I heard the song on the radio today. “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. I hate that song. Every time it comes on, I change it. I usually don’t run from such pain, but I can’t . . . not that song. We played it at the funeral. “In a cold dark hotel room . . .” How did Sarah know? But I listened to more than usual; more than I should have.

My children are 10, 8, 6, and 2.  I wish so much that they had a chance to know Angie better. Katelynn, my oldest, knew her pretty well. Kylee a little. Their memories, I’m sure,  are quickly fading. Will was just two months old when she died. Zach was not born.

I often talk to them about Angie. I recount how much she loved them. I tell about how much I loved her. If I keep her memorialized with my children, she seems to be still a part of my life.

“Daddy, how did Angie die?”

This is the dreaded question that I get ever so often. I don’t really know what to say. What a horrible thing for children to hear were I to tell them the truth. Therefore, for now, it is sufficient to say, “She died of sadness.” My kids are usually satisfied, but not lately. Will will not let me off the hook. He is five and very persistent. “How does someone die of sadness?” He asks. “I don’t know,” I respond, “they just get really, really sick.” “But how do they die?” “I don’t know, it just causes them to die.”

I don’t think I am lying to my kids. In fact, I think that it is the most accurate way to put it. She did die of sadness. She just got so, so sad that she did not feel as if she had another choice. The gun she shot was not pointed toward herself, it was pointed toward the sadness that was in her head. She just wanted it to stop and all the pills and positive thinking were not as powerful as the bullet. She killed the sadness and her body was a casualty of friendly fire.

Here I am four years later and feel no more equipped to deal with this than I did then. I mean dealing with this kind of sadness. None of us are—my sisters, father, or myself. I have a better understanding and empathy for Angie. As wrong as this may sound, I don’t blame her.

Dying of sadness. What could be worse?

But the sadness did not leave. Its lease was up in Angie’s head, but it stayed in the family. It immediately attacked my mother’s head and her brain could not take it. Her brain just shut itself down. Call it an aneurysm, call it a stroke, but these were only the means of her brain to protect itself. Even still, it did not die. It went to my father with more fury than ever. He neutralizes it alone at the bar.

My sister killed the sadness in her head, but it did not die.

To those who are sad, I have no advice, but to continue to trust him who will one day kill sadness forever.

Revelation 7:17
“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

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C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.

Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    29 replies to "She Died of Sadness"

    • Susan

      That would be a very difficult question to field from a child. I’m not sure how I would handle that, but I think I might just tell them what happened, if pressed. There is horror in that truth, to be sure, but I wonder if your children might come to fear sadness, to shun it at all costs for fear it might kill them. Children take things pretty literally, especially from the daddy they trust to always tell the truth. (?) But, what do I know….?

    • mbaker

      Michael,

      I am so sorry. That must be so difficult to understand, much less explain. I pray the Lord will lessen the pain for you and your family.

      God bless.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Michael, for what it’s worth, my mom committed suicide when I was 9. I did not find out until about 7 or 8 years ago, which means for about 30 years I had a false understanding of what caused my mother’s death. When I found out, I was a little shocked that no one had told me before. She was an unstable woman, who had some health concerns and an unfortunate addiction. I never knew the specific cause of her death and would just tell people that she was sick. So while no one specifically “lied” to me, the silence regarding the circumstances of her death drew me to a false conclusion. It was a violation of sorts.

      Fortunately, I do tend to be a very objective person and in this instance thankfully so. Knowing the truth would do nothing to bring her back so it wasn’t worth it to get upset at my family members who I believed really should have been upfront with me, especially my dad. But I can see how unsettling it would be for a more sentimental or emotional person to learn that for many years they believed something that was not true.

      It’s a tough subject. How do you tell a 9 year old that her mom didn’t want to live anymore?

    • minnow

      Michael–Your sister made a choice. She made a plan and she followed it through. It may be exactly as you think about it that she was not killing herself only the sadness. Still she decided to do so. I agree with Susan. You do not want your children to equate their moments of sadness with a sickness they can not escape. The fear could become as overwhelming for them as the sadness was for your sister, especially as adolescents experiencing their first romantic rejections, broken friendships, or other loss. Kids are amazingly creative and their minds run away when facts are not known. They may even have questions about their grandparents and you that they have not dared to ask because they sense your reluctance to share the whole story. Please know I am not trying to minimize your pain. But know too that your children will not love your sister any less because they know how she died. As for you, perhaps it is okay to be angry at your sister and blame her for the choice she made. This too does not mean you don’t love and miss her. It only means this decision ticks you off–it ticks me off and I don’t even know your sister, but I have come to care about her from what you’ve shared.

