Today has been a hard day, like, really hard. Today, I held my friend as she sobbed on my shoulder. We stood together next to her son lying peacefully in his casket. Barton was 34 years old, and we paid our final respects at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Holdrege, Nebraska. Barton had a good life and he was loved by many, but the challenges he faced on this earth were too great. He had hundreds of friends and family members who supported him and tried to help him in this life, but ultimately, a disease had a strong hold on Barton.
We have an amazing God, and He called Barton home to give him peace. I know with all my heart that Barton is walking with our Father because God decided he had struggled with his illness for long enough. Now comes the beautiful truth that Barton is whole again. He is at peace. I know Sherry’s faith, my friend and Barton’s mother. We shared many stories of faith, healing, and signs from God in the years we shared an office as special education teachers. So today I was heartbroken when I saw the gray skies. Just what she needs, cloudy skies, I thought. So I did what I have learned to do on so many occasions.
Heavenly Father, I know You are here with us.
I know you know Sherry and the family, so I am asking you now.
Please give them light – Your light, sunlight, light in their hearts.
Help them see through the darkness they are feeling.
Help us all see You.
In Your Son’s holy and precious name. Amen.
The pastor who spoke at this funeral withheld nothing; he discussed that those of us whom are left on this earth to try to heal without someone we loved have it the worst. Could we have done more? Would Barton have accepted help if we had shown up on his doorstep just one more time? The answer lies in understanding that we will never have answers. God places good in our lives everywhere; but we have to choose to see the good. We have to choose to live every single day. And if we can’t do that on this earth, because God sent His son for us, we can be at peace knowing that our God is all-forgiving. He is only good. And those we loved so wholly get to be whole once again.
Did you know there is no time in Heaven? When I spoke to Sherry the day after Barton passed, I shared with her what a faith mentor of mine helped me understand. I struggled when friends lost their children; I imagined that all these children in Heaven only want one thing…their parents. It’s hard to imagine a world without fear, without pain, without questions; we can’t even fathom it. So I struggled with the idea that if I lose my children, they won’t miss me? How can that be? How can my children not miss me when my heart is breaking for them?
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” 2 Peter 3:8 (ESV)
And I understood. When those we love walk through Heaven’s gates and meet Jesus, they may very well ask, “Where is my mom?” And I imagine that Jesus may answer something like, She will be here any minute. There. Behind you.
Barton is okay. As I sat silent next to my husband, I watched the clouds outside the enormous picture windows part. I watched the blue sky emerge as hundreds shed tears of pain and cleansing, of forgiveness and faith, and of hope. I leaned in and told my husband what I had prayed. He answered, “I noticed that too.”
But my story doesn’t end here – I know God makes good come from every situation. And even as I sat mourning for my friend midst the loss of her son, I felt healing. More importantly, I witnessed healing on behalf of my husband, who came with me to this funeral in support of Sherry and I. But he was there for a much greater purpose, and now we understand.
Jeremy has fought illness very similar to Barton’s for years. Barton struggled with alcoholism because he didn’t understand his brain, but Jeremy has suffered from severe suicidal thoughts, often not understanding why he should have to take on such a monster within himself. The Why me? is very dangerous, but it is also very common. It is a stage of grief before acceptance of mental illness is possible. After years of battling by himself because of his refusal to let anyone in, Jeremy finally began accepting help. He finally understood that God had placed good everywhere in his life to help him see Him. He survived five suicide attempts, a near-death car accident likely caused by a medication failure, and an awful lot of medication adjustments because of meds that caused him to black out or have horrible suicidal thoughts.
It seemed like hell on earth, but do you know why he fought? He fought for us.
Jeremy is a daddy. He is a husband, a son, a brother, a son-in-law, brother-in-law, nephew, grandson, cousin, friend…everything. He is everything to many. And when we walked out of that funeral and shut the door to our van, Jeremy hung his head and sobbed.
“It was like sitting at my own funeral. It was like watching the pain left behind,” Jeremy said through tears. “That could have been me. That could have been you.”
His tears dropped one after another into his lap and I joined. We tried to console each other, but mostly we just cried together. Jeremy and I had not said a word to each other as we sat there looking through the glass at a wall of windows with enormous and breathtaking crosses towering outside, but we both felt it. I shed tears as I remembered those days not knowing if I was about to begin planning my husband’s funeral. Watching hearts break on this earth because of missing someone so desperately is torture. Even with the faith in knowing our loved ones are whole again, it is still hard. And that’s okay. We can all learn from loss. We can choose to let sadness envelop us, or we can choose to see the good.
We said goodbye today and we supported Barton’s family and friends. But God helped us heal ourselves at the same time. He let us see what it would be like to lose Jeremy to his illness, to be separated on this earth, to not follow what we completely understand to be our mission in this life. We are still here together for a reason.
We are ready to dedicate ourselves to helping others understand there is hope in mental illness. It’s okay to accept help; it doesn’t make us weak. Today, we can say that Jeremy’s depression is the best thing that ever happened to us; it led us to our faith in God and our purpose in life.
Our book, “Never Alone: A Husband and Wife’s Journey with Depression and Faith”, was published this year. It tells our past story of hurt, anger, and finding faith and healing, but now we think it’s time to write more because we continue to see God at work in our lives. It’s time to keep the story moving, to explain how submitting to God’s will and embracing the past, rather than being afraid of it, continues to help us heal as we share our story – complete with tears and triumphs. We found hope and we pray we can help others find it too.
As we continued to drive home talking about our faith and our trust in knowing we are on the right path, I noticed a voice mail on my phone. Last night, I wrote a simple thank you letter to the staff and administration at Richard Young Hospital in Kearney, the place I brought my husband to on September 11, 2009 the first time he tried to take his life. I brought him there to keep him safe from himself, and it was one of the hardest days of my life. But it began our journey toward the acceptance of faith and healing. The voicemail was from a woman named Marsha at CHI Health Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney; she received our thank you and asked if we would be willing to share our story with many at the Light Up the Night walk for mental health awareness this Friday night, September 11, 2015 in Kearney. The tears continued to fall as Jeremy said the dates are not a coincidence. The walk is six years to the day from his first mental health hospitalization. And we were already signed up to attend and support others and ourselves since Jeremy’s sister demanded our presence with her; she desperately wanted to walk in support of us and in healing herself. Watching your brother live with mental illness is not easy; supporting is not easy. But Jacqui, you are an inspiration to us all and you never would take no for an answer. We love that about you. So Friday, on the six year anniversary of the first time Jeremy fought the darkness so hard, we are humbled to speak at the Light Up the Night walk for mental health awareness in Kearney.
We had a breakthrough today as we said goodbye to Barton and supported his family and friends. Good has already come from this and I can’t imagine the peace Barton has now, it’s impossible to comprehend. Today, I watched my husband cry. I watched my husband heal. I watched my husband get truly fired up for his purpose while he is here on this earth with us.
To the family and friends of Barton, please take pride in knowing we feel Barton with us. We didn’t know him well, but we know his mother well. We know her desire to do anything to help others, and we imagine Barton is just like her cheering us on in Heaven. While a disease on earth held Barton back from being whole, he is whole again now and he is already doing amazing things. It’s time to help others. God bless you all.
Learn more about us, Jeremy and Bailey Koch, on our website. There, you can find our story and even purchase our book, “Never Alone: A Husband and Wife’s Journey with Depression and Faith”, on Amazon or from us directly in paperback.