Thursday, November 29, 2007

FAMILY

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FAMILY/ November 29, 2007
My father was a missionary, educator, and minister. He wrote these words before his death in 1989. This is the condensed form of the Forward by him to my book “When Even the Devil Deserts You”. This piece first appeared in my blog March 4, 2005
““We experienced great disappointment and frustration that our child with outstanding ability was unable to cope in work or school. It was difficult during the earlier years of his illness to differentiate between his mental illness and adolescent behavior. We felt some of our friends and colleagues did not accept us in the usual manner because of our son’s behavior, that they considered us less respectable because of a non-conforming member of the family. The mentally ill and their families have a special need for people to befriend them, not in sympathy but in understanding and support. .......... There were times we did not know where Edward was, even for weeks. We wondered whether he had food or shelter, and even whether he was alive. It was very difficult for me to swallow food, not knowing whether he had anything to eat. .......... When Ed was at home we would lie awake at night and listen, for fear he would get up and try to leave. Once when I found him on the street and brought him home, he did not even recognize the house, and he said he did not have a key when he suggested that he go into the room where he usually slept. We offered him coffee and he said he didn’t have any money to pay for it. ............ One of the most painful experiences was visiting him on a locked ward in a hospital and hearing the door being locked behind us as we left without being able to take him home with us. ....... A few months ago Edward told us about the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. We found out about groups meeting in our area and started attending monthly meetings of two of these support groups. Until then we felt isolated, knowing no one else personally who shared our problems and feelings. ........ Our son has made us more aware than ever of the spiritual needs of the mentally ill and their families. There is stigma and a lack of knowledge concerning mental illness to be overcome. Stigma must be erased and replaced with compassion. It is not easy to stand before my peers and state that I have a son who is mentally ill and that we should have a ministry in our church to help alleviate the stigma and to reach out in love and compassion to the mentally ill and their families as we do when someone has a physical illness. I must continue to do so, and so must others if this problem of neglect is to be addressed with the emphasis and implementation that it deserves.”
I think this piece has a lot to say. It is not his complete Forward to the book, but it gives you some idea about what he thought about having a son with mental illness before he died. The church he was a leader in never did start a ministry and he made few if any presentations on the subject.
The point of sharing this is to say how very hard it is on the family. Mental Illness is no walk in the park. A broken brain and a shattered soul need a home. A place to be embraced.
I want to share another blog that appeared April 6, 2005. It is also about family. About a family member who taught me about spirituality.
“With the death of Pope John Paul II, I have started thinking more about my own faith and spiritual life. Even though I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church which in my youth taught us to believe the Pope was in league with the devil, I have come to love this Pope. The strength of his faith as he faced death is to be admired. I think the world will miss this man.
Another man who faced death with more courage, dignity and faith than I could imagine was my brother-in-law. Tom Edwards had spent his life as a minister, missionary and writer among other things, but it was the way he faced his own death that made his life stand out to me. He emailed me often before he died. We had never been that close really, but his emails were a ministry to me during one of my deep depressions. How he found it in his heart to minister to me as he faced his own death is still a mystery to me.
There is no doubt in my mind that Tom had faith in his own salvation and in the God he had served all his life. I have heard him preach about faith and belief, but his all time best sermon in my mind was the way he faced his own death. It was with a certainty I had never seen before and have not seen since in a person that I knew personally.
Maybe Tom Edwards and John Paul are meeting in heaven right now. What will they discuss? Of course I really have no idea, but maybe they will chat about why some of us have such a hard time with faith.
I started preaching in my early teens while in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, with my parents who were missionaries there. I was last in a pulpit over a decade ago speaking about the need for the church to reach out to folks like me who suffer from a mental illness. Do I believe anything? Am I a person of faith?
Among other things Tom’s faith helped him face his own death. My faith has kept me alive. Since a child I have been suicidal. Sometimes I have been locked away in a hospital, but the real thing that has kept me alive when I most wanted to kill myself was my faith. I have just enough faith and belief not to risk making God mad at me by killing myself. Not enough to live by, but too much to die with. Maybe someday I will have enough faith to face the day of my death with the dignity of Tom and John Paul.”
You can reach me directly at edcooper@projectdreamagain.com

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