As part of my grieving process, I feel the need to put some thoughts on paper. Some of these thoughts are not the kinds of things I normally write about or share publicly. I certainly don't blame anyone for not reading this, but if you do please read it in its entirety so you might better understand what I am trying to express.
Derek met Jesus face to face on July 24th, 2008. Normally guys like me say things like, "This is a day for rejoicing because our loved one has gone to a better place," and those are good words. However, rejoicing just doesn't seem appropriate right now. I have no doubts that Derek is now safe in the arms of Jesus and waiting for us in some mysterious way and that he has relief from his mental illness. Yes, those things are blessings. But I have trouble rejoicing when such a promising young life is ended, where family and friends are left to mourn and wonder what we could have done differently, and when one of the finest people I have ever known was so tormented that he saw no hope but to do the unthinkable.
Yes, rejoicing will come, but I'm not thankful for Derek's death yet. He amazed me when he was a young teenager and he amazed me as a college student. He was a leader where I ministered in Winchester and in Murfreesboro. I knew I could count on Derek. I knew he had a deep faith, deeper than practically anyone else his age. I knew that he liked my jokes. I knew that he liked to receive random CDs in the mail from me with ridiculous songs on it. I knew he loved his family immensely and that any funny thing I shared with him would be passed along to his dad, and vice-versa. I only recently came to know of his mental illness, and just last night discovered from his dad's comments that he was bipolar and schizophrenic. I knew that since February he had been tormented and suicidal, but I thought from conversations with him and his friends that he was getting better. I knew from Danny that the weekend before his death he had had a rough time. But when Brad shared with me the news last Thursday night, news that he warned was awful, I was not prepared to hear the words. I felt as if someone had kicked me in the gut. Mary and I both moaned as we sat in a hotel room in Philadelphia belatedly celebrating our ten year anniversary. We had known Derek nine of those years. My immediate concern was not for Derek, but for his mom and dad, and for all the young people who looked at him as an example of Christian faith. And it is not surprising that these were the same people on his mind as he penned his last words. He loved us all, but had lost hope.
He had not lost faith. I knew immediately that it was because of his faith that Derek took his own life. That might seem backwards, but it is true. He was so sure that Jesus would be there waiting for him in heaven that he was not afraid of taking that unthinkable step. I suppose that is what happens when a child of God is full of faith and void of hope. He thought there was no chance he would find relief, no chance to have a 'normal life,' and no chance that he could endure years of his illness. Even though he loved his family dearly, that love could not eclipse his hopelessness.
Derek made the wrong decision. I do not stand in judgment over him though I am still somewhat angry with him. I just wish I could have him back, shake him and convince him that there is hope, that the right medication might soon exist, that therapy could work... but I know that his parents said all those words and many more over and over. He could not be convinced by those who saw all that this tremendous young could be because he could not see it. I do not know how overwhelming the struggle with mental illness can be and thus can't pretend to say I would have done differently. But it was the wrong decision, a decision that was not his to make, and I hope that no young person sees in his decision permission to do the same.
Derek's 21st birthday is quickly approaching on August 6th, the first date that Dale and Beverly will have to utter the words, "Derek would have been... years old today." As friends of Derek's, we will mourn and then move on with our lives, thinking of him occasionally and being thankful for our happy memories. But Justin, Dale and Beverly will not have that luxury. Every good memory is now bittersweet and painful and, while the stinging pain will subside, the wound will never heal. That is why Derek made the wrong decision.
But I love Derek, miss him, and can't wait to see him in heaven. I told someone that when my dad died I felt for the first time a desire to be in heaven so I can see him and talk to him again. Derek makes it two people who really make me ache for heaven. Others I will be glad to see, but the presence of these two men makes it a place I need to be. I can't wait to worship God with them someday.
Pray for his family, and don't forget them.