Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Let the light in

[image: Kate Shirley]

Sitting in a lecture hall at Virginia Theological Seminary, I was reminded yesterday that our word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek word apokalypsis, to tear back the veil. The association is fitting, for issues of tragedy and seeing reality as it is have come into the lives of so many at the death of a beloved friend, Brittney Kittrell.

Brittney was full of life. I loved working alongside her as an Orientation Leader-- her engagement with living was a blessing for all of us that summer, and to the people who had known her before and since. I loved running into her-- it didn't happen as often as I would have liked, but she and her fiance Mutsa always had kinds words to give. If I could, I would transmit the memory of the sound of her voice, its lilting and humor and softness and gravity. She was a dancer, delicate and quick. She was--she is, in the eternally-present tense of faith-- a beloved child of God. But last Saturday I received a note from Mutsa that Brittney was gone. After a long struggle with depression, she decided to end her life. She decided to commit suicide.

I stared dumbly at the computer screen. Emotions flooded through me: numbness, anger (how could you?), regret (if only...), confusion (depression? but...), and a desire to grab a hold of life-- to grab a hold of a person and keep them from slipping away down that dark river. I made pancakes. I talked with close friends from high school. I posted a prayer on facebook. But when people called, I didn't tell them the truth. When people asked, I avoided the answer. I didn't say that she had struggled with depression, that she had killed herself. To my mind those facts were embarrassing, both to her memory and to the family and Mutsa.

I repent. As in the Greek word metanoia, I changed my mind. My silence was a dishonor to Brittney and to her friends, and I ask forgiveness for my arrogance.

The change came yesterday afternoon when a close friend from Mason asked me on the verge of tears what had happened. And I knew that I needed to tell the truth that I had been given. She had pieced together from different sources that Brittney had died, but there was no confirmation of how. Silence prevented the closure for which she longed. What emerged from our conversation was the true embarrassment: that we in our society cover up depression as a difficult struggle and a serious illness; that we attach stigma to that word, "illness"; and that we cast shame on suicide. The result of this oppressive silence is that so many who fight the encroaching darkness cannot vocalize their struggle even when they are at their most vulnerable.

It is time to pull back the veil, to throw back the curtains and let the light come in. In honor of Brittney, I will resist the temptation to cover up death, depression, and suicide. The writer of the book of Revelation has a similar agenda. The letter reminds the people listening to it that God is the One who will come down to earth and establish God's home among them, and that it is possible for them to bear witness--both through actions and by words--to this incredible promise of restoration now, even when coercion and destruction seem to hold sway. The world as it is, unveiled and as God sees it, is one that calls out for healing and will be healed.

For Brittney, let's pull back the curtains and let the light in.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am sorry for your loss. I never knew Brittney, but she sounds like an amazing person. I became interested in her story initially because my mom is a business associate of her mom. We wanted to know what could have happeded to someone so young and full of promise. In the electronic age this is usually easy information to come by, but not this time. I had to dig before I found someone like you that was brave enough to speak the truth.

    As someone who has struggled with the demon that is depression for years, I appreciate your kind eloquence on the subject. I wish you well on your future endeavors.

  2. Weaz--

    I'm glad that this was helpful to you in finding answers. Peace and light be yours in the darkness.

  3. weaz your mom my sisters business associate should have picked up the phone and called not search the net for facts about her daugther my niece.this electronic world allows allto hide what they feel if you were to talk in stead of typing perhaps you could find relief from the depression so many young suffer from today a simple hand shake can make a differnce can`t do that by email a simple hug, can`t get that by email either eye contact can`t google it but as humans we need it. my grandma britts greatgrandma
    has lived 91years never emailed anyone always made eye contact with family&friends she always asked questions never googled for any information
    she needed on life or loved ones she always talked
    and has never suffered from depression talking and asking questions allowed others to offer help
    whenever they sensed something wrong no one can sense saddness through emails the young of today need to take heed to our past before electronics
    shared our space depression was rare now thats almost like a bad cold everyone gets it.you all need to get out and smell flowers not look them up go visit a friend and hug shake hands and look each other in the eye and say how are you doing today and see if you all want learn to feel and sense happiness or sadness things you can`t google . Britts auntie D

