Tag Archives: family

Book Review — Fireflies: Finding Light in a Dark World

Spiritual Memoir: a Sister Shares Her Quest to Help Her Brother Face a Mental Illness.

In Fireflies: Finding Light in a Dark World, a new release from Morehouse Publishing, Heather Gordon-Young draws the reader into the painful and baffling world faced by a family when serious mental illness affects one of its members. With rich almost poetic language, she bravely and sensitively shares both ordinary and painful experiences and mystifying holy moments — experiences that cannot be explained with logic, only with the heart. Heather’s story tells how her fierce love for her brother and her commitment to find help for him led her literally to the other side of the earth and to an exploration of the inner depths of her own faith.

When confronted with a stranger instead of the person you know, witnessing a loved one in the midst of a psychotic episode can be a horrifying experience, but stories like Heather’s must be told if we are to know the pain of serious mental illness and work for more compassionate churches and institutions. Heather’s experiences and her brother’s illness show how organized religion and the mental health system are frequently ill-equipped to help with problems that do not fit into predefined conditions.

After many soul-challenging events, Heather discovered sometimes there’s nothing we can do but be present with another person’s pain, and that is doing the thing that must be done. Fireflies is a fascinating story and will generate the kind of discussions faith communities need to have to look honestly at what they can do to be more responsive to people and families facing mental illness.

Fireflies: Finding Light in a Dark World by Heather Gordon-Young
Morehouse Publishing, $22.00
ISBN-10: 0819232009


Thompson Child & Family Focus

A ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, Charlotte-based Thompson Child & Family Focus provides a wide range of prevention- and treatment-focused mental and behavioral healthcare services for children and families.



Created by clergy and laity of the Diocese of Atlanta and launched in May 2009, CareForTheTroops is a 501c3 non-profit “…meant to be an interfaith effort to help all who have mental health needs associated with the current and previous wars. …primary target audiences are not only the military member and their immediate family, but also the entire extended family system, congregation and community leaders, and civilian mental health professionals to help them better understand the military culture and trauma, and thus be better equipped to help those in need.”

CareForTheTroops was featured in the July 2009 issue of EMIN News.

Like Watching a Dancing Flame: A Mother’s Reflection on Suicide

by The Rev. Bean Murray

The recent tragic high profile death of the beloved celebrity Robin Williams has had our whole nation thinking about the issue of suicide and what, if anything, our society can do about addressing the problem. My own son Chris died by suicide in 2001, and as a survivor, I know I feel each new suicide with a profound sorrow and a sense of regret for each life ended too soon.

Robin Williams’ death was particularly painful for me not only because I had delighted in his outlandish behavior and acting skill for decades, but because of a unique connection to Chris. Chris had bipolar disorder, and for people who have never witnessed someone’s mind in a manic state, I have often explained that Chris was behaving like Robin Williams on speed – thoughts and word connections and jokes and plays on words came cascading from Chris with incredible rapidity. Like Robin Williams, it was hard to keep up with his train of thought, but when you did catch up, you realized how brilliant and funny it was, and in Chris’ case how heart wrenching it was to witness a loved one in such a state. The MSNBC news commentator Chris Hayes described observing Williams’ behavior as “like watching a dancing flame.” As my son Chris said about himself, in the midst of an episode he was “Chris squared.”

Chris’ death was the impetus for my ministry in EMIN, but for a number of years I shied away from suicide prevention work. What did I have to offer there? After all, in spite of everything, I had been a total failure in saving my own child’s life.

My daughter Cara has turned her grief to a positive direction and has brought me along with her. She, her husband Heath, and other friends who have experienced the suicide of family and friends have formed a chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in Nashville, Tennessee, and their annual “Out of the Darkness” walk will take place on September 13. This will be their fifth annual walk. Thus far, their chapter has raised over $100,000 for local prevention programs and support for the national foundation.

Cara’s ministry to me has been to draw me in by asking me to give the invocation before each walk begins. Again this year, I will pray, standing before hundreds of walkers whose pain I share, wearing my beads that symbolize that my child died from suicide, and once again, Heath, Cara, my husband Paul, and I will stand there with our arm’s around each other and shed tears as we release our balloons carrying symbolic messages to Chris. Then, the walk will begin in quiet respect for those who have died and with renewed hope that, in some small way, we can help to prevent future acts of suicide and that we can help keep others from ever knowing our pain.

“Out of the Darkness” walks take place all over the country and AFSP chapters work throughout the year to bring suicide into the light of research and understanding. You can find your local chapter and the walk closest to you at www.afsp.org.

You can also help by sharing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

CareForTheTroops Offers Resources to Assist Returning Troops and Their Families

A thoughtful discussion among a group of Episcopalians has developed into a program for congregations, clergy and individuals to help military families and troops returning from war areas. CareForTheTroops is a not-for-profit interfaith effort designed to address the spiritual and psychological needs of military families while working with congregations to make them more welcoming and understanding of the issues they face. The comprehensive website, www.CareForTheTroops.org, provides tools, resources and links aimed to equip congregations to reach out and support the military and/or their family members.

In the planning stages for 15 months, CareForTheTroops was created by clergy and laity of the Diocese of Atlanta. “The idea started with the Rev. Robert Certain, an Episcopal priest and ex-POW, and Billy Harrison, a vestry member and former Air Force officer, at St. Peter and St. Paul in Marietta, Georgia. I joined shortly thereafter,” recalls Peter McCall, currently the Executive Director. “It’s meant to be an interfaith effort to help all who have mental health needs associated with the current and previous wars. Their primary target audiences are not only the military member and their immediate family, but also the entire extended family system, congregation and community leaders, and civilian mental health professionals to help them better understand the military culture and trauma, and thus be better equipped to help those in need.”

He added, “We’re not pro-war, we’re not anti-war. We want to help the troops and their families by starting a military ministry of awareness and acceptance.”

According to the website, goals for the program are:

  • To work to improve the ability of the civilian mental health infrastructure in the State of Georgia, then nationally, to work with military family members
  • To facilitate connecting military families to providers of spiritual and psychological services familiar with the military culture and trauma
  • To focus on addressing combat stress recovery as well as other spiritual and mental health related problems impacting the marriages and families of military veterans
  • To educate and train clinicians, congregations and community leaders, extended family, and civilian groups about the military culture and trauma associated with military deployments in order to better assess and treat mental health symptoms, and provide more effective referrals and care and provide opportunities for additional trauma treatment training to clinicians
  • To operate in an interfaith, non-political manner, focusing on the humanitarian interest that benefits the veterans and their extended family members

CareForTheTroops has attracted the attention and support of Bishop Suffragan George Packard of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Federal Ministries as well as Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta, who wrote to his diocese on May 11, 2009:

I am pleased to announce a new ministry initiated by the rector and people of St. Peter and St. Paul in Marietta.

On May 1, CareForTheTroops was launched as a 501(c)(3) charity to benefit military members, veterans, and their families. They are developing a coalition of faith groups, civic leaders, the Georgia Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and clinicians to specialize in treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder as a network of civilian groups to fill the gaps where the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs leave off.

CareForTheTroops provides an excellent model for others to use in creating a meaningful, long-term ministry to our men and women who have borne the burden of battle.