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My Journey Out of Darkness
Story by Meredith Carter
“No, no, noooo he didn’t!” I screamed. He couldn’t have, I thought, as my body went numb and my mind spun in disbelief. I tried again to digest the emergency responder’s words: “I’m sorry, ma’am. I have some bad news for you. Your husband has died.”
I collapsed on the hard, cold floor in the hotel lobby where I was staying for a business trip. I demanded from her: “What? How?!” She softly replied, “I’m so very sorry, ma’am. He took his own life.”
He committed suic … ?! I couldn’t even finish the word in my mind, but in my heart, somehow I knew it was true. “My God, help me!” I repeated over and over. After someone assisted me to a nearby couch, I sat in a daze, then realized I needed to call my parents. I could barely whisper, “He’s dead, Mom.” She also screamed and cried, then desperately asked me, “Honey, are you going to be okay? Can you make it back?” I answered robotically, “I don’t know, but I have to.”
The night was torturous and long, but I finally got home where I was met with a barrage of loved ones, neighbors and co-workers. As we wept together, I realized I simply wasn’t ready to face my daughters, Mylah and Madalyn, only 4 and 2 at the time. In an instant, their lives had been forever changed and they didn’t even realize it yet. Later, as I gazed upon them napping peacefully, I fell to the floor and wept again. The reality hit me like a bus—the life that we had together as a family of four, the one I was so proud to call my own, no longer existed.
A Look Back
During the following weeks and months, the question that continued to run through my mind was, “Where did it all go so terribly wrong?” McCants and I were happy. Sure we had our ups and downs, but we were committed to making it work. We were both raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and went to Adventist schools. In fact, we met in 1998 while attending Washington Adventist University, located in Takoma Park, Md. From that moment on, we were inseparable. We dated for seven years then blissfully married in 2005. That was the happiest day of our lives, besides the later births of our daughters.
As I look back over our last year together, there were signs my husband was suffering from depression. He isolated himself from family, slept more than usual, easily became irritable and sullen, and made erratic spending choices. The one time I confronted him about possibly being depressed, he got extremely defensive. Every day brought new challenges. At times, he was on top of the world. On other days, he distanced himself completely. I became resentful and ashamed for constantly making excuses for his absence at family gatherings. I was bitter that I carried the load of watching over the children while he left the house to do as he pleased. He simply wasn’t himself, and our marriage suffered as a result. But, never for a second did I think he would take his own life.
Nothing could prepare me for the physical, emotional and spiritual pain that crippled me in the following months. Having to tell my children that their father would never come home again left me empty and aching. I spent many nights rocking Mylah to sleep after hours of searching for daddy or sobbing uncontrollably by the door. Only then would I also surrender to sleep on my tear-stained pillow. There were seemingly endless nights of wonder and guilt, and the what-ifs engulfed me: What if I had just stayed home from my trip? What if I had called to say “I love you” one last time? Did he think of me, the girls, his mother? If so, how could he go through with it?
My questions were endless, but even worse, the answers were not there. I had nowhere to go but to God, but I was angry with Him. How could a loving Father allow such a tragedy to happen to us? Yet, through this anger, I clung to Him with every ounce of my soul. I knew in my heart I could not take one breath or one step without Him by my side. When I challenged God with, “You said you would never give me more than I can handle. What have I done to deserve this?” He gave me verses of comfort, like “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, ESV), and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5, ESV).
Learning a “New Normal”
As the months rolled on, the girls and I developed a “new normal.” We resumed daily activities, but I still barely felt like I existed.
When I returned to work and church, I was met with mixed reactions. Some shared an awkward glance as they passed me silently in the hall. Some asked more questions than I cared to answer. Others offered their opinion about his thought process or his spiritual outcome. I tried desperately not to take anything they said or didn’t say personally, but it was difficult. Some days I just wanted to be left alone; other days I wanted someone to let me unburden my thoughts and feelings. I was thankful to those who offered a simple “I’m praying for you” or “I’m here for you if you want to talk.”
While I continued to search for purpose in all of the grief, I began to think about what Jesus would do. Would He wallow in self-pity? Would He detach Himself from those around Him? The answer was undeniably “no.” It was then I knew God had a special plan for me, and I began to feel that He would use this tragedy for good.
Finding Purpose in the Pain
The most significant part of my healing started to take place on a typical morning drive into work at the General Conference building in Silver Spring, Md. I was listening to the radio, which I rarely did in those days, and heard an announcement about the annual charity event Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). I learned that participants walk 16-18 miles overnight to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention research, education and advocacy. I immediately knew this was something I had
to do. I rushed into work and logged into the AFSP website (afsp.org) to register for the upcoming walk in Washington, D.C. Within 24 hours, I exceeded raising the necessary $1,000 to participate. I knew I’d found a purpose in all this sadness—I was surviving to make a difference.
As the event drew closer, I felt stronger in my purpose, but my apprehension grew as well. I knew this walk would not be easy, physically or emotionally.
I was going to be surrounded by others who have been affected by suicide, depression and mental illness. I questioned if I should put myself through this and bring up all the pain I had worked so hard to move past. My answer always came back to Romans 8:28 (ESV), “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for the good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God never said life would be easy, but He did promise He would never leave us or forsake us.
As I arrived at the event, with two of my closest friends by my side, I was overwhelmed by the feelings that washed over me: excitement, a sense of kinship with the other walkers, indescribable sadness for the loss so many of us had experienced and strength from deep within. I knew that God guided me to this point and had used my pain to mold me into the person He wants me to become. It would take strength and courage to complete this walk, but I remembered God is “close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18, ESV).
As we walked that night, I shed many tears passing historical landmarks that my family had visited. I longingly gazed upon the spot where the four of us sat, under the cherry blossoms, for a picnic lunch. As we approached the Washington Monument, my stomach churned as I recalled the first time we took the girls to visit the tall structure. But with each weary and painful step, my determination grew. I thought of my beautiful girls, and how grateful I am to have them—they are a light in my life. I thought of my parents, who have been my rock. And, I thought of McCants, who I loved and missed so dearly. That night my anger toward his decision was replaced with sweet memories and sadness for the unimaginable pain he must have endured to want to end his life.
As we crossed the finish line, the adorned luminaries that lined the sidewalk took my breath away. Each one told the story of a lost person. Then one by one, exhausted walkers fell down in the grass to wait for the sun to rise and the closing ceremony to begin. There was a peaceful silence, and I tearfully reflected on the previous 22 months. I could never have imagined such growth, and, at that moment, I thanked God for leading me here. When the sun broke the horizon, I felt a new chapter begin. No, the pain had not vanished nor the sense of loss, but my faith was strengthened.
I will continue to advocate for suicide prevention, if only to save one life. I simply pray that my testimony might offer others peace. If I can conclude with one thought, it is to quote the mantra, “Only God can turn a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, a trial into a triumph, a victim into a victory.” God’s plan is not always our plan, but it is perfectly divine.
Meredith Carter attends Chesapeake Conference’s Spencerville church in Silver Spring, Md.
Click here for Meredith’s 8 tips for Survivors of Suicide Loss.
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