A bird in the garage

Samantha Crall

By Nathan Crall

Editor’s note: The following is an edited excerpt of a eulogy Nathan Crall delivered at the memorial service for his cousin Samantha Crall, who committed suicide in September. For the full version of Nathan’s eulogy, please visit stljewishlight.com/crall

On my drive home, I realized then just how to understand the clinical depression that gripped Samantha’s heart so fiercely. Depression is like a bird trapped in a dark garage at night. In all its energy to escape, crashing over and over into walls it cannot see, it cannot find the exit out of the darkness. It will try and try until it peters out and lays prone inside of the pitch, in a restless and uncomfortable sleep as an effort to let the darkness pass.

Opening the garage door now only leads into the black night, where fear and anxiety of the unknown await. The bird is stuck and unable to see the way out. But like the day, normal depression passes, and though you cannot force the bird out, you can help guide it where to go. 

You can open the garage door and let the sunlight in, allowing it to see the outside relief and make its own decision to exit.

Beating normal depression takes timely care from friends, encouragement without force, and a will to let the darkness be present for how long it needs to be, until that door can be opened, the light restored, and the bird’s wings allowed to unfold.

But clinical depression is not like that. It is a whole other kind of beast. With clinical depression, when you press the button, the garage door does not open. It instead lurches violently as a reminder of the exit that can never appear. Sometimes the darkness in the garage is pitch black during the night. Sometimes it’s a bit lighter during the day, but it still casts shadows. 

The bird crashes into walls desperate to reach the warmth outside, but the longer it is trapped, the more it forgets what the sun feels like. So how does a family support this specific bird trapped in this specific garage? How do family and friends help someone with clinical depression? 

Sure, you can show love by changing the lightbulb in the garage, always adding a better one that provides warmth similar to the sun; but these will always burn out. You can give them new experiences, put out a new food every day for them to taste; but that bowl will always empty. 

You can show solidarity, by joining them and sitting in the darkness for a time, to calm their nerves and keep them from crashing around. But you cannot stay in the garage forever.

Sometimes, this can be enough. Some birds will stay calm and live out their full lives with these temporary but welcome comforts. But not all of these wayward spirits are the same, and some birds will continue to crash harder and harder until they lose themselves in their desperate attempts to finally find that escape and, in the process, leave their broken mortal body for their friends and family as they take their own lives away.

Some of you may be wondering, “How can this be? How could I have done anything differently? Did I cause this? Did she not feel loved enough? How much am I to blame?”

Unfortunately, these questions will haunt us all for the rest of our waking lives. But in the case of clinical depression,  we must all remember this: No one here is at fault for that garage door not being able to open. No one here is at fault for not showing enough love and care. There is no fault to give. This is nobody’s blame. 

Samantha had a terrible sickness, one that was tormenting her no matter how much light we provided her, or food we gave her, or times we sat there comforting her in the worst of the darkness. But what is important for all of us here to remember are those times we lit her prison just a little brighter. Or the times we calmed her nerves so she could smile without crashing against the walls. Or the experiences we gave her, in caring for all the little ones, to bring her out of hiding. 

This is what we can do for those who suffer from the kind of permanence that Samantha was all too familiar with. Sometimes it is enough. But many times it is not. And in those cases, all we can do is remember the love we shared with such a brief life, to make it as memorable as possible for our own years to come.

And for those of you here today who have made your home in that same sadness, in that same garage that cannot open its doors, heed my words and know what I am about to say. 

Know that there is always love to be shared with you. 

Know to always have each other in support and kindness, even if you feel like your own time is limited. 

Know that there is always help reaching out to hold you, even if you feel like it’s the last time. 

Know that there are always sources of comfort: running fountains of familial love and caring from all people who surround you, even if you feel like you don’t deserve to bathe in them. 

Know that you matter and there is always someone who is very proud of you, even if you feel like you are alone.