Thursday, May 14, 2009

He is our Child Too!

Dear family and friends,
Lissy and I thank you for being with us, supporting us, and sharing our pain. On my trip to India accompanying my son’s body, some friends came to visit me in Dubai, and I shared my pain with them in a short sentence: I lost my child. One of them responded right away: He is our child too. I couldn’t understand what he meant for a moment. But his response made me think deeply and it has made a lasting impression on my mind. I have repeated this story several times since then. What he was telling me was that the pain was not just mine; those who are near and dear to us share my pain. I was not alone in this; many others are with me.
In fact, we keep on living because of the community around us. We don’t know with what purpose God has created us. But we keep on living because if we end our life, we will leave a lot of grief behind us. In the note Vineeth left us, he apologized for what he was about to do. He wrote, “I am sorry, I am very sorry. I know I will leave a lot of grief behind me.” He also said that he had been contemplating doing this for years. Each time probably what pulled him back was the thought of the enormous grief he would leave behind. The night before it happened he had a brief telephone conversation with his little cousin in India –Anumol. She was someone he had known since his childhood, and he loved her as his own younger sister. At the end of the farewell note, after writing everything he wanted to write and after putting his signature, he wrote a sentence as post script – My conversation with Anumol yesterday was heartbreaking. He was thinking of the enormous amount of grief he would leave in the mind of his young sister. It was heartbreaking to him because he could feel the powerful pull in his heart to both sides—to live or to die.
The force that keeps us going is the bond of love of the people around us. But there are times in everyone’s life when we feel that no one wants us, and we are a burden to the earth. We might even feel that even God has forsaken us. Remember the heartbreaking cry of Jesus from the cross, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” Influenced by the secularist and materialist culture he was immersed in, Vineeth doubted God’s existence temporarily, but he was slowly evolving into a stronger and well-grounded faith. He managed to live his life with his handicaps at least for a few years because of his faith. At the pinnacle of his pain, he probably cried in the same way, “God why have you forsaken me?”
One day when I was having a conversation with Vineeth about the basic necessities of human existence, he commented that contrary to the popular idea, the basic necessity of our life is a will to live. If we don’t have a will to live, we won’t live even if we have everything else. We all have a drive within us to live; that is why we live. None of us live an easy or painless life, but still we keep on living because of that drive. What if the pain we suffer is beyond our power to handle? Listening to him, I admitted that his pain and suffering were real, and I assured him that we, his parents, were with him in his pain and suffering. I talked to him about Stephen Hawking, the well-known British Physicist who keeps on living even though he can’t move any part of his body. I also reminded him of Helen Keller who lived a fruitful life although she was blind, deaf, and dumb. Although I tried to encourage him with such examples, I knew that unlike those people, Vineeth’s disability was in his brain itself. There were moments he could think clearly and feel happy. But most of the time, he was depressed.
Vineeth knew without doubt that we, his parents, loved him. He also knew that he was loved by his cousins and friends. He was very much aware that he would leave a lot of grief behind him. In spite of knowing this, he chose to end his life. Why? He was also very much aware of the stigma associated with mental illness in our community and in our world. I think that someone with a mental illness is seen as a leper was seen in Jesus’ time. Lepers were outcasts in Jesus’ world. It was a sickness without a cure, and it was believed that it was the result of a curse from God. Their mental agony was much more than their physical agony. Someone with a mental illness is treated almost in the same way in our community. He/she is an outcast. People consciously avoid their company. In the olden days such people were tied with ropes; today they are tied with chemicals. Other than that mental illnesses do not have any cure. Our medical science is still not sufficiently knowledgeable of the workings of human brain to cure its illnesses.
It seems that Vineeth had a suspicion that he was bipolar even when he was in High School, but he didn’t want anyone to know this about him, even his own parents. The greatest catastrophe happened to him when he had a manic episode when he was in college. He had to be admitted in a mental health care facility for two weeks. When I got him discharged from there, sitting in the car with me, he told me, “Dad, please do me a favor. Please don’t tell anybody that I have this bipolar disorder.” I agreed and I kept my word till the very end. Even when I took him to the psychiatrists, he preferred to see them by himself. Vineeth could never come to terms with his illness. He lived in denial. He could never accept that he had an illness he needed to take care of. Finally when he accepted that he had an illness, he came to the conclusion that life was not worth living with such an illness.
Last week, a coworker and a friend of mine shared with me her pain. She has a daughter of 18 years old. Being very intelligent, she is already in college, and she had expressed her intention to become a lawyer. Now she says she wants to go to California and be an actor. She even takes some acting classes in college. My coworker had already confided with me that her daughter was bipolar, and she has been taking lithium since she had a manic episode. Hearing what this woman said, memories rushed into my mind, and I couldn’t help a break-out of emotions. Vineeth also had unrealistic dreams of going to California and becoming an actor. I advised my coworker as follows: Tell your daughter that you like her to become an actor, and that you want to help and support her to be one. It is important that she moves on with her life even if what she has is an unrealistic dream. Our son had told us one point that becoming an actor was his only goal in life, and he was living only to see this goal realized. Although we realized that it was an unrealistic goal, we only encouraged him to become an actor because we wanted him to pull on with his life. He visualized himself as a movie director and an actor. He even wrote down an imaginary press conference between himself as a successful movie director and the Time Magazine. My coworker’s daughter has an advantage over Vineeth. Her community does not attach such a big stigma to her illness as my own community does. Therefore, she has already accepted that she has an illness she needs to take care of, and she regularly participates in support group meetings.
A mental illness is an illness just like any other illness. It is an illness of the brain. Bipolar disorder is a biological disorder that occurs in a specific area of the brain and is due to the dysfunction of certain neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers. It is an illness like diabetes, or high blood pressure, or high cholesterol that needs to be taken care of. At least one out of every hundred people is said to have this illness. It is up to the medical science to find a cure for this illness, but there is something else we all can do. We need to be aware that a mental illness is an illness of the brain just like any other illness, and we need to help spread this awareness. There are millions of Vineeths suffering in our world with this illness of the brain. Let us not make it any harder for them by treating them like outcasts.
Again, Thank you, and May God bless you!
Lissy & John Kunnathu


  1. dear john and lissy,

    We share your sorrow and can understand how you feel after having gone through the loss of our only son.It was our faith in God that kept us going and also the belief that God had some purpose. You have to grow out of the grief and it takes time.You have to live a normal life and cannot give it up since it is not really yours to choose.We found a way to release our sorrow by working at the Balagram Yacharam and also continuing to do our normal work.I am sure you can also find such work. The secret is to keep yourself busy. Otherwise you start to brood.

    I am sure God will support you and help you out.

    Isaac Thomas

  2. Dear John and Lizzy,

    May God be with both of you at this time of tremendous sorrow. The illness your precious son sufferd with was a part of his human body, not his spirit or soul. He is now free of that which plagued him here on Earth.

    My heartfelt prayers are with you.

    Jenny Eisenberg
    Delaware, USA