In almost four years of writing my blog, I’ve never had this happen. On Tuesday, guest writer Rachel Wilhelm posted a dark, but lovely, tribute to her sister, Errin, who died in 2010 after a long battle with mental illness. I thought that was it.
The next day, Rachel casually shot me an email with the rest of the story of what happened after her sister died. It was beautifully written, and I couldn’t believe she hadn’t told me about it when she submitted “The Other Victims of Mental Illness.” With a little work, we were able to get the piece together as a Friday follow-up. Please take a moment to read it. It’s a powerful, touching conclusion.
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After receiving a returned letter from my sister’s address that said “Deceased,” I wanted to believe there had been a mistake. She had been unstable for years, due to an ongoing struggle with mental illness, but she was 33. This couldn’t be the end – not so early, not without me being there with her.
I called the coroner’s office in the county where she lived, and a woman answered. I told her my sister’s name.
Her voice cracked. “Oh, um, I’m so sorry honey. I – I – hate to tell you this over the phone, but she’s here with us. The coroner just finished an autopsy on her today.”
I started weeping.
“We tried to find you,” she said. “We saw the name Rachel in some documents, but we had no current address. I can’t believe you found us. Oh, I’m so glad she has someone. We were at our wit’s end trying to find someone who would claim her.”
Errin had been dead for two weeks before they found her lying on a mattress on the grimy floor of an apartment with no furniture – only boxes. The autopsy report came back normal – nothing drug related, no overdose.
The only thing suspicious was that she was 5′ 9″ and weighed 108 pounds when they brought her in. She was emaciated. I told the coroner that she struggled with anorexia, and that solved any mystery surrounding the cause: she starved to death.
When her apartment manager delivered a box of Errin’s personal effects to me, it was not comforting.
There were diaries, documents, letters, bills, pictures, and her CDs. And then there was her purse with her lipstick and laundromat money, which disturbed me. I couldn’t comprehend how these items, so personal, were with me – yet she wasn’t.
She had art pads filled with her ink art – lovely drawings with geometric order in brilliant and beautiful colors. It was a strange testimony to order in the world of an otherwise disordered person who was always struggling with her identity, Christianity, and acceptance.
Most troubling were her large art pages with quoted Scriptures about not being condemned and having victory over sin. I learned that they covered the wall over her bed – the bed she was in when she starved to death.
When Errin and I were girls, we used to talk about how we were going to have families at the same time – beautiful children, handsome husbands, full lives.
I think it broke her heart to see that I was living this dream, and she was left with this horrible trap of mental illness, always spiraling down steadily. Not that she resented me – she didn’t – it just seemed unfair that she had somehow missed the train and stayed 16 while I grew up and took care of her. And now I couldn’t even do that.
All I could do was pilfer through the very little she left behind, searching for some meaning to all of it. It did nothing but reduce me to tears as I thought of how sad her life was with no one to show her love like she wanted – not even the God she believed in. He was unpredictable, angry, sometimes loving, but vengeful – the one who made her life unfair; the one who made her miss the train, the one who let all these things happen to her.
I had spent so many years trying to convince her otherwise, and now that battle was over. I didn’t know what to do with her or myself.
One day, I laid on my bed and bawled so hard that my eyes were sore, and when I closed them, I saw her as if I were dreaming. She was wearing a large gardening hat and kneeling in a vegetable garden. Although she was looking in my direction, she didn’t notice me at all. Then suddenly, she looked upward and I felt a strong, full presence behind me.
I did not look to see who or what it was. I just saw Errin’s face. She was breathtaking, radiant – finally, the beautiful woman who had always been hidden behind all those layers of mental illness. I had never seen her so satisfied before, so full. But that look in her eyes was unmistakable – her dream had finally come true: she was looking into the face of her one true Husband and the Lover of her soul.
Tears. And hugs for you.
wow thank you for the picture of hope and our Gods perfect love
Go rest high on that mountain, girl your troubled world is through. Go to heaven a shouting love for the Father and the Son.
Thank you for sharing this. God has recently brought me through a 20 year ever-deepening struggle with depression. This was something I never would have thought could happen to me. And, that deep dark pit of despair is hell! I am so sad for the time lost, but know that with God, nothing is lost. We recently moved to Costa Rica, my husband and I. It took me a year and a half, and the Lord has gently spoken reason to my soul. I do not have all my questions answered and I don't understand the paths the Lord allows some of us to travel in order for us to learn the "deep secrets of the dark places" as described in scripture but there certainly are treasures in dark places that He has allowed me to experience and I am grateful that the true result of this is that I now can trust Him entirely, even if I am not sure about how to trust others many times. I feel that I have been defibrillated back to emotional and mental health. I will always have to be aware of things that may trigger this response and continue with medication, but our dear Lord is incredibly kind and gentle, beyond comprehension and beyond the grasp of many, including Christians who know nothing about this or don't fully understand the ramifications of this heart-wrenching, tumultuous condition. To tell a Christian that it is sinful to be depressed is truly lack of knowledge and understanding and compassion regarding a condition that plagues thousands of people today. I asked someone why I had to lose the best 20 years of my life to this and I thank God for his response. It was, "Why do those years have to have been the best years of your life? Maybe you are now just coming into them." Thank you Jesus!.. and I now tell people that I feel like I have been transplanted to the land of Psalm 23!… the green pastures the still waters, and He is restoring my soul. The struggle still exists but I am not in the deep dark pit anymore. Life is still a struggle with many challenges that seem overwhelming some days, but the difference for me now is that I now KNOW that I can trust the Lord to care for me in ALL situations, even if I am terrified. He truly is the source of all freedom. Satan lies to us all the time! We have to learn NOT TO LISTEN! We have to learn to put all fears into prayer to the ONE AND ONLY SAVIOR! I AM blessed! Now I pray for daily, hourly, minute by minute protection by an army of God's angels to keep my focus in the right and BEST place. May God be with you, all who suffer horribly from this problem. Look to Him and to Him only! And ALL the time!
Joshua,Your posts are so vital to bring out the negative and deposit God's positive into lives of others. Thanks for your faithfulness. I remember a while back you thought about stopping writing and posting. Thankful you didn't stop. This post along with many others I've read makes me determine even more to stay alert to the needs of people the Lord brings into my path. You are a great motivator!Be continually blessed~
This was a beautifully written, heartfelt story. Thanks so much for sharing your life with us.
Thank you, everyone, for reading and letting Errin's story in. I'm thankful, Carol, that God has brought you out of the dark places and into His light. I know what those places look like and I have seen it impact others. God is merciful and kind to us all. Your words are inspiring.I appreciate all of the kind words and am encouraged by other beautiful brothers and sisters in Christ who display His love so freely!Rachel Wilhelm
Thank you for sharing that those don't have to be the best year of your life it spoke to me . God blessxx o
[…] For the follow-up post to this essay, read Rachel’s moving piece, “An Answer in Grief.” […]
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