This post is part of our series on walking with God in suffering. If you are just joining us, learn why we are sharing stories of suffering in this introduction.
Listen as Rex and Connie Kennemer share how their lives were forever changed by mental illness and the loss of their son… and the Kingdom purpose that God has gifted them out of that place of suffering.
Watch the video.
Read their story.
Connie: I didn’t choose this place where I live now, this community of brokenness, this neighborhood where people are grieving great losses. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. But it’s where I live now.
Rex: Todd loved everybody. He was a wonderful, joyful, animated kid.
Connie: He was gregarious, he was goofy, he was very musical.
Rex: He didn’t have any enemies. He would always go out of his way to reach out to loners.
Connie: He made a little stencil of “grace”—just the word grace. And he took it out onto the sidewalks and spray painted it black. So that on the way to his coffee shop you would see grace. On the way to the corner where the drug dealers were, there was the word “grace.” It was like Todd’s essence was spread throughout his community.
Rex: Todd was starting college and just before class began he learned that a close friend had died in a car accident. And that seemed to trigger something in him that eventually led to what we saw as this dark presence of mental illness.
Connie: Things were just different. They were moving in a direction that seemed to be going down.
Rex: We would see him and see how anxious and depressed he was. We were able to get him on medication—on anti-depressants. And it was at that time that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Connie: I asked him, “Todd, your mind must just feel like a battlefield.” And he said, “Mom, you have no idea.”
Rex: In November of 2005 we’d been searching for him most of the day by phone and trying to work through his friends. They did what they could, but they found him late that afternoon in his apartment. He had hung himself.
Connie: He couldn’t live in the world that was in his mind. He could not have existed in that place.
Rex: We had a memorial benefit of music and art for two nights at our church and people responded by saying that we should continue doing this. So in the next year we added a lunchtime forum. Little by little that began to take on a life of its own.
Connie: We learned that as we began to tell our story it really allowed other people to come in and to tell us their story. It was almost like we gave them permission for their pain. It began to seem like as much as I hated losing my son, this could have redemptive qualities.
Rex: Over the course of several years this became a movement called Community Alliance for Healthy Minds that has grown to reach several hundred people. It’s beyond our expectations of where this all began.
Connie: This is about more than just a family that lost their son. This is about a world that is on the brink when it comes to mental health. And whatever we can do to make that landing softer, that’s what I think CAHM wants to do.
We didn’t choose this neighborhood. Who would ever move into a broken community? But it’s where we live. This is where we are. And so the best role that I can play in this place where I now live is to be a good neighbor.
Rex: Together we can change the landscape of mental health in our communities. The key word is the first word, together. We must face this together, and we can come out of this with hope. That is our saving grace.
Connie: And that is what CAHM is.
ABOUT: Rex and Connie Kennemer reside in San Diego, where they have served in CRM since 1986. In recent years their ministry focus has been collaborating with mental health professionals and the faith community, in suicide prevention and support of those who have experienced tragedy.