    • Ted

      There is nothing wrong with presenting this as you did.

      When elderly people pass away, we attribute their passing to “old age” and not the specific biological condition.

      My mom-in-law had breast cancer and passed away. Several afflictions from the cancer were the cause of her passing. But we tell people, without dishonesty, that she passed away due to “cancer.”

      Death, as with life, is complicated. The ultimate motivation of your sister’s passing was “sadness” — it’s factual, correct and the truth. I hope she is in Jesus’ arms now, free from her pain. God Bless her and your family.

    • Dr_Mike

      Michael:

      Tell your children what is age-appropriate for each. With the older children, add that they have a responsibility not to tell the younger ones too much too soon, but to leave that to your and their mother to explain.

      Not to be insensitive but I would recommend telling your children that Aunt Angie died of despair, not sadness. I think this is important lest your children come to believe that feelings of sadness are bad. Sadness is normal, necessary, and healthy; despair, however, is not: it is the loss of hope. Angie, like so many that commit or attempt suicide, lost hope that her pain would ever go away in this life.

      I would also tell them that Angie died of a terrible illness that affected her thinking and judgment, an illness that also robbed her of the ability to make good choices. Contrary to an earlier comment, Angie did not make a choice any more than a schizophrenic makes a choice to hear voices.

      Given the sudden onset and rapid decline in her functioning, it certainly sounds like something organic was going on in her brain. When our brains break like that, we are not responsible for the bad choices we make.

      Many of us have been touched by suicide(s). Getting their skeletons out of our closets is never easy or complete. But there is much you can do to keep your children’s closets relatively empty of Angie’s. Be open, be honest, admit your own confusion, and make sure they understand that she did not make a choice that should would have had she not been ill.

      In the midst of despair, she implemented a permanent solution to a temporary – albeit horrific – situation.

    • Dr_Mike

      N.B. – It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t cause it, could not control it, and it was beyond your ability to cure.

      Given her state of mind as a result of her illness, Angie was going to kill herself. You know that. She was determined, despairing, and resorted to the only thing she could control: when her life would end.

      Again, you could not have stopped her. Women rarely use firearms but, when they do, it is a marker of the seriousness of their despair and (for Angie) merciless illness.

    • Stephen

      I don’t have kids, but for what it’s worth, I think you’re doing an admirable job of explaining it to them. I appreciate your transparency on this difficult part of your life, CMP. It’s always good for us leaders to share our hurts and struggles with other believers.

    • Chris Skiles

      Michael, you said ” I have a better understanding and empathy for Angie. As wrong as this may sound, I don’t blame her.”
      This made me think of a scene in the move “LUTHER” when a teenage boy at the monistary committed suicide. Many there were appauled that Luther would bury him on the grounds saying it was holy ground there and the boy was cursed because he committed suicide. In a very moving scene as Luther dug the grave by himself he compared the boy to someone being over taken by robbers in the woods and said that he was no more to blame than the victim of a robbery.

      I’m not saying that suicide is never a sin, but it
      does seem at times that this is brought on by a serious chemical imbalance in the brain and those afflicted with this do seem to be victims.

      I have followed your writings on Angie for sometime now and my heart goes out to you and your family.

      ” To those who are sad, I have no advice, but to continue to trust Him who will one day kill sadness forever”
      What a beatiful way to express comfort to all those who are so very sad and even dispairing.

    • cheryl u

      Michael,

      I can not begin to imagine what it is like to deal with something like this on an ongoing basis, specially with your children who are wanting answers to their questions.

      As I was thinking about this, a Scripture verse came to mind that seems to me to be a wonderful promise to you as you talk to your children. It is, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

      I pray that God will bring ongoing healing and peace to you and to your family. And that you will know His wisdom as you speak to your children each time that they ask.

    • Kara Kittle

      Michael,
      By the time my niece was 5 her beloved grandfather, her grandmother, a great-grandmother all died. They died of natural causes though from long term illness. When I told her that I have Multiple Sclerosis and that I was sick the first thing she asked me is if I were going to die. There was sadness in her about equating sickness with death. I had to explain to her that no I am not dying, but to answer that question for her is something that had to be done to reassure her.

