It was 1987. I would have been 12 going on 13. A young friend of my cousins and my sister, although he would have been about 17 or 18, was dealing with severe manic depression as a result of bipolar disorder. Unfortunately the mental health services in Halton Region were completely useless at the time and unfortunately the young man committed suicide.
This was the first funeral I had ever attended, and the first at Holy Rosary Parish in Milton.
What happened during that service was, quite frankly, disgusting. In short during the sermon, the priest at the time said that the young man would not be allowed into heaven. You could hear the wailing of the whole congregation. Seeing the mother of the young man completely distraught was inexcusable. There was practically a revolt as youth who were attending shouted back at the priest. The priest would hear nothing of it. He, unilaterally, decided that the young man wouldn’t be allowed into heaven because he took his own life.
I know I was a mess after that, and while I didn’t feel I had any power to do anything, this sparked within me, how important peer counselling and mental health is, and that attitudes had to change. People living with mental health challenges such as bipolar disorder need compassion, understanding and help. And this is what drove me to volunteer in such programs.
I wasn’t going to change the church’s view, but I could do other things. Over the years, I hoped and prayed that attitudes would change.
And another suicide would happen again to a second friend a year and a half later in 1988. I wasn’t at that funeral – I should have been.
Yesterday I attended the funeral for a friend from high school who committed suicide. I was apprehensive about the church service knowing what happened in 1987. I still to this day feel the anger of that situation. That was not going to stop me from celebrating and grieving the life of my friend from high school, with the community of people that loved him. This was too important.
That said, the church has learned since that time. Our friend was sent on his way to the afterlife with full blessings. It was a beautiful thing to see, that attitudes have changed. This helps to bring some closure to a 27 or 28 years pain. I am still brought to tears thinking about this part of the service.
There are many things the Roman Catholic Church has done wrong over thousands of years. This doesn’t erase that, but it does show you can teach an old dog new tricks and that enlightenment can happen. I know Pope Francis is working to steer attitudes of the church, or so it seems. I pray that one day the Roman Catholic Church will somehow collectively atone for it’s sins.
This doesn’t mean I necessarily support the Roman Catholic Church, but I believe it is important to acknowledge positive changes seen. Thank you to the Pastor who celebrated a life lost yesterday and for providing that healing for me, and for providing a place where we don’t have to deal with old attitudes such as what happened in 1987.