefully to be helpful. So here is some of my advice …at least from my experience. Take it for what it is worth.


First of all do not try to fix me. I am broken because I have lost someone I loved. I need to be broken. My family will never be complete again for the rest of my life. In that way I will remain broken.   I hurt because I love. The deeper the love …the deeper the pain. In many ways I am almost afraid to lose the pain because I am afraid I will forget the love. My brokenness reminds me of my incompleteness. I am “okay” with that. I hope you are too or at least will respect that.


Secondly, do not tell me that you know my pain or that you know what I am going through. This is a common thing for those who have already lost loved ones. I understand where the comment is coming from as we attempt to make connections with others. It is a way of attempting to stand in solidarity with the one who is in mourning. But pain from the loss of a loved one is directly related to the relationship that one has with the one who has died. So even if you have lost a loved one to suicide you still do not know my pain any more than I know your pain. My pain is directly related to my relationship with my son. You cannot possibly know or understand my relationship with Ben.


Thirdly, do not tell me that my son is in a better place. I didn’t think it was so bad him being here with us. I would rather have my son with me. Would I take him back from this “better place” if I could? …in a heartbeat. God could have him after I had the rest of my life to enjoy with him.


Fourthly, do not tell me that God must have needed Ben or needed another angel. Look around at creation. Do we really think that a God who created all of this really needs us in heaven? The reality is that with Ben’s compassion and concern for people, especially those who are usually left out in society, God could have really used Ben here on earth. Some church or churches just missed out on a really good future pastor. I know I am more than a little biased, but the world is a little worse off without Ben in it. The reality is that the world is a little worse off for every young life that is lost before the full of their potential is achieved.


And lastly, do not be offended when you ask me how I am doing and I respond with, “Functioning.” I could tell you that I am doing fine …or good …or okay. The reality is, is that that would be a lie. In some ways I am doing fine, good, and okay. In other ways I may never be completely fine, good, or okay. Functioning seems to be the best word that I can use for how I am doing …at least for now. And that is okay with me.


So what do you do to help console those who have lost a loved one? The best thing that I received was just to know that someone cared. Let them know that you are thinking about them and that they are in your prayers. The greatest words I heard spoken were from the people who would say, “I don’t know what to say.” Their honesty and their compassion meant more to me than anyone who tries to make right or sense of something that a person can do neither.


Thank you again for letting me share.

 

 

Poem remembering Benjamin Charles Kraft 11/28/1990 - 12/08/2014

I am Ben

I am Ben

I am of Keith and Deb, Lee and Darlene, Don and Thelma.  

I am a brother of Valissa and Alex, Andrew and Jessica 

I am an uncle of Julianne 

I am the best friend of Hailey 

 

I am the foothills of Wessington Springs, the river breaks of the Missouri 

I am a child of Eden Seminary, and Mobridge Schools.   

I am a young man of Northern State University and Augustana University. 

I am the farm.  I am the city.  I am the small town. 

I am a warrior of the South Dakota National Guard 

I am the 200th, a proud builder of bridges; I am a veteran of Afghanistan. 

I am theater, Northern Fort Players and Black Hills Playhouse 

I am music, drama and speech 

I am an advocate for the voiceless. 

I am a hunter …a lover of the outdoors 

I am joy and happiness.  I am pain and depression 

I am the person you see.  I am the person I keep hidden deep inside. 

I am confident.  I am uncertain 

I am hope for the future.  I am despair for today.

 

I am a child of the church 

I am a person of faith. 

I am loved by God and by many. 

I am Ben.

 

As seen by Keith and Deb Kraft.

 

Pastor Keith's comments at his son Ben's funeral 12/13/2014:

Dear family and friends,

Thank you for being here and your show of love and support for our family.  To my church family here in Mobridge, I know that all of you are hurting as well and I wish I could help you through this time.  To all of you, please be patient with Deb and I as we muddle through this time of loss.  To Deb’s students, please be understanding if some time out of the blue for seemingly no reason to you that Mrs. Kraft crashes and burns in your class.  To all of you, please be understanding that I am not a very good care receiver.  I am much more comfortable being on the other side of this. 


All of us here know that death brings with it deep pain.  Suicide, (yes, I’m going to say the “s” word) suicide brings with it its own unique pain.  For as long as I can remember, people have been trying to rationalize and make sense of suicide.  Some want to judge.  Some want to blame. I have heard many people just automatically assume with Ben that this stems from his experience in Afghanistan.  Some want to connect it with some other event in his life that he couldn’t deal with. 


I want you all here to know that it wasn’t any of those things.  Ben had a fairly positive experience in Afghanistan.  Ben loved life.  Ben loved people …all kinds of people.  Ben love God.  Ben was a person of great faith.  So none of this makes any sense.  How do you make the connection between this fun loving, full of life person with this horrible act that was committed?  It just doesn’t make sense.  The Ben that we all knew and loved and this horrible act of suicide are about as far apart as you can get.  And that is why so many of us here are so numb with disbelief. 


There was another side of Ben that Ben kept well hidden from the rest of us even many of his closest friends.  When Ben was in high school he started talking about experiencing dark places in his life.  Deb and I were somewhat aware of them.  We thought that he was dealing with them.  We were not aware of how deep they went or how often he was taken to those dark places.  But I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is these dark places that took our son, our brother, our friend.  It is the mental illness that Ben hid so well that took his life. 


