15 July 2016

To the Meaning

A year ago last May my wife's occasional depression didn't go away.

At 17, I had a suicide plan. It involved grandpa's .22 and an irrigation canal. For several months at 31, I struggled to put in a full 40-hour week.

This wasn't that.

One friend set an appointment with the doctor. I asked another friend to recommend a therapist. We hoped something would “work.”

We learned to make flexible plans, to say we'd try to be there, to turn back if something was too much. 

August 30, Tina contemplated suicide.

I tried to think of something to do...to change...to help. Her mother came to visit. Tina's therapist sent literature—what helps and how to stay healthy in the process. We discussed the difference between self-harm and suicide. Friends reminded me to rest.  

One night some other friends talked Tina out of buying razor blades...via text message...while Tina wandered the super market.

My experience kept me from being shocked at Tina's pain. But nothing prepares a person for the not knowing what each day will bring, the uncertainty whether what you say or do gets through, the pain when a loved one harms herself, the helplessness. 


October 5, the folks at work had ordered pizza, I'd just sat down for lunch. My phone rang. I headed home, picked Tina up from therapy, and we went to the hospital. They asked a lot of questions and offered her a place in a voluntary stabilization program. She spent 5 hours there and called me to pick her up.

I locked up medicines...and knives...and scissors. Her mother came and helped us out again. I don't know how we would have made it otherwise. I couldn't have kept working like I did. 

My folks sent food and came to see us. I wrote e-mails, asking friends and family members to pray. Friends brought food. Friends came for visits.

All the questions Tina asked, I was asking too. Why so much pain? Why did God give us depression when we thought we might be having babies? 

Some think these questions mean, “What's the benefit?” They say, “God is teaching you something,” or they try to find some other silver lining.

Some translate the question, “What's going on?” They might say, “brain chemistry” or “development.” There's some insight here. Or some might say, “There is suffering in the world because of sin....” There's some insight here too...and a lot of other questions, such as how much power God has, whether he's good, and what he's thinking of.

I wonder if the bigger question—one nearer what we really want—is meaning. 

Joshua Seachris of the University of Notre Dame's Center for Philosophy of Religion suggests that what we want is a framework or a narrative to make sense of...things...what Seachris calls “existentially charged elements of life.”


In “Man's Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl argued the search for meaning is man's primary motivation: “In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” 

Meaning, Frankl argued, is always there, is unique to the person and even to the situation, and is discovered “(1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

Between her darkest hours, Tina put together care packages for other hurting people. She cried when friends' babies passed away. She quit church and Christian music. But Broadway still reached her with something...not exactly hope...but something...and that was hard to do. 

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Tina started getting stronger, even though she wasn't feeling stronger. We bought Jim Brickman tickets when she thought she'd like to go. It was worth it just for the possibility. Colleagues bought us tickets to see Mannheim Steamroller. It was the first time we'd been out in quite a while.

In February, she started wanting her life to change...instead of only wishing the pain would end. 

She entered a 3-week program. We both learned a lot about expressing needs, dealing with anxiety.

What does all this mean?

I don't know. We're still on this journey. But this question might lead to wonder...rather than despair.

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