      I know that your sister’s circumstances were different. But it would be much more honest for your children to explain and talk it through with them. If they don’t understand now, at least it opens the door for them to talk about it later with you. Because eventually they will meet other children who have had similar circumstances and will know how to comfort them as well. Not all children have support systems like yours. I think as hard as it is to talk to them, it is more honest and your children will know you trust them enough to share a difficult thing. Right now, it’s not all about understanding why.

    • Vance

      You know, this makes me think about how we discriminate against the pain of “sadness” compared to other types of pain. Occasionally we hear of people in chronic, intense pain and their decision to take their life, possible with the help of someone like Dr. Kevorkian. While we nominally condemn the act, I think most of us have a certain sympathy and wonder if we might do the same in their situation. Physical pain is something we have all experienced, and can imagine the level getting so intense and so constant that the quality of life is almost gone.

      We do not seem as sympathetic to someone suffering the equally intense and equally chronic pain of sadness or depression. We do not accept depression as something incurable and out of the sufferer’s control in the same way as physical pain. We act as if this is something they should just rise above, or we think this is something that God will wipe away if you get your life right with Him (even when we don’t expect the same of physical pain).

      A person who wants to end the physical pain is not seen as weak and pathetic, but somehow could even be seen as showing a degree of bravery. The person who wants to end the psychological pain is seen as just that: weak.

      Not very fair.

    • Ruben

      I think sadness is the simplest way to describe depression. I think we should be honest with our children and that conveys the essence of it. The sad part about depression for me is that it completely engulfs you, you lose yourself and you just cannot find your way back. There comes a point when it is not a matter of the will anymore, all hope in you dies and you don’t even recongize it.

    • randiesturnings

      Touching story with all its implications. As a father I’ve often had to ask how do I best explain …. I have found that there are no rules to filter that question through and the right answer comes out (much to my shagrin)

    • Anon for this one

      It’s such a cliche to say that God will never give a person more than they can handle. Because then how do we explain suicide?

      I was saved by my pastor and a member of my church family from suicide. They called one night, knowing that I had went off the deep end. Self-hatred and alcohol. I spent that night reading suicide websites and typing in online prayers for help.

      Waking up morning after morning after morning thinking about how better off people — including my 10 year old daughter — would be without me. Being trapped in pain with no way to escape it. Sitting at my desk crying because I hated myself so badly. I could not wait to just go to sleep and end the pain that would not end.

      I was convinced the greatest blessing I could give the world was to remove myself from it. I was a curse, an infliction, a poison.

      If someone has never been in a deep depression, you cannot imagine the pain of simply living. Sad is too light a word. Hopeless doesn’t describe it. Wanting to simply be dead, shoot me like a dog, roll me in the ditch, kick the dirt bank down over me, piss on my grave and then get back to your normal life.

      The words “get a grip” or “snap out of it” have killed a lot of people.

      I am so sorry to hear about your daughter. I cannot imagine your pain. If there’s a consolation, it’s that she is no longer sad.

      After I got into therapy, he had me call 5 of my best friends and ask them for their honest reaction when I told them “you’d be better off without me, so I’m going to kill myself.”

      I had to stop at 4. I couldn’t handle the emotion coming through the phone. Tears, anger, blaming themselves, confusion.

    • Sherry Nolte

      I am sorry for the pain you have to feel. I think the way you are explaining the death of your sister is appropriate for their age. There will be a time when you can explain further to them if you feel comfortable…when they are older and can process the details of her death. Thank you so much for sharing your heart.

    • Ruben

      Regarding the trite comments people give out to the depressed, I think we Christians (evangelicals in particular) quote verses and think that we can hold God to keep it as a “promise”. When in fact the Bible is full of nuance, God’s only Son had to face rejection and execution, so I think merely quoting verses and such can be very misleading.

    • Miguel

      This post is born out of pain and grace and it also is one of the most heart moving writings I have ever read. Thank you for writing this and sharing with us Michael. Thank you very much.

      Christos Shalom

    • danae mesa

      this is probably the most simple and movie depiction of love and truth that i’ve heard in a long time. thank you. i loved your honesty and that u said u didnt have answer but to just wait. i cant stand it when people always have answers for things. it seems more beneficial to to me atleast when people say what u said.. and closed it with the lamb wiping away all tears.

    • danae mesa

      sorry, not movie.. but moving.