This might seem like an odd thing to say at a funeral for someone who was so dearly loved but it had to be said.  It must be talked about or mental illness will continued to be hidden.  We cannot continue to hide mental illness in shame or we will continue to bury many more young people with so much potential, life, and hope ahead of them.  If there is anyone here who has experienced those dark places for themselves, please, please seek help.  Please, please tell someone you love.


I want you all to know this.  The Ben that you all knew and loved was the real Ben.  Ben loved people.  Ben was loved.  Ben cared for people.  Ben was cared for.  I know he knew it here in his heart.  I just don’t think he quite accepted it up here in his mind.  Sadly, the dark power of the mind won out over the power of the heart this time. 


For me and my family and many of us gathered here, there is no joy.  There is only pain and emptiness.  But we must also have hope.  It is only hope that can eventually move us from this pain and emptiness to a future joy.  But we must have hope or there will be no joy. 


The following are thoughts from our son, Andrew:

 

It was not my brother that committed suicide; it was his mental illness that took his life. He hid this mental illness from almost everyone and that was wrong. I don't blame my brother for that however. I blame us. We live in a society where we don't talk about suicide and depression or mental illness. The people who suffer from mental illness are often to be perceived as people that are very different from ourselves. They have had traumatic experiences or abusive pasts or something else that sets them apart from us, but that was not my brother. He had an upbringing and experiences very similar to my own and yet he suffered from mental illness. I'm sure there are many others just like my brother who suffer without anyone else or at least very few others knowing and that needs to change. I'm not really sure why they don't share what they are going through with others, but this is what I'm going to do, I'm going to make this commitment:

 

If you are hurting and depressed, have thoughts or feelings that aren't your own, or are otherwise suffering from mental illness,
I will listen to you
I may not know what to say, but I will try my best
I won't judge you or think less of you
I will probably think more of you for you strength and courage to share what you are experiencing and struggling through it
I will support you as best I can
I will encourage you to get professional help, it is an illness and it needs to be treated
I will not think that your illness is reflection of your character
If you don't suffer from mental illness and maybe even if you do, I encourage you to make a similar commitment.
If you do, I encourage you to share your struggles and your experiences with others and seek professional help.
As always, stay strong

written by Andrew Kraft

The following was written at 4:30 AM the week following Ben's death as I tried to make sense of it all.  As I said up above ...ramblings.

 

 

Suicide and mental illness

 

My son died of mental illness. Yes, my son committed suicide. Yes, he took his own life in a violent, horrible way. It is a thought and an image that haunts me and probably will the rest of my life. I am by no means an expert on mental illness or on suicide and I, in no way want to become a parent with a cause carrying around a soap box to speak from, but here are some of my thoughts based on my personal experience from this tragedy in our family. In short, suicide is the final result of an illness …mental illness.

 

Think about it. If someone dies of cancer, we do not say, “My mom died from all of these bad cells in her body taking over all of her good cells and killing her vital organs.” No, we say, “My mom died of cancer.” If a loved one dies from a heart attack we do not say, “My dad died from his blood flow being restricted to the heart.” No, we say, “My dad died of a heart attack or a medical term might be “cardiac arrest.”

 

But society does not look at mental illness and suicide in the same way as it does other illnesses. With suicides we examine the person, not the symptoms. We examine their life. We wonder, what could have been so terrible in their life that they would do such a horrific act? We analyze their past. We wonder what event in their past made them this way? We question how they were raised and those who were responsible for their upbringing. We wonder who might have possibly done or not done something to this person to make them act in this way.

 

Go ahead. Examine, analyze, and question my son’s life and surroundings. I have and I have found nothing. Maybe you can find something I have overlooked. What I have found is a brilliant caring young man with a loving, caring, supportive family, with events in his life that helped to shape him in very positive ways into a mature, thoughtful, and caring adult. Perfect upbringing? No. Challenges along the way? Yes. But nothing that a person can point at to say, “That is it. That is what made my son do this terrible thing.”

 

So we can’t blame it on environmental surroundings. We can’t blame in on a person or an act. We can’t blame it on a horrific event. We cannot blame it on the military or his experience in Afghanistan. Then we have to conclude that it was mental illness. Even if you could blame it on environmental surroundings, a person or an act, or a past horrific event, it is still mental illness and should be treated and acknowledged as such. It should be treated and acknowledged with the same dignity and respect of any other disease.

 

Mental illness is not a spiritual issue. Mental illness is not a matter of a lack of faith. It is not something that can be just prayed away and fixed by prayer and faith. It is not about demons and the devil or spiritual warfare. Mental illness is a medical issue that we as a society do not understand so some have personified it as demons.

 

Suicide is a mean and selfish act. It leaves the family in pain and emptiness. But we have to remember that it was the act that was mean and selfish, not necessarily the person who was mean and selfish. It is the disease beyond the individual’s control that created a person that most of us did not know.

 

Suicide is the second or third leading cause of death among teens and young adults. But we also know that suicide can happen at any age. Mental illness can happen in any family, even those who experienced loving supportive families.

 

My son died from mental illness. Hopefully, someday they will find a cause and a cure so other people will not have to experience the same pain as our family and many others have experienced.