It was a privilege meeting Kay Warren, who was in Memphis last week to speak to approximately 500 mental health professionals and community leaders about depression, grief and choosing joy in the face of overwhelming loss.
I was eager to hear her message since unfortunately Kay Warren and I have something in common — something so terrible that I can hardly bear to acknowledge it, even to myself. Simply put, both of us are mothers of sons who took their lives — and in doing so left us forever changed.
The parent of a child who’s taken his or her life. It’s a club, tribe, group–whatever you want to call it — that you never ever want to be a member of. And yet it’s a cross that thousands of parents the world over are forced to bear.
Kay Warren and her husband, Rick, pastor and founder of Saddleback Church in California and renowned author of the international bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, lost their son Matthew to suicide in 2013.
Unfortunately I can relate only too well. My husband, Tim,and I lost our own son Kieran to the same fate three years before, in 2010.
It’s the unthinkable. Losing a child–or any close loved one – to suicide. The devastation is and remains indescribable.
As Kay Warren put it, “You’re never the same.” Herein lies the problem where friends, acquaintances and even family members are concerned.
After a while people start to expect you to be “okay.”
But you know that you’re not and never will be. And that’s scary. It’s scary to you and it’s scary to those who know you and want the “old” you back.
Kay Warren says that within a year she’d begun noticing that people were making subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle remarks to the effect that perhaps it was time for her to be “over it.”
“You’re never over it,” the author, speaker and co-founder of Saddleback Church told the audience. “The old Rick and Kay are gone,” she added, echoing a missive she posted on Facebook in 2014. “They’re never coming back.”
Nevertheless, in keeping with the title of her book Choosing Joy, Warren insists that she’s “choosing joy” each and every day because happiness, as her subtitle states, “isn’t enough.” Joy is something different, Warren insists. Joy is deeper. Richer. Joy, she writes, comes from God.
Kay Warren and her husband tried every therapy and treatment they could think of in an effort to help their son, who struggled for years with mental illness. Again, I can definitely relate. My husband and I tried everything we could think of too. But to no avail. We lost our son anyway, even though of course God could have saved him. And therein lies one of life’s great mysteries. Why does God allow tragedies such as suicide to happen?
Mental illness. AIDS. Depression. And now suicide. Kay Warren is a champion of unpopular causes, or at least causes that often make people uncomfortable.
Warren spoke about her own battle with low-grade depression even before the death of her son. Again I can relate. (I’m ashamed to admit this but not long after my son died I remember wishing that I’d been a happier person before this unspeakable tragedy struck since I couldn’t imagine ever truly being happy again.) But then as Kay Warren points out experiencing joy of the deep, lasting, God-given variety is probably far more important than being “happy.”
Her son’s tragic death wasn’t the only topic Kay Warren spoke about. She also spoke about AIDS in Africa and about her visits to Rwanda, a country I, too, have visited after having been dispatched there in 1985 to report on the early days of the epidemic.
Following her talk, Kay Warren graciously signed my copy of Choosing Joy, the central message of which remains unchanged even after her son’s untimely death at the tender age of 27. And once again what exactly is this message? In Choosing Joy Warren writes, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life.”