In tragic news, word comes this weekend that the son of popular Evangelical Christian pastor, Rick Warren, has died at just 27 years of age. Warren confirmed the cause of his death yesterday: Matthew committed suicide.
In a letter to the congregation of his California-based Saddleback Church, Warren, the author of "The Purpose Driven Life" asked for prayers. He said that Mathew, the youngest of his three sons, struggled since birth with mental illness. They tried the best doctors, medications, and prayers for healing but nothing worked. Then: "Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life."
And just like that, the boy they had raised, loved, worried over, and just laughed with, was gone. As a parent, it's one of the greatest heartaches I can imagine. To see your child struggling just to live the life you gave them. But that's what mental illness can do. No matter how much its victims fight, no matter how "strong" they are, it can be stronger.
Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, "Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?" but he kept going for another decade.
It's such tragic example of the power of mental illness, and how it can strike anyone, even those who appear to be surrounded by the most loving and caring families. It also highlights just how much of a cloud often covers its victims and families from the rest of the world. I applaud Warren for speaking out right away as to the cause of his son's death and not trying to cover it up as something shameful. Because it's not; it's a disease.
It's not a disease in which people send get well cards and bring over casseroles while treatment occurs, as happens when a relative is fighting cancer or another disease. It's not one in which people post updates about the ups and downs on Facebook. I don't believe one is easier than the other, but I do suspect that parenting a child with mental illness has got to be extremely lonely and fraught with more misgivings and misunderstanding.
Hopefully Warren's strong faith will be a great comfort to him and his family. At times like this, I'm not sure what else possibly could be.
Do any of your children struggle with mental illness?
Image via andyarthur/Flickr