Once, years ago, I wrote that November was the month of death, because that November several people I knew died in close succession. Now I have to take back what I said about November, because I'm realizing that different years have different "months of death." This March has been one of them.
First I heard on Facebook about the deaths of two little girls, whose parents I don't know but who are connected to many of my friends. For days I could not go online without seeing news about them. It was heartbreaking and upsetting, and I grieve for their family, even though I don't know them.
A few days later, I went on Facebook and saw a lot of posts about a girl I knew who lived in Australia. All of the posts spoke of her in the past tense. Anxiously I clicked through to her profile, where my fears were confirmed—this bright, vivacious, beautiful girl had just passed away.
Then on Monday morning I arrived at work to find a text from my sister Lillian. One of our oldest friends, David, our classmate since we were six years old and one of our closest friends in high school, lost his dad that morning to a heart attack.
Out of all these tragedies, Lauren's death has struck me in a particular way. I only met her once, at a conference in Princeton—the same weekend I met my future in-laws for the first time. I knew her older brother from my time living in NYC one summer in college, and I remember I was delighted to meet his little sister. She sat with my friends and me during lunch on Saturday and told us all about her acting career that was just getting off the ground. We also had fun playing a silly game of guessing each other's confirmation names. I remember how she struck me as such a sunshiney, sweet person—vibrant and energetic, quick to laugh. It was a pleasure to spend time with her and I was excited when we became Facebook friends afterward, so I could keep in touch with this lovely girl a little bit.
When I found out she had died, I was shocked. Even though I'd only met her once, I could not stop thinking about it. I emailed my friends who knew her and talked Frank's ear off about it.
This morning one of my friends sent me the text of her funeral homily. I read it, and began to cry. This wonderful girl grappled with demons beyond what I can imagine. I was struck in particular by these lines from the homily:
From all around Sydney and far beyond, her death has unlocked a veritable flood of grief and gratitude and grace: grief that she was taken too soon from us; gratitude that she had touched so many lives in so short a time; and the grace of prayer poured out for Lauren, above all, but also for [her family]. They have been sustained through this nightmare by your expressions of love and intercession. Many people were understandably disoriented, having not known Lauren was sick, let alone in hospital. Yet as cancers can appear suddenly, eat up people’s bodies and sap them of life, so Lauren’s depressive psychosis appeared out of the blue and ate up her beautiful heart and mind.
Such conditions, like cancers, can take young people very quickly and so Lauren says to us today: if anyone here is hurting, depressed, consumed by self-doubt, self-hatred, dark temptations, know you cannot conquer this alone. You must get help. Lean on God and His angels and saints in prayer. Talk to your parents, priest, religious sister. Call a helpline or CatholicCare. See your [doctor] or university counselor. Lauren’s life and death calls upon each one of us here to redouble our gratitude for the gift of life and our commitment to use it well; to persevere in the spiritual struggles and never lose hope.
Depression is a real illness, and a devastating one. It is also incredibly common—perhaps more so than many of us realize.
For some reason, there is a stigma that continues to exist around seeking mental help. People don't want to admit that they need to see a therapist, or that they are taking medication for depression. This has to stop. Therapy changes lives. It can be one of the best things that ever happens to a person.
I hope that anyone reading this who is struggling with painful, difficult or depressive feelings will seek out the help they need. It may be as simple as just meeting with someone trained to help, and talking through the difficult feelings. Or it may be more than that. In any case, no one should suffer through depression alone.
There is no shame in seeking mental help, and there never should be. In memory of Lauren, I hope we can all help to spread that message.