“…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:4.
Her husband died when their youngest child was two years old. Four children, and the breadwinner was no more. The three older children were sent to live with relatives. The youngest went to an orphanage. She figured it would take her a good year to get on her feet financially and come to a place where she could gather her brood together again.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health 6.7% of the US population experience “major depressive disorders” each year. Such disorders interrupt one’s work, sleep, appetite, ability to study and capacity for enjoying life. Women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression in their lifetime.
She was right. It did take a year, but she did it. The youngest – now three-going-on-four years old – remembers the day his mother came to take him home from the orphanage. His recollection was that life at home was good. He did all the things boys do – a paper route, shenanigans with his older siblings. He recalled that his mother worked hard, but she kept the house together and made a home for herself and her children.
You may not recognize the name Yoshiki Sasai, but you might recall the scientific paper that made claims for significant advances in stem cell research. The paper was published, then later retracted because of “errors and allegations of misconduct”. Dr. Sasai was a renowned Japanese scientist and leading researcher in stem cell studies. But as important as he was, even his international reputation and the high regard with which he was held around the world could not shield him against depression. Colleagues were stunned this week to learn that Dr. Sasai had become so depressed that he had taken his own life.
The family grew up and the children got married and had children of their own. Though they hadn’t been rich, she had managed to provide a house and a measure of stability for the family. Somewhere along the way she had acquired a level of expectation for her offspring. They were to “marry up” – or at least on the same socioeconomic plain as their own humble roots. Though it is hard to identify just how or when that attitude entered her thinking, it was strong enough so that when her youngest fell in love with the daughter of a poor rural farmer and fruit peddler, she was not pleased.
Vermonters – and folks associated with Vermont Law School across the country – were stunned to learn recently of Cheryl Hanna’s death. Even more troubling was the fact that her life ended at her own hand. She was married, had two children and was extremely popular among her students at VLS. She was “an influential scholar on domestic violence laws” and a “highly visible media commentator in Vermont”. She had it all … including depression. Her husband said she had been “twice hospitalized for treatment for depression in the nine days before she died.” She knew what she was up against in terms of her mental illness; but knowledge wasn’t enough to stave it off.
So troubled was his mother over his relationship that when the young couple determined to be married she refused to attend the wedding. How could a mom who had worked so hard to demonstrate her love for her family hold such resentment in her heart for the love of her youngest son’s life? The answer is that there was a lot more going on than “resentment”. Three weeks after her youngest was married, having given so much for so long, mental illness and depression accomplished their final deed. She took her life, leaving her family stunned by the sadness of it all.
At some point in their lives one in ten Americans will struggle with depression, and 80% of those who suffer clinical symptoms do not receive any treatment or therapy. The number of people diagnosed with depression grows by 20% every year. We all belong to families in which someone at some time experiences depression. Right now that “someone” might be you.
If this is a time of sadness, weeping or mourning for you, find someone you trust and talk to them. It’s time for all of us to wake up and own up, to speak up and listen up.
That was my grandmother – a woman I never had the privilege of meeting. It was my dad she came to the orphanage to pick up, and how he smiled when he would recall that wonderful day. It was my mom and dad’s wedding she refused to attend. I think she would have been proud of her son. I think she would have loved his children and been amazed at how good a mother was this farmer’s daughter of a daughter-in-law he had chosen.
Depression robbed her of all of that … It robbed us, too. I wish I knew how to make this thief go away.
BBC Documentary: The Truth About Depression