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A deacon’s daughter loses the battle with bipolar disorder: “She was a beautiful child of God”

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I received an email yesterday from Deacon Ed Shoener, from the Diocese of Scranton. I met Ed when we were in Rome for the Jubilee for Deacons in May, and he thought I might want to post this item and spread the word.

It is the obituary for his daughter, Kathleen:

Kathleen “Katie” Marie Shoener, 29, fought bipolar disorder since 2005, but she finally lost the battle on Wednesday to suicide in Lewis Center, Ohio. Katie was born in Scranton and is the daughter of Deacon Edward R. and Ruth Shoener of Scranton. She was a graduate of Scranton High School, received her Bachelor of Science in business from Penn State University and recently her MBA from Ohio State University. She also leaves behind three brothers, Robert, San Diego; William and wife, Sarah, Scranton; Edward M., Old Forge; three nieces, Harper and Brylee, of San Diego; Grace, Scranton; and two nephews, Ben and Jacob, of Scranton.

So often people who have a mental illness are known as their illness. People say that “she is bipolar” or “he is schizophrenic.” Over the coming days as you talk to people about this, please do not use that phrase. People who have cancer are not cancer, those with diabetes are not diabetes. Katie was not bipolar – she had an illness called bipolar disorder – Katie herself was a beautiful child of God. The way we talk about people and their illnesses affects the people themselves and how we treat the illness. In the case of mental illness there is so much fear, ignorance and hurtful attitudes that the people who suffer from mental illness needlessly suffer further. Our society does not provide the resources that are needed to adequately understand and treat mental illness. In Katie’s case, she had the best medical care available, she always took the cocktail of medicines that she was prescribed and she did her best to be healthy and manage this illness – and yet – that was not enough. Someday a cure will be found, but until then, we need to support and be compassionate to those with mental illness, every bit as much as we support those who suffer from cancer, heart disease or any other illness. Please know that Katie was a sweet, wonderful person that loved life, the people around her – and Jesus Christ.

Ed’s cover note, sent to many of his friends and acquaintances, reads, in part:

Katie’s obituary has been getting a wonderful response on Facebook and other social networks.

I wrote it only a couple of hours after we were notified of her death.  I was in no condition to do anything myself at that moment, so I am convinced that it was with the guidance of the Holy Spirit that I wrote the obituary. It has clearly struck a cord with many people.  Her obituary has been shared over 18,000 times and there are tens of thousand of people discussing it on Facebook.  The comments on Legacy.com have been very comforting to my wife Ruth and I.

The comfort is not so much because of the condolences sent our way, although we do appreciate the kindness.  The comfort comes more from seeing how all the those families who struggle with the evil of mental illness were themselves comforted by Katie’s obituary and that many people who have been motivated to take positive steps in their own lives.

I will incorporate this into my ministry and will talk about mental illness, suicide and the love of God to as many people as God wants.  I know Katie would not simply approve – she would be so, so happy to be able to help.

This Thursday I have been asked by Gus Lloyd ( https://guslloyd.com/ ) to be on his radio show “Seize the Day”, the morning radio show on Sirius XM’s The Catholic Channel 129.   The interview will be at 9:00 AM EST and will be rebroadcast again at about 11:30 AM.

Please invite anyone you know who is struggling with mental illness or who is accompanying a loved one who has a mental illness to listen in.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.

My prayers are with Ed and his family and all those who love Katie and are grieving this loss. Check out Gus Lloyd’s show Thursday morning, if you can. This is a subject few like to talk about, but I know it is one that will resonate with countless people.

On this feast of St. Lawrence, one of the great deacons of the Church, we remember that he gathered together Rome’s poor and sick, the marginalized and forgotten, and presented them to the emperor with the words, “These are the treasures of the Church.” Katie Shoener and countless others like her are also treasures of the Church, beloved by God. Pray for them.

As Ed mentioned to me in his note: God has a way to use all things for the good.

“This is a parents club Ruth and I never wanted to join,” he wrote. “But Katie is finally at peace.”

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