I write this with grieving in my heart. I was standing in the doorway of a hospital room a few days ago, about to visit a patient, when a call came on my cellphone. I listened in disbelief to a family member telling me that a detailed note had been left, with instructions on where the body could be found. I could only say, “Our beautiful brother Doug is gone.”
Afterwards, I found a private place to wail with sadness and grief. As I write this, the tears still come easily.
There is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that he was the kindest, most selfless man I knew. He was the one who came home to care for Mom and Dad in their later years, so they would not have to take up residence in a nursing home. Dad passed away within a few years, and Mom lived two years longer. My, how he loved his Mom, and lavished on her the tender care she needed which my sister, the nurse, said was beyond Level 4.
I called him The Man of a Million Kindnesses and they flowed from an exceedingly tender heart. He grew up in West Africa as I did, in what was the second-poorest country in the world. I think it marked him forever. He had such a huge, sympathetic heart for disadvantaged and downtrodden people, and was fierce in his defence of them.
He was also very practical in the help he gave. He wanted people, including his nephews and nieces, to learn skills, and to do things for themselves. So, for example, when he was doing a big volunteer painting project, he offered the roller to those who came by, young and old, to let them have the joy of learning a skill. And he had so many talents to teach, including construction skills, painting and gourmet cooking.
I will tell just one story of kindness from my brother Doug's life. It happened a little over a year ago. A young man was delivering papers to towns and businesses in the Spalding area, and his car died near the Ruten farm. One of my relatives gave the young man a ride into town, and when my brother Doug understood his situation, he got his own car and, for the next couple hours, took the young man on his route to complete delivery of his papers. Then he drove him the 40 miles back to his home in Melfort at no charge to the young man. That is just one example of literally thousands that could be highlighted, illustrating Doug's kind heart and generosity. He had never met this young man before, and would probably never see him again. Kindness flowed from him like a river.
But he struggled. Often, it is the kindest ones who have the biggest battles.
He struggled with his bipolar condition, and the frequent depression that came with it. At certain times of the year, he would become reclusive. We had hour-long conversations every two or three weeks. During the last long conversation we had, he told me that, no matter who came to his door asking for money, he always gave them something. And, believe me, he did not have a lot of money to give. But everyone who knew him was struck by his extraordinary kindness towards people, and generosity with them. He was always encouraging family members to call each other, and keep in touch.
He didn't want to hurt anyone.
But he did, by the way he ended his own life. I'm sure he had another million kindnesses in him.
He never wanted to cause trouble for anyone. He left a note for the RCMP who would find his body in the bush at the end of his six-hour drive up north. In the note, he apologized for the trouble he had caused them.
I feel I need to say to people who are hurting, depressed, maybe in despair: “If you are thinking about ending your life: Please don't! Choose life!” Those few who survived the terrible leap from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco were all so happy to be alive! No matter how bad it feels now, you can live to feel joy again!
I, too, have sunk into emotional depths where life hardly seemed worth living. But I am glad to be alive! I'm so grateful that I did not follow the powerful emotions of a low moment, and end it all.
An Emily Dickinson poem has meant a lot to me:
“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
“I shall not live in vain;
“If I can ease one life the aching,
“Or cool one pain,
“Or help one fainting robin
“Unto his nest again,
“I shall not live in vain.”
Your life means a lot to people around you! Reach out to one of them. Give them a call; give me a call, if you need to!
Jesus said that he came that we might have life to the full (John 10:10). He can reach you however deeply you have sunk. He reached me! Choose to reach out to Him. Choose life!