Wife of pastor who died by suicide talks grief, importance of spiritual, emotional health

Pastor Darrin Patrick
Pastor Darrin Patrick | Courtesy of Seacoast Church

The wife of a prominent pastor who died by suicide has said that as she navigates her own journey of grief and healing, she hopes to raise awareness about the importance of spiritual and emotional health. 

Six months after her husband, Pastor Darrin Patrick, a teaching pastor at the South Carolina-based Seacoast Church, died by suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, his wife, Amie, joined Pastor Greg Surratt and Mike Cosper on the Pastors Collective podcast.

“I'm more so than ever deeply committed to helping believers, and particularly those in pastoral roles...just understand the importance of what I'll just call spiritual and emotional health,” she said. “I think we often lean so hard and do our theology, and don't really understand the connection to our own stories and to our own emotional health and the intersection of those things together.”

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Her husband’s story, Amie said, “has a lot to do with not understanding those things and then coming to a deeper understanding of those things and being able to help a lot of people in the last few years and that way.”

“And it's something that I am I am equally passionate about and hope to be helpful to people in a lot of ways in that realm going forward,” she said. 

Patrick died on May 7 while target shooting with a friend just outside of St. Louis. 

Amie said that the death of her husband of 27 years “blindsided” her and their four children. All members of the family are currently in counseling, she said, which “has been an enormously helpful place to process the journey of grief.”

“It’s a very messy and complicated and unpredictable process, to say the least,” she admitted.

In the last six months, numerous people have supported, encouraged, and loved her family, Amie said, adding: “I can't say enough about needing healthy people in your life in the grief process. Books are great, resources are great, but people are where it's at.”

A well-known author, Darrin Patrick was the founding pastor of the Journey Church in St. Louis. He helped lead the Acts 29 Network, a national church planting organization, and also served as the chaplain of the St. Louis Cardinals. 

In 2016, the elders fired Patrick from the church he founded for pastoral misconduct. After going through a restoration process that lasted 26 months, he returned to the ministry as a preacher but not as a senior pastor of a church.

Amie said that while she was “more clued into Darren's emotional state than anyone else” and had seen him in “very low and depressed states” over the past four years, his death was nevertheless a tremendous shock. 

“We are still left with not really having answers,” Amie said. “However, I will say that, even in these situations where people do have more answers, or reasons, or a note, or more clear signs, we still really don't know what's going on in a person's mind.”

“I think I have come to understand that people who take their own lives are not in a rational state of mind as we would understand it. Something has deteriorated to a point of being not rational, and so in some ways to try to understand it from a rational perspective doesn't work because it wasn't a rational decision.”

Despite her grief, Amie said she’s learned to “accept mystery” and “things we won’t understand in this life.”

“There’s a peace in that that helps us move forward in trusting God and who He says He is and His character and His sovereignty even when things don't make sense,” she said. “I think we often want clarity and God wants to give us Himself.”

Sharing how her faith has sustained her family over the last four months, Amie stressed that “the years that you put into walking with the Lord make a difference when life really hits you in terrible and traumatic ways.

“I have found that my faith has held up and that God has held up in ways that you sometimes just don't know you know until you're in this kind of situation,” she explained. “There's a strength that He gives you but I think also that you have sometimes built up over time.”

The topics of mental health and ministry have risen to the forefront in recent years as the American church continues to lose more of its leaders to suicide.

Recent statistics show that 50% of pastors feel unable to meet the needs of the job; 90% feel inadequately trained to deal with ministry demands; 45.5% of pastors say they have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry; and 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend.

Scott Sauls, senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, recently urged his fellow pastors to fight isolation by cultivating true friendships and seeking community. 

Sauls, who has previously opened up about his own battles with depression and anxiety, said that oftentimes, pastors feel lonely within their own communities.

“Case in point, 2020,” he said. “You've got this dynamic where reality is 70% of pastors right now around America are looking for another job.”

Because of the COVID pandemic, many pastors feel “ghosted” by their congregations, the pastor said. 

“Our people feel like they're still with us because they see us and hear us from their living rooms, and yet, we just have this complete void of relationship,” he explained. “Oftentimes, people treat the church as a consumer good, [but pastors] see the church as our family ... so the dynamic of loneliness and isolation is amplified in a time like this.”

The current “negativity of environment” is often “taken out” on caregivers like pastors and therapists, Sauls contended.

“It really is the perfect emotional storm right now for pastors,” he said. “Fighting against isolation is utterly essential.”

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