  4. I think this was a lovely post, but I agree very much with the previous comment.

  5. Sorry to use your space, Ben---but I have a feeling you won't mind.

    Dear Britts Auntie D & Anonymous,

    I only looked online after more conventional and old-fashioned methods were fruitless. I don't know that my mom has actually ever met Brittney's mom in person. None of their common acquaintances knew what happened to Brittney and if they did, they were not comfortable sharing. I am a mother too and we both lost a loved one to suicide almost exactly a month before Brittney's passing. If even from a distance, we come from a place of caring and concern and an unfortunate familiarity.

    I am blessed with a loving circle of friends and family, many of whom I see in person or speak to daily. I, too, have cautioned others not to be dependent on their technology when something far better exists.

    However, without this machine, I would not have learned what a wonderful and amazing person Brittney was. I would not have shed a tear for her loss. Even though, what I have learned can in no way match the real person she was, I still feel that I have learned and grown knowing of her from this great, electronic distance.

    I know you are greiving and feeling so many conflicting emotions. Even though I don't know you, I would take that away if I could.

    But, please don't judge.

  6. weaz-There was not judgement in my heartfelt advice to not just you but to all who might be feeling this way.but do know that you prove my point that this electornic age can`t feel for you. you assumed i was judging yet i know that i was advising,please know that there is not enough infromation on this device that could allow you are anyone else to know how truly wonderful Brittney was thats the
    bottom line.I do understand your pain in your lost but please don`t make it harder by relating
    our greivig with yours you need to heal before you can help heal others,thats the healthly thing too do.no hard feelings Auntie D

  7. All I can say is, everyone need to make time for the loved ones. I know we are living in very fast pace days but still ... a hug, prayer, love, encouraging words can make a difference.

    God cares!

  8. Britt's Aunie D- It's easy to give advice. However, heeding your own advice is much harder. Unfortunately, we forget that everyone doesn't deal with situations the same as we see the situation. We forget that people although related or close to us deal with situation differently. You seem like a very strong person. However, everyone isn't strong. I read what you said, but I wonder how much do YOU reach out. Are you truly there for your family and fiends both and near. Or, are you like most people, only really think about it when one is experiencing the ultimate grief, death. Your comment although heartfelt, does seem judgmental, full of personal opinions and limited knowledge of depression. Depression, is an misunderstood illness. People close to you can suffer from it. People who appear to have it together are suffering around you everyday. It comes in all forms laughter, tears, silence, anger and even seclusion. It can be in your own home and you not even know it. The real sad part is... Loving someone "enough" is not a cure. But, one harsh word, one spread rumor, one negative thing can push someone to the end. I truly hope you are what you preach maybe you can not cure someone, but you can help someone with a phone call to say, Hello, How are you, what did I do or I'm sorry. I hope you're not one who preach love and communication yet faced with an opportunity and remain silient. I hope you are reaching out to all of your family.

    Additionally, electronic communcation is merely, an avenue to truly express yourself without any reservations from friends and/or co-workers, becaseu family opinions are sometimes hurtful and unfounded. Especially when the truth hasn't been presented.

    continue to "Love Everybody"

