So many people are quiet about it, but so many people are suffering. This statement could be true about a myriad of struggles people face every day, but for Gene and Pam Talbot the struggle is the impact of suicide after their son, Michael, took his own life in 2010.
Gene serves as associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Crosby, a position he has held for the past 17 years. During his experience in ministry, he has walked with families through many difficult times but following the loss of his own son, his empathy and understanding has grown exponentially.
Michael was the oldest of the Talbots two children, raised in the church and as Pam described him, very attached to mom. As a child, he was in constant motion and quite the charmer. The Talbots said their son was very giving, well-liked and helpful. He was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder when he was a teenager and experimentation with drinking led to a dependency on drugs in his young adult years.
No matter how difficult life was for Michael, he always knew he could go home and talk with his parents. Pam recalls many conversations with her son about struggles he was going through.
Michael married his high school sweetheart and the couple had two children. He worked in the roofing industry and maintained a steady income for his family, despite personal problems from time to time. He went through a divorce, but maintained a good relationship with his ex-wife and children.
After time in a drug rehabilitation facility, Michael met and married his second wife. The Talbots began to feel more of a separation from their son at this time. They also noticed his personality began to change and sensed his growing dependency on prescription drugs.
“He always tried to keep up a front, but you could tell he was broken,” said Pam.
The last dinner he had with his parents seemed like a regular evening at the Talbot home. As he was leaving, Michael gave his mom and dad big hugs and reminded them of his love for them. A few hours later Gene received a phone call and knew immediately Michael was gone.
With tears in their eyes, the Talbots recounted the darkness of that day and the subsequent days that followed.
“We were so alone,” Gene said. “The only way to get through it day-to-day was with Christ.”
About a year later, Pam found out about “Out of the Darkness,” a walk for suicide prevention in Houston. The couple decided to participate as a way towards healing. Joined with hundred of others walking the same journey they had gone through, the Talbots realized the vast amount of individuals struggling with the impact of suicide.
Gene had been involved in ministerial counseling through his role at the church for many years, but following the death of his son, he felt called to pursue more education in Biblical counseling. Since receiving his degree, he now counsels many in his church and community experiencing difficult times. At least once a week he is able to share his personal experience walking through the loss of Michael and how God has healed Gene’s life.
“We as the church need to look at people as individuals,” Gene said. “Everyone has a life that matters to God. If we don’t get down in the trenches and love people where they are, we are missing it. God’s grace has blessed me. All I can do is bless you and share His word as encouragement.”
Sharing stories about Michael’s life, both the good and bad, has promoted healing for the Talbots. As a family in ministry, at times they felt like they could not openly struggle but rather needed to keep up a front that everything was okay. Going through this loss has shown them that it is okay to be open about struggles. In fact, it has provided more opportunities for ministry and deeper connections with people in their church and in the community.
The Talbots feel compelled to share their own story to encourage suicide prevention awareness and walk alongside others who are suffering. They want to encourage other families who have dealt with loss through suicide and help them get the counseling they need. They also want to remind people that they are not the only one walking down a difficult path, yet even in despair, God is in control.
Texas Baptists Counseling Services provides help for ministers and their families struggling with difficult life issues. To learn more about how you can receive help, or how you can start the conversation about mental health in your church, contact Katie Swafford at (800) 388-2005 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit texasbaptists.org/counseling for more information.