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Kay Warren: A Year of Grieving Dangerously
Image: Kay Warren
Matthew Warren during a recent visit to Africa.

About two weeks ago, Kay Warren's anger boiled over. The co-founder of Saddleback church wrote on Facebook, "As the one-year anniversary of Matthew's death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to 'move on.' … I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They're never coming back. We will never be the same again."

Within seven days, her 800-word missive had gone viral with 3.75 million readers and 10,000 comments. Thousands of individuals shared stories of lost family members due to illness, suicide, or accidents. They recounted the insensitivity of family and friends, and their own shame and guilt about their overwhelming grief.

Mental illness and depression are linked to suicide, and Matthew had borderline personality disorder. Today [March 28], Saddleback senior pastor Rick Warren and Kay will convene one of the largest ever, one-day gatherings of Christian leaders focused on the role of churches in addressing mental illness. The event is sold out. Recently, Kay Warren agreed to her first in-depth interview about her son's suicide with Timothy C. Morgan, CT senior editor, global journalism.

The response to your Facebook post has been staggering. Was it written on the fly or what?

In the last month, there were four instances where I was subtly or not subtly moved along. I was having lunch with a mother younger than I am who was recently bereaved. Her loss was 14 months ago. I said, "Before the one-year mark was up, did you have people telling you, hinting or saying to you that you should move on?" I asked other people who had lost children. I was hearing the same story. It just made me mad. I jotted off that Facebook post and have been completely astounded by the response—3,780,000 views and more than 10,000 comments.

Aren't most of the comments supportive?

Somebody wrote, "I want to print words around my neck that say, 'Please just read Kay Warren's Facebook post.'"

I want to honor those people who told me their story. I identify with them. I grieve with them. I weep with them. People feel guilty and ashamed. They feel guilty that their loss tanked them so badly and shame that it still has them in that place of deep grief. Rick and I have been the beneficiaries of an extraordinary outpouring of love and sympathy and empathy and compassion.

What do people who have lost children to suicide hope for?

I'm saying, "Don't push me to move on faster than I can go." In many ways you're forever changed. Jerry Sittser says in Grace Disguised, "It's really pointless to compare grief." When my father passed away six years ago at 86 with cancer, I grieved and I mourned and I wept, and it still touches my heart. On the other hand, my dad at 86 had lived a very full and rich life and had seen the fulfillment of his dreams and had a rich marriage.

Kay Warren and son Matthew.
Kay Warren

Kay Warren and son Matthew.

I can tell you the experience of losing my 27-year-old, mentally ill son a year ago was not at all the same as losing my dad. He died young. He took his life, and he did it in a violent way. We are scarred. We have two decades of living with a severely mentally ill person that traumatized us. It's not clean grief. There's guilt. There's regret. There's horror.

The grief of my friend, whose daughter was murdered, has an aspect that's even different than mine. I haven't walked in her shoes. We're so quick to say, "Oh, I know how you feel," and we usually add the words exactly: "I know exactly how you feel." I want to say, "No. Excuse me. You do not." The best we can do is to say, "My heart breaks for you. I have experienced grief, and my heart aches for you."

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Kay Warren: A Year of Grieving Dangerously