    • JoanieD

      My husband battles both physical and psychic pain and at times he will say,”I don’t want to die, but sometimes I just feel like I can’t take this pain any longer.” He deadens the pain with alcohol but as the alcohol wears off, he is no better off than before. Any suggestions I give him in the way of seeking help falls on deaf ears because he doesn’t trust doctors and doesn’t believe in God. So, I can understand Angie and others, who, like Michael said, wanted to kill the pain and sadness. (I do agree with some of the other posters, though, to maybe not tell your children that Angie died of sadness, in case they think they will die if they are sad.) It has gotten to the point that all I can do is pray for my husband. And I pray that I do not come home some day and find him dead. And if he does kill himself, would I be able to “blame” him? No, I will blame the pain that put him beyond being able to sense any hope. And I will hope that God in all his love and mercy will be able to receive his soul. Perhaps, in the last moments that people have before they kill themselves, all they have left is the hope that what they are doing is the right thing because they see no other option. Perhaps God “understands” even that desire to do the “right” thing in a way that we, the bereaved, cannot understand.

    • C Michael Patton

      Thank Joanne, you are very sweet and I am so sorry for your pain and the feelings of helplessness you have to bear. I understand and will pray for you.

      Concerning the “Dying of Sadness” reason, please know that that is simply the sumary of what I tell my kinds, but I do explain that it is not simple sadness, but the type that takes control of a person and one which they cannot escape from. They understand that it is not simple sadness.

    • Jonathan

      Clinical Depression hits a lot of people in australia. So much so that the government has made several national initiatives. Statistics say that one in 5 australians will experience depression. – beyondblue.org.au

      It’s different from ordinary depression. It’s an illness.

    • a

      Thank you for your post on how you spoke to your children. Ours are 3 and 4 and have recently had to explain in kid language major changes in their little lives about choices people have made who are close to us. I don’t want to lie to my children, I love the way you spoke to your kids. It is similar to what we did, and when they grow they will have more developmentally appropriate information, but I don’t want to drop a bomb on them one day and then have them feel we lied.

    • Rob

      I understand too.

      My sister, who was just 18 months older than I am, took her own life at the end of May. She had a past confession of faith – looking back in her brighter days she said that during the dark times she hung on only due to the strength of Christ.
      But as I told her daughters, we must not make the mistake of identifying her depression with herself – she was distinct from it. It drove her to commit a very grievous sin – abandoning her family, leaving everything behind. But it was not the unforgivable sin and despite her illness, my sister left behind a positive legacy I see in her daughters and in other lives she touched.
      And for strength and comfort, though I will not presume upon God’s grace, I will cling to the knowledge that God is good and just and merciful, and though she was in a spiritually dark place at the time of her death, my sister was part of the covenant community of Christ. God is good, and I trust him still, and that’s enough.
      May she rest in peace, and may her daughters find peace – they’re still not ready yet, but by God’s grace, someday they will be.

    • Laurie M.

      I’m sorry for you pain and that of your whole family.

    • Geoff

      I will be praying for wisdom that only God can give. For protection of your kids minds as they learn the truth someday and for healing in the minds and hearts of you and your family members who have to deal with this incredible hardship. God bless you for keeping the faith and being a living example of Christs love and for your passion for His truth.

    • Deanna

      I don’t know if this helps, but I am a teacher, a mother, and someone who has suffered through suicidal depression for two years. It is only by the miracles of friendship and sacrifice that I am here, right now. This is how I chose to describe my depression to my children: there is something wrong in my brain. It is just like being sick except that it is invisible. The sickness is called depression and it is why I sleep and cry all the time and why it is so hard for me to talk to people. There are doctors and friends who are trying to help me to feel better and there is medication that might help, but we just haven’t found the right one, yet.

      Depression is not like sadness because sadness happens all the time, to everyone. When you lose someone you love, you feel sad and that is normal. With depression, you are very, very sad all the time and it never goes away. It turns you into a different person.

      I strongly recommend saying that your sister died from despair or depression and distinguishing it as a special kind of sadness that is very scary. Specifically reassure them that they do not suffer from depression and that you do not suffer from depression (if that is true), and that they will not die or even get sick from being sad.

      By the way, I always doubt that God is real when I am suicidal, but as soon as the cloud lifts a little, I know the truth again. I think of suicide as a blindness. There is no way to see God or people or hope or even options in the midst of it, and it is extraordinarily difficult to call someone for help. Angie’s statements of doubt do not mean that she did not have faith when her mind was clear.

    • Mike Tibbetts

      Thanks for sharing Michael.

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