Every month is associated with the awareness of some illness, disease, or condition. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s been mentioned in one or more of my previous columns.

That’s OK. Mental health is a subject we can never talk too much about. Mental health is one of several health problems more associated with judgment than empathy. It ought not be this way. It is. This doesn’t mean we should stop trying to help people understand it’s an illness like any other.

My attention turned to this subject with the untimely death of country music icon, Naomi Judd. After suffering with mental illness for years, Ms. Judd ended her life this week. Much of the country mourns her death because they feel they knew her through her music. Her family is no doubt suffering. I can’t imagine their pain because I haven’t experienced that kind of loss.

There are many in our community who can relate to the unimaginable pain this type of loss brings to family and friends. Her passing caused me to think about a couple of my friends who left us in a similar manner.

Anytime someone chooses to write about such a sensitive topic, the polite thing to do is reach out to their families before using their names publicly. I reached out to Robin Dixon and Scott Jones and asked for their permission to mention their children in this column. They both graciously gave me their blessing to write whatever I felt I needed to write. They understand the aftermath of losing a loved one in such an unnatural manner. Somehow, through their grief and pain, they hope any mention of their children’s passing will help someone who might be struggling with mental illness. This is a testament to their kindness.

On March 10, 2019, my friend, Sonny Age, passed away at the young age of 29. It was unexpected like most deaths involving mental illness. His sweet mother, Robin Dixon, has been a friend of mine for years. Time has dealt her a tough hand which would cause many to throw in the towel. She found comfort in Jesus Christ. Before losing Sonny, she experienced the loss of her 12-year-old son, Collins Dixon, to brain cancer in 2012. I can’t comprehend how she deals with these losses. It can only be by the grace of God. She remains a beautiful person. Inside and out.

One of Sonny’s best friends, and a friend of mine, was Wes Jones. Wes also dealt with something in his brain which led to his unexpected and untimely death. On May 29, 2019, at the age of 30, only two months after the death of his friend Sonny, Wes joined him in heaven.

Mental illness is real. His parents, Scott, and Sherri Jones are two of the kindest people you will ever meet. I asked Scott for his blessing to write this. He told me when Wes was only 3 years old, he told him and Sherri he wanted to go be with Jesus. Scott said that worried him for the longest time. Scott said something which made me think. Before Wes was even conceived, God knew exactly how his life here would end. He knew the same about Sonny. None of us can think like God. We will never, in this life, understand why He chooses to let things happen.

Mental illness is a medical condition like any other. My education is not in mental or any other kind of illness. I can’t explain to you in medical jargon anything to do with the mind. I do know what it’s like to need help. I needed it and sought it. I will always be on medications to help me live a normal life. Let me follow it with this. Anyone who admits they have a problem will carry the stigma forever in the eyes of some. Realizing this, I share it anyway. Folks can get well or appear well for others. I chose to get well.

All we can do is try to be humble, kind, and understanding We will fail sometimes. But we must get up and try again. We must forgive those who won’t forgive us. A few days ago, I mentioned to an old friend my desire to visit some folks I haven’t seen in a while. They are good church-going people. My friend told me the folks would never tell me I couldn’t visit, but they would never welcome me because of my past failures. Church going doesn’t always equate to love and forgiveness. Without those two things, church ain’t working. Love and forgiveness are more than words. They are actions.

I loved Sonny and Wes as many did. I miss them too. Regardless of what some may think, they are together in heaven. They were kind souls who showed grace and forgiveness to others. Whether we go to church or not, we should all be so kind.

Chris Collett is a lifelong resident of Cherokee County.

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