(Used with Permission)
Mary Ann Rowan first noticed a change in her son Kevin when he returned from a year teaching English in Mexico after graduating from Indiana University, Bloomington. He was living at home, and Ms. Rowan grew concerned when Kevin received a call indicating that his prescription was ready. “Kev, have you been sick?” she asked him. Kevin gently responded that he was 21 now and could take care of his health. He had always been a private person, and Ms. Rowan did not pry.
Eventually Kevin told her he had been prescribed medications to manage his clinical depression. And for a few years, they seemed to work. Kevin found work, moved out, got married and had a daughter. But in 1999, at this point separated from his wife, he attempted to take his life for the first time. After two more attempts, he moved back in with his parents, Ms. Rowan and John Rowan. There, on July 28, 2001, at the age of 30, he died by carbon monoxide poisoning in Ms. Rowan’s car.
The first person the Rowans called from the ambulance was their pastor, the Rev. Pat Lee, who met them at the hospital and drove them home the next morning.
Sixteen years later, on an unseasonably frigid November night in Western Springs, Ill., just outside Chicago, Ms. Rowan stands behind the lectern in a dimly lit church sanctuary. “Good evening,” she begins.
St. John of the Cross could be any 1960s-era suburban church: brick walls, hard gray carpets, wooden beams reaching tent-like overhead. Groups of two, three or four checker the pews, concentrating toward the back. But they are not here for the Saturday vigil. They are not even here because they are Catholic. They are members of Loving Outreach for Survivors of Suicide, better known as LOSS, and they are here to keep alive the memory of loved ones snatched away by a mental illness that had made living life unbearable.
Today, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, killing roughly 45,000 people each year, 123 people every day.
Ms. Rowan informs the congregation that the evening’s intended presider, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, will not be joining them. No one seems fazed by the last-minute cancellation, as she leads her fellow survivors in a moment of silence in preparation for the interfaith prayer service. It is the power of community, not the promise of a cardinal, that has brought them out this night.