After four years in seminary together, you get pretty tight with some of your fellow pastors-to-be. If you pass candidacy to receive an MDiv from Seattle University, you join a year long cohort of students, producing as a final project your personal theology. It’s a celebration of your call to ministry, your vision for the Church and your potential role. All students and professors, as well as ministry colleagues are invited to attend to question, learn and listen together. I presented my MDiv synthesis last June, on a gorgeous Seattle summer day. As I walked across campus, I thought I saw someone standing near the doorway, waiting to head into the presentations. In the glare of morning sun, I thought I saw my classmate Deb, one of the first people I met at Seattle U, a bubbly and vivacious single mom who was the first to ask a question in class, took the BEST notes, and was also the first to make us all smile and tell us to take ourselves less seriously. Only it couldn’t be Deb. After our third year, and after applying to join the same leadership cohort I was presenting my final project for, she killed herself.
Deb was one of the most alive people I have ever met, and as we joined together that fall to begin another year, we realized none of us saw it coming. Blindsided, we couldn’t fathom how someone so many of us loved, cherished, and looked forward to spending time with could consider the world, her family, her friends, better off without her. I wish she had shared how she was really feeling, I wish she had asked for help. In a school full of pastoral candidates and professors, I wish we had known how to help her, that we could have read the signs (were there signs? I still wonder…). Last June, as I gave my presentation, I couldn’t help but wish she was there with us, and hope that she could hear us all.
A year later, as another group of colleagues and friends graduate and begin their pastoral ministry, I still think ‘Deb, you should be standing with them. You should be here.’ We are not the same without her chiding, challenging, loving presence.
If I had the chance to go back in time, I would try to tell her she was loved, no matter how difficult it must have been for her to hear the words. I would tell her that her beautiful son needed his mother, and couldn’t fathom life without her. I would tell her that we needed her, saw in her a woman with so much potential, with so much to give. I would tell her that this was not her time, that God had not finished God’s work in and through her life.
I would say to anyone who has considered the world might be better off, their friends might be better off, their families might be better off if they were gone, their problems are insurmountable: don’t believe it. It’s a lie. Not for a second would the people in your life, the world, be better off without you. If you need help, ask. Ask your minister, a friend, a family member. If you don’t know who to ask, start here The folks at 1(800)SUICIDE are trained counselors, it’s anonymous, and they know what you’re going through. Life is hard, but please know you don’t have to go through it alone.
I will never stop missing Deb and wishing she were here.