Stacey Nalean-Carlson is a pastor in the Northeastern Iowa Synod, a poet, a blogger and a suicide survivor. She published the letter below in honor of her brother’s birthday, March 14, to comfort others who grieve and to bear witness to God’s boundless love. We share her letter in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.


My brother, Mike, died at age 18 of a self-inflicted wound. Today is his birthday.

He would have been 40.

Dear Mike,

Another year. Another birthday without you here.

When we left worship last night, the sunset greeted us with a brilliant orange glow and the breeze carried the promise of spring. Today the melting snow has made a predictable mess of everything.

The river is in a rush, swollen, disregarding good manners and proper boundaries. It makes me think of the breaking waters that bore you from the gentle dark of the womb to the bracing light of a world full of both promise and pain.

When did we lose you in the current?

The smell of spring is ripe with potential but somehow also rife with loss.

Remember the mud pies baking in the sun, garnished with sprigs from the evergreen trees?

Remember the bottle-fed calves in the basement, pulled from the mud?

Remember when we didn’t know that heroes could hurt us?

There’s a wounded tree here, somehow clinging to the shore. But the river is persistent. It beats against that tree, crashing into splintered branches with a force that makes me want to weep.

Limb by broken limb…

When did we lose you in the current? Our grip didn’t relax, but somehow our love wasn’t enough to keep you here. The pain carried you away…

There’s another river, though. Another current. It found its way to you. When you were just a newborn baby—untouched by sorrow—it cradled you, claimed you, called you beloved. It marked you for promise, even in the midst of pain. It marked you for potential, even in the midst of loss.

It marked you for life, abundant life not even death can destroy.

This is the willful, unruly, irrepressible current that cradles you still—carrying you, relentlessly, to life.

You were never lost.

You were always home.

Michael Charles Nalean, beloved child of God, you’ve been marked with the cross of Christ forever. We’ll see you at the journey’s end.

With all our love…

Stacey Nalean-Carlson
Stacey Nalean-Carlson is a pastor in the Northeastern Iowa Synod, a poet, a blogger and a suicide survivor.

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