Writer's Note: Be advised that the below blog addresses suicide. If this is a sensitive topic for you, and you choose to read the blog, please engage the needed emotional support. I wish to thank all the supportive people — in professional, church, and personal circles — who have helped my family cope with our tragedy. Many helpful resources exist for families who are grieving suicide, including: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; and a list of suggested readings on the topic.
My sister took her own life on Epiphany.
Three years ago, as the sun was setting behind the mountains, my brother-in-law, Mac, found her hanging by a rope in their living room, in Billings, Montana.
In the waning light of her 70 years of life on Earth, Paula was desperate to see the full spectrum of how she was loved into being by a loving Creator. But her decades-long, deep depression twisted and eclipsed her ability to perceive and receive this love. Unable to survive the desperation, and hanging by the thinnest of threads of hope, she turned to hopelessness; her heart snapped shut.
January 6, Epiphany, is observed as a church festival, commemorating of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Epiphany celebrates the baptism of Christ. The definition of the word epiphany is "a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something."
Epiphany is situated in the church's liturgical calendar a couple weeks after the longest night of the year, December 21. The early January holy day points to days slowly filling with more and more light. Six days into 2021, the sun of 2020 has set, and a new dawn appears on the horizon.
I am not sure I am ready to move into the landscape of the new year, given the chaos of 2020. It was when many of us in the United States experienced a thinning and stretching of our hope amid the pandemic, the devastating wildfires, and a chaotic national election. Our eyes were opened in new ways to the systemic racism that pollutes our world. Accompanying that awareness were riveting media images, which have the power to pull us back into grief and horror.
The sadness of this past year, coupled with the uncertainty of the future, makes me feel skittish at the new year's crossroads. What fork shall I take? The flat path, paved with the status quo and least resistance? Or the path that leads through the hills and valleys of challenge and change? Already tired of so much upset, I search for simple, pure rays of direction on a peaceful stroll beneath blue, cloudless skies.
Alas, however, I perceive that I am invited to accept the fog and storms that will inevitably pepper some days of clarity and fair weather. I am invited to join my colleagues at Mennonite Mission Network in following Jesus with global partners on paths that are not always clear, or even on paths that don't yet exist but that are waiting to be forged.
I am invited in my personal life to build relationships of mutuality, instead of mistrust; to stretch toward prodigal compassion for self and others, rather than on piecemeal favor based on performance orientation; and to choose openness and vulnerability, rather than appearance management and power plays.
The tragic last breaths of my sister's life were taken alone and in self-loathing. My prayer for 2021 is that when the light is eclipsed, we face the future together, rather than in isolation; that when tempted by despondency and shut down, we will choose a deeper dependence on God, who sees the way, is the way, and opens the way for us to freely walk forward together in faith, rather than fear.