Chapter 4

Understanding and Remembering

Chapter Four: Understanding and Remembering

Stephen Webb was a professor and author, a Christian and a church leader. He also struggled with depression. He wrote publicly about his depression in an article called “God of the Depressed”: “Christians don’t talk enough about depression. Emotional pain, for one thing, can be hard to share. Despair can feel very physical for the sufferer, weighing heavily on the heart and clogging the brain, but its surface features can be easily overlooked or missing altogether.”(4) He observed that when Christians are depressed, they instinctively turn to God for help, but it can feel like “God himself is silent to their cries. Perhaps that can serve as a theological definition of depression: When your need for God is as great as your feeling of God’s absence.”

Webb concluded that Jesus surely must have experienced depression-like emotions himself when famished in the wilderness or praying in Gethsemane while his disciples slept. He pleaded for the church not to forget the depressed, saying: “The depressed wait for the long nights to end and the anguish to subside.”

Those words would be among his last. Less than a month after that essay was published, Stephen Webb died by self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 54. He left behind his wife and five children.

His friend Samuel Rocha wrote an elegy to grieve Stephen and to lament the loss of a life gone too soon. He recalled running against Stephen in a footrace, and how Stephen laughingly pushed him away on the road to prevent Samuel from passing him and then ran on ahead. Samuel then lamented, “Webb has run ahead of me again. I wish I could have caught him and pulled him back. Everything I know about his death fills me with regret, but I know his race on earth, however hampered by depression, was driven by an excessive love.” Samuel remembered Stephen’s generosity, his commitment to others, his love for his wife and children, his work in prison ministry and his care for the disabled.

Despite Stephen’s depression and suicide, Samuel understood that the manner of his death was not the total picture of his life. Sam concluded:

The alienating excess of depression is that it overwhelms the depressed to the point that they cannot see or hear the voices that reach out to them, even the voice of God. In his parting address, Webb said what polite people do not say: that God is not merely concerned for the generic depressed “out there,” that Christ knows concretely and intimately what it is to suffer from depression. Webb succumbed to his depression, and that grieves me. But the man I knew exceeded his own depression. He was to me the image of an excess of love. It is that about him which I see at the center of my sorrow, and it consoles me.(5)

Samuel’s reflection provides a model for how we can grieve our loved ones lost to suicide. He acknowledges that depression is part of the story, and he is candid about its reality and the devastating impact it had on his friend. But it is not the whole story. We honor our loved ones by remembering the fullness of their lives.

So seek understanding. Practice remembrance. Tell stories that you want to remember about your loved one. Share good memories of them in their best times. May the fullness of your loved one’s life become what you see at the center of your sorrow.


(4) Stephen H. Webb, “God of the Depressed,” First Things online, Feb. 19, 2016,

(5) Samuel D. Rocha, “The Excess of Stephen H. Webb,” First Things online, March 16, 2016,