There was a period in my life where it felt like death was routine. I had a dress I called my “funeral dress.” I still remember the familiar black-and-white gingham pattern, the matching hair-bow, and frilly socks (hey, it was the South, after all).
We had made the move from Georgia to Virginia so that my dad could be buried where his family was. He also wanted to rest somewhere far away from the pulp-mill smell that permeates the air as soon as you get within a thousand miles of Brunswick.
My dad was young (thirty-three) when he passed away from brain cancer. Oftentimes we refer to death (especially when it happens to the young) as something that steals from us unjustly. We don’t understand why a good God could allow such pain.
I think a large part of this has to do with our finite perspective.
We are told that better days lie ahead, that there is a reason for everything, but that does little to help with those emotions when we’re right in the thick of it.
The only thing that brings me comfort is the sovereignty of God.
There is a peace that comes in knowing that I don’t have to understand or plan or carry myself into the future. God will take me where I’m meant to be, all I have to do is trust in His will and keep moving forward.
And so we did.
And now, I can’t imagine a life without Jim (my “step” dad, who has always just been dad to me).
He probably knew life with me was going to be…interesting, from the first time we met. He was a realtor showing us a house, and I tripped and fell flat on my face. Quite the first impression.
If my mom is the one in my life who has been my more vocal mental-health ally, then it’s my dad who has been another–equally important–type of support in my life: a quiet reassurance. I honestly don’t know if Dad and I have ever explicitly talked about my mental illness(es). But, throughout it all–in the beginning diagnoses stages, the therapists, the here-and-now–he has constantly told me that he loves me and that he is proud of me.
I know how difficult it is for him to understand how someone could willingly starve themselves, but do you know what? He has never treated me differently. He has always treated me like a person, a friend, and that’s exactly what I need from him. He is someone that I talk music, books, gardening, and good whiskey with. His love for a vast range of art–from Puccini and Phantom of the Opera to The Beatles and George Strait–shaped me more than he could possibly know. He taught me to have the courage to be myself: as unique and amalgamous as that might be.
For those of us who have mental illnesses, it’s important to have a variety of people in our lives that support us. For me, my dad’s continued love and acceptance, our shared interests, and his “country boy” kindness have been a lifeline. While my mom and I openly talk about mental illness, my dad and I have a quiet understanding, and I wouldn’t be me without both.
For parents who don’t know how to talk about mental illness with their children, here are some tips inspired by a man who has impacted my life more than he knows:
- be present
- love them
- accept them
- tell them you’re proud of them
- treat them like humans not like case studies
On this father’s day, I have a lot of fathers to be grateful for.
“the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.