  9. again you end by saying continue to love everybody but yet you say love can`t cure but
    truth can cure you just have to tell it. have you ever went to a Doctor and just sat not saying
    what brought you to him i don`t think so you have to tell them in order to get a cure.my point with this is you have to be real with yourself and not have reservations from anyone
    and this is possible if you are living right meaning not harming others no matter what lifestyle you are living as long as you are not bringing harm to others you should be able to hold your head up and live not suffer in silience.ever heard opinions are like A--holes everyone has one live by that its true when you know that you give 100% to all family friends coworkers, strangers black people white people
    spanish,etc.etc.you get the picture then there is nothing no one could say that could move you
    in a bad way not to say that you want feel it but you will no that feelings let us know that we are living and they change day to day but who you are stays the same when you are true to yourself.learn to express yourself because you love yourself not because being you will hurt others thats their battle not yours.i am not blinded or have limited knowledge of depression
    not by a long shot deal with it everyday behind a chair for over 20 years listening to others but do know truth is the key and if your suffering
    siliently thats all it will be is "silient suffering" tell it and see if you can`t get relief present the truth and then tell me if it does`nt make it a little better but know yourself
    so that you can tell not what you think people wanna hear but what you need heard.My dear britt
    picked silient suffering and did just that suffered siliently beause she could not present the truth even with all the love she had. some of us would rather die than tell the whole truth
    and i love her no matter what she thought of herself please know that i am a strong woman but also a loving,Caring,would give my last to see people happy,understanding and fair,mother and wife,friend, sister,Auntie.i love life and tell myself everyday today is worth living for that keeps me grounded so if i can help you let me know because i can`t stand seeing the young afraid of being themselves."yesterday can`t hurt
    you today when you wake each day say it and believe it then you will live it"you know that what ever you did the day before good or bad is in the past move on to the new day it will get better and better and better and better and better.and yes i love everybody U2
    deevastylist@verizon.net when you need a friend

  10. I hear what you are saying however, many many times things are said not just to someone directly but also in the present of others that is not only unforgiving, unforgetful but unnecessary. There are many sisters, mothers, wifes and aunties that cause hurt with their mouths not their hearts. Family is a born committment not a choice. But the way family treat each other is a PURE choice. Friends come a dime a dozens, true friends are as rare as the finest of gems. To me the key is to be not just a sister but a TRUE friend to your sister, Not just a wife but a committed wife is ALL aspects and true friend to your husband, an auntie how shows love whether is be tough love or the kindess of love but still a true friend and a mother demanding respect, giving tough love but still being a "true friend" in the end. Being "behind the chair" for 20 years, you would only hope that people have been totally open and truthful with you. But NO one knows the total truth but the person telling it. And, again being "behind the chair for 20 years" I can only think that you didn't know everyone or everyone was not your family. So, I stand behind what I said, sometimes family is not the right avenue. Talking to strangers is sometimes better than talking to family. Some families are full of gossipers, and illwill. If you and your are family different than good for you. Again, this is email so there is no need to hide the truth. I hope you are good to your sisters, brothers, child(ren) and husband. But the questions is what will they say. Because although we've been taught don't worry about what people say. When it's family we do worry and we take what's said and done to heart. Because sometimes what's said and done is wrong in many ways.

    Please know I love myself and I have TRUE friends in my life. But someones feelings are thier reality.

  11. dear britt's aunt:

    i cannot imagine how painful this must be for you and the rest of brittney's family. please know that no one wishes to make you uncomfortable, or intrude on your grief.

    we just feel great SORROW in the passing of your child, whether we knew her directly or through her friends, and want to express that sorrow in some meaningful manner.

    often times after a tragedy nothing makes sense, and everything that is said to us can be twisted in our grief in such a manner as to add to our grief instead of providing the comfort that was intended.

    many years ago i miscarried a much-wanted child. for a long time after that my tortured mind took everything that was said to me and turned it into something insensitive and callous..........when none of it was meant that way at all.

    it taught me that in times of grief, a simple "i'm sorry" is the only thing that can't be heard in some painful manner.

    so for you, i say, i'm sorry.

    and nothing more for now.

  12. To all... Brittney was a very loving person. I went to middle and high school with her. I was in dance class with her, I was in band class with her. I spoke with her several times, because I too am depressed. It is hard to deal with the loss of a loved one. I like her, continued to smile, knowing that I was hurting on the inside. Depression is an illness that no one will truly understand, unless they are facing it. Not through someone that is, but through themselves. By you all exchanging words, AND THIS IS NOT TO JUDGE, I feel that you all are not allowing Brittney to rest. How do you think she would feel about this whole situation? What needs to be done, is for people to let it go. I know it's kinda harsh, but Brittney probably would not want her death to be remembered this way. You all need to celebrate the life that she had. She was lovely, caring, and had a heart of gold. She was a real friend to me, and I was a real friend to her. <<>>