This is my full article for my Humming in my Universes column on PhilStar. Unfortunately, I sent only half of it and that was the one that appeared on print.
I went to a wake three nights ago. It was that of a relatively young man who had ended his own life. He was bright, handsome, creative, intelligent, but very troubled. He was an artist.
When I heard about his death, I was saddened and felt a heaviness in my heart. It was so painful to be there but I felt the need to go. The deceased and I shared common relatives. I hardly knew his family but I did not hesitate to express the deep sorrow I felt to them. No one will completely understand what other people are going through. But I felt I had to give my share of comforting to those he left behind. I needed to do it too for myself. If you could measure my sorrow objectively, (which to me was very intense) it was nothing close to what they were going though. The heavy rain that was pouring outside could hardly match the tears in the room.
I had encountered him once before because my wife had asked for his services to create standing lamps for our new home. They turned out quite nice.
I stared at his photo near the urn which carried his ashes. His mother lovingly put her hand on it as she openly sobbed. There were no words. But you could feel the unimaginable loss she was feeling. It was so palpable. Her love and the pain of losing her son could be seen in her hand movements.
The world is so sad. Too many people are suffering from depression these days. To be more accurate, it has been like this for the past two decades and it seems to be on the rise. I don’t know why. I was talking to my brother Jesse who is now 82. He said that in his entire class, there was only one person who died due to suicide. He was in his early 60s when it happened. In my own class, I am not aware of anyone who had taken his own life. I am not saying there was no depression then. For sure there was except that they were most likely very rare and totally undiagnosed.
Today, it seems like an epidemic affecting many young people. No one knows why. Could it be genetic? Is there something about modern life that is causing it? I have met many young people who have told me that they are depressed or bi-polar. As a teacher during the past few years, my department always gave me a list of students in my class who were undergoing treatment for depression.
A lot of depressed kids may seem normal and carefree but are going through some private hell. We should always be on the look out.
So far, almost all I know about depression was what I learned from my own daughter Erica who has gone through episodes of it. I remember being so concerned every time she went through it. Lydia and I would spend many nights awake worrying about her. We made sure she got professional help. We even attended sessions with her to see how we may be contributing to it.
As a very concerned father I remember telling Erica that I completely understood what she was going through. I advised her to try to be more positive, to pray, be strong and I reminded her that I was always there for her.
She answered me pointblank and said, no, I did not understand what she was going through. She said I had no idea what she was feeling. No way. My advice of trying to be more positive, or praying more may be well-meaning but ignorant advice. Almost in exasperation and through tears, she said it was something she could not even describe much less explain.
That opened my heart to completely accept the situation even If I did not comprehend it. It was something alien to me. She was in a mental state that was so difficult to be in that the idea of ending one’s life becomes a palatable option to free one’s self from it. I just vowed to do my best. I readily conceded to her that I did not understand depression. But I had empathy for her suffering. I told her that we loved and cared for her so much. I begged her to pls call me anytime if she needed to talk for to see her.
And thankfully there were times she did call until she got out of it.
Erica has also learned a lot about her bouts with depression, too. She has openly written and talked about it. A lot of kids actually write her asking for advise which she answers with the advice that above all else, they should consult a doctor since every case is different.
The mother of the deceased said she had no idea her son was going through something. Sometimes, even the closest people of the depressed do not see it. And when they take their lives, they are all shocked because no one saw it coming. Only at hindsight do they realize that may things were already pointing in that direction.
There is a tendency among those left behind to blame themselves for the tragedy. Every person who dies elicits this kind of ‘I-should-have-done-more’ attitude among the living whatever the cause of death. When people die of suicide, this ‘guilt’ is probably much more intense. While it is understandable, I don’t think it is fair at all. Depression is so personal and so complex. If we really understood it, no one would want to willingly cause it on anyone. We would certainly make sure it does no happen.
Today, there is a lot of talk about mental and psychological health awareness. No longer is it a stigma to be depressed, or be bi-polar as it used to. There is a kinder attitude about it. People are less condemning and more understanding about it. There are numbers to call for help.
In our own circles, let us look after each other. Check on how everyone REALLY is. It is best to bring up the topic to remind people that there is always help if they need it.
Father Alex, a young enthusiastic priest who sang all throughout the mass at the wake gave a very gentle homily. He reminded us that whatever has happened or will happen to anyone of us, we must not forget we are all God’s children no matter what. And God has unconditional love for ALL his children.
His kind words eased the pain somehow. When I left, the rain had eased a bit.