Kayla Stoecklein, the wife of Andrew Stoecklein, the California pastor who committed suicide last month, has opened up about some of the key things she believes she missed during her husband’s battle with mental illness.
Stoecklein, the senior pastor at Inland Hills Church, Chino, had been battling depression and anxiety for a number of months before taking his own life August 25. He was just 30 years old and left behind a wife and three sons. In the wake of his untimely death, Stoecklein’s widow, Kayla, has been posting regular updates as she and her family grieve the loss of this embattled man of God.
In the wake of Andrew’s death, Kayla is also delving deeper into the area of mental health awareness and has taken some time to reflect on her response to her late husband’s illness.
“As I dive deeper into this new uncharted territory of mental illness I now know that I actually knew nothing at all,” she explained in an extraordinarily candid article at the “God’s Got This” blog. “I was too close to see clearly. I was consumed by my own: pain, co-burdening, and responsibilities to see my husband’s anguish. And, I wasn’t the only one who missed it.”
Kayla recalled the one time Andrew revealed that he was having suicidal thoughts, and described her reaction to such a startling discovery.
“It was so vague and surprising that I missed it. He sort of shrugged it off as a thought that quickly passed through his mind and was gone, no big deal,” she explained.
But Andrew was suffering silently — he required urgent help and immediate intervention.
Of his suicidal thoughts, Kayla said that the couple “never talked about it again.”
“A huge regret,” she added.
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While Andrew’s dad was battling leukemia we clinged to the phrase “God’s Got This.” • It was Andrew’s idea to create a blog so that people could follow along the journey. Andrew was incredibly passionate about the phrase “God’s Got This.” • We have sent hundreds of thousands of wristbands all over the world with those precious words embedded on it. • Our family is still holding tight to that phrase even now. We are choosing to believe that “God’s Got This.” We don’t understand it, we hate it, it makes us angry, we can’t even breathe, but we are trusting God. • This morning I wrote a post to my husband, if he was here these are the words I would say to him. You can read the post on godsgotthis.org . • Andrew, we will keep “God’s Got This” alive in your name. #godsgotthis
Kayla said that if she could turn back time, she would have immediately called the suicide prevention hotline and requested help.
“I would have followed up every single day and every single night asking, ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?’ I would told his psychiatrist, his therapist, and his family about our conversation,” she added. “I would not have treated it as ‘no big deal,’ or just a passing thought. I would have taken action.”
In a talk delivered shortly before he died, Pastor Stoecklein appeared alongside his wife to inform the church about some of the personal issues he had been facing over the past several months. He also took the opportunity to address the absolutely devastating mental health crisis that continues to plague our nation.
Stoecklein explained that his dad, the founding pastor at Inland Hills, had been diagnosed with leukemia a few years back. After his father, a key spiritual leader and mentor to Drew, had battled the disease for about four years, David Stoecklein died on Oct. 9, 2015, aged 55.
Around that time, as he was flattened by grief, Stoecklein’s mental health began to decline. The pastor said that even though his church was “thriving, growing and moving,” he was “crumbling, exhausted, weak and tired.”
The church leader then disclosed that his family was fighting attack on another front: they were being stalked. Not only this, but the person who had been harassing him and his family online actually “showed up to his house,” subsequently forcing them to move, and causing Andrew to unravel psychologically.
Pastor Stoecklein also admitted that he was “not easy to live with” during those months of crippling depression.
“I barely had time to breathe, rest, or think and I was exhausted,” Kayla explaind, noting that she regretted not being at every therapy session alongside her husband. “If I could do it again: I would have attended every single appointment, I would have made it a priority to be there, no matter how inconvenient.”
Kayla also expressed her deep sorrow at not educating herself more on the issues surrounding mental illness. As is understandable, she spent her alone time reading up on things that energized her.
“Instead of reading books about depression and anxiety I filled my quiet time with books about: motherhood, ministry, and marriage. I used that time to fill myself up because I was so utterly drained,” she shared.
“If I could do it again: I would have read every single book I could get my hands on about depression and anxiety. I would have developed a new heart, passion, and understanding of mental illness,” she said. “I would have suggested that we read some of the books together to open up even more conversation. I wish I would have made the priceless investment of knowledge.”
But despite all of these regrets and unanswered questions, the decision that Pastor Stoecklein made cannot be pinned on any of his loved ones. He was severely unwell and was not in his right mind when he chose to commit suicide.
“The mental illness caused the suicide,” Kayla simply stated.
Incredibly, despite the devastation and profound heartbreak, Kayla continues to put all her hope and trust in the Lord.
“The cost of love is great. Jesus knew that all too well, it cost him everything. Although we pay now in tears and pain, we know our grief will not last forever. This is just the first inch of life,” she declared. “God’s Still Got This, He will never let me down.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, contemplating suicide, or just needs someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For counseling services in your area, consult the Christian Counselors Network.