Recently, I had the sad honor of officiating a memorial service for a very good man who took his own life. His brothers both spoke so honestly and well of him that my heart was moved. In this time when we are all aware of the power and sorrow of suicide, I want to share with you the eulogy that Dave Petersen wrote for his brother, Christopher. I know the post below is long, but I encourage you to read the eulogy in full. With my deepest gratitude to the Petersen family.
(For more information on the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus, see http://www.cincinnatimenschorus.org/
For more information about suicide prevention, see https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ )
written by Dave Petersen for his brother, Chris Petersen on February 24, 2018.
On behalf of the family, thank you all for being here. Especially the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus for being the glue that holds so many things together. You were the world to Chris. The love in this room today is overwhelming. Initially, I could not conceive of possibly standing here today before you. But, as the shock began to fade, I more and more felt an obligation to share some of my thoughts.
On behalf of Steve and myself, we would beg your patience as we speak. This is a tough one – usually my audience is four hungry people waiting for me to tell them what to eat.
Mental illness is a disease. There are many different types. There are varying degrees and they cast a wide net. For some they can be mildly annoying, others can be debilitating, and some can be fatal.
When our fellow human being dies, we have a natural need to know how and why this happened. We have a need to justify and to make sense of things in our own minds.
For instance, with lung cancer, we might think the probably smoked too much; “if only he didn’t smoke.” Or liver disease; “if only he didn’t drink so much.”
These are things we can make sense of and wrap our tiny minds around. Unfortunately, the diseases that affect the brain are the least understood. Certainly the most underfunded.
Sufferers are often stigmatized and morally judged. When the illness is in the brain, all bets are off. So often our way of helping can be dangerously judgmental. “If only he this…” or “if he would only do that” but that doesn’t work in cases of mental illness as it does for other afflictions. It is not their fault! It is not something that can be fixed just by “changing their mind” or taking a pill.
Look around this room. The love for our dear Chris fills this building. It is palpable, it is powerful. And it fills my heart to bursting.
This man did not just tough lives, he affected them deeply. And yet. For all this love in his life, his disease was more powerful. In Chris’s own words he wrote, “I have lost my battle with depression.”
How frightening it must be to face your mortal enemy, and not know how to fight him. I cannot imagine. I do know that for Chris, the mere thought of someone thinking ill of him was both tortuous and debilitating.
Such was Chris’ desire to please others.
When “us 3 boys” (And this is a term used in our family since Jerry and Norma started this whole mess – God rest their souls) They always insisted things were shared equally and no none was left out. We were always hearing, “You Three Boys.” We were a team.
In 1987, at the gentle urging of our Dad, us three boys opened a little restaurant on Ludlow Avenue.
Perhaps you heard of it.
The neighborhood was full of colorful characters then, as I’m sure it is now. We were welcomed with open arms!
One particular character popped into my mind as I sat gathering these thoughts. I don’t think he ever crossed my mind in the many years since selling our restaurants.
I never knew his name
I don’t believe we ever spoke.
I don’t know what happened to him or if he is still around. He was a fellow perhaps in his mid-thirties and he always wore a maroon high school letter jacket of sorts. Some here may remember him.
On the back of his jacket, in Very large letters, were the words, “SUPPORT INVISIBLE DISABILLITIES.”
Always gave me a chuckle. I had no clue, or empathy, or understanding of what this man must be experiencing. I would content that in 30 years we have not made much progress in our understanding.
And how was I to know that an invisible disability would ultimately claim one of us three boys.
May we all try to be better listeners. May we try to be a little kinder to those we may not understand. May we try not to judge. Tomorrow when the sun comes out, (and someone here promised me that it will) lets take a moment and give humble thanks for the sunshine in our lives that was Chris Petersen. God rest your beautiful soul. I love you, my brother.