I remember, a few years ago, attending a funeral for a mother of a friend who had taken her own life. The call came on an ordinary South African summer afternoon when I was sitting in the office at my computer. Even though it was a hot day, the news made me cold to the bone. I had seen her two weeks prior. She was her lovely self. She complimented me on my outfit. She wore her usual smile. It was one of those smiles that you can see in a person’s eyes. She was a light to so many. I had often been to her home. It was beautiful, overlooking a sweeping valley with a river running through it. It was on a large piece of land too, and it wasn’t uncommon for buck or bush pig to come roaming through. She was mother to the most amazing children, they were both smart, confident and kind, and she had the most kind-hearted and loving husband. She was one of the most lovely people I knew. She loved Jesus with all her heart, she was active and healthy, she was needed and she was loved dearly.
It didn’t make sense.
I felt totally disillusioned after I heard the news. I remember thinking: if this news is the truth, then nothing is as it seems and I’m not sure that the sun will rise again, or that the ground won’t simply disappear beneath me.
I cried my eyes out at her funeral. Seeing my friend, who was her son, and was due to get married in a month, talk about how much she meant to him broke my heart. He explained that that she was critically ill with anxiety and depression, and that while she was truly the bright and happy person we all had come to know and love, she was also very sick before she died. The hundreds of people present that day who knew this amazing woman and her family were all absolutely gutted and shocked. I had read about depression and anxiety in text books, and I had heard it spoken of, but that day I saw its effect in the desperate pain and devastating loss of the people close to me.
What prompts me to write about this experience is that stats regarding anxiety and depression show that there are thousands in our workplaces, in our schools, down the road, or even in our homes who are suffering—and sometimes it’s not obvious at all. In fact, depression and anxiety are frightfully common.
In a poem entitled Not Waving but Drowning, Stevie Smith who was an English poet illustrates the difficulty of recognising a cry for help in others. I have cited her poem below, courtesy of The Poetry Foundation in the spirit of awareness of anxiety and depression (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46479/not-waving-but-drowning).
Not Waving but Drowning
BY STEVIE SMITH
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
What I love about this poem is the way that it describes what the dead would say if they could talk, and in this particular case, this seemingly “happy” person, was actually “too far out” and “not waving but drowning.”
In publishing this post, my hope and my prayer is that as the Church, and the Body of Christ, we would commit ourselves to an awareness of people around us who are not waving but drowning, that we would choose to see their cries for help no matter how they present themselves and that we would respond by demonstrating our love and support for them, ultimately showing them how loved they are by their Father in heaven.