I cuddled up on the sofa, a mug of hot chocolate in hand and a fleece throw snuggly wrapped around me. It was time for the evening news. St Patrick’s Day and the ensuing celebrations was the headline yesterday. The people were still lingering in the highs of the festivity and merriment.
It was then I saw her. A pretty blue eyed, blonde hair 14-year old taking the centre spot on the screen. Her mother made a heart-breaking plea for her safe return. She had left their home late the night before and vanished.
“Where could she have gone?” ‘Why go out on a dark winter night in freezing temperatures?” The questions raced through my mind.
“God, please let her not be harmed.” “God please let her be found safe.” My prayers intwined with concern rose from my heart.
The next few days Elisha Gault was front page news across the nation. Everyone was praying and hoping for her to be found safe and unharmed. CCTV footage captured her and the rescue team knew the path she had taken. But only up to a point before she disappeared into the dark of night.
I held out hope as with many, even as days passed and the odds were not looking good.
Then, more details were released to the press. We came to know she left home without her winter jacket and without her mobile phone. My heart sank. I knew what that meant.
My prayer changed, “God let her body be found so her family can have a closure.”
The next day, her body was recovered from a river, about 8km from where she was last seen.
Months later, her mom shared that she was the victim of online bullying.
It was Sunday night and I happened to check the newsfeed on my phone. Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA 2019 was trending news. In a world that worships celebrities, she was known more as a model, television correspondent and beauty pageant title holder.
However, Cheslie was more than that. She was an attorney who practiced complex civil litigation. She also worked pro bono for clients who were low level drug offenders. She had even engaged with a non profit to free a client sentenced to life imprisonment.
Her diary was full in the coming months. She was functioning at her peak, never missing a beat. Her performance was flawless in every one of her professional roles.
All seemed good. So, no one saw it coming.
Early Sun morning, Jan 30, 2022 Cheslie jumped from the 29th floor of her high rise condominium complex. She had left a note stating that all she owned was to go to her mom.
It shocked many. There were questions.
“There were no signs.” “She seemed happy.” “She had it all together.”
After some days had passed, her mother let it be known that Cheslie had shared with her just three months before that she was suffering from depression. This had been going on for a long time. She was seeing a counsellor. Though she was very close to her mom, she had kept this close to her heart until much, much later. No one else were aware.
Ron Rolheiser, a Catholic priest, community builder, lecturer and writer in his piece – Suicide and Melancholy, published in 2020 stated,
“We no longer understand melancholy. Today we lump all forms of melancholy together in one indiscriminate bundle and call it depression. Melancholy is much more than that ..
In Greek mythology it was seen as a rich but mixed gift. On one hand, it could bring soul-crushing emotions such as unbearable loneliness, inconsolable grief, cosmic sadness, and suicidal despair; on the other hand, it could also bring depth, genius, creativity, poetic inspiration, compassion, mystical insight and wisdom.
It is the painful part of the soul that wants to be listened to because it intuits the unbearable heaviness of things ..
Refusing to recognize the depth and meaning of melancholy is demeaning to the sufferer and perpetrates a violence against a soul that is already in torment.
Suicide is normally the result of a soul in torment, in most cases the torment is of a melancholy which overwhelms the person at a time when he or she is too tender, too weak, too wounded, too stressed or too biochemically impaired to withstand its pressure.”
What can the church offer souls overwhelmed by torment? What can we who carry the light, love and life-giving presence of Christ offer souls overcome by melancholy?
Maybe we as a community ought to be asking these questions and discerning our call to be with souls who cry in the dark.
Even if we can offer a safe space for one light flickering dangerously in the storms of life, it matters. Even if one light may not be snuffed out too soon, it matters. Our world would gain more than it loses. Our world would fare better in the worst of times. Our world may be more whole than fractured.
Those who are struggling with their emotional and mental well-being should seek professional help. The community of believers is not a substitute for but a bridge to the support of trained professionals.