For the first time, the widow of pastor Andrew Stoecklein has come forth to speak out about her husband’s tragic suicide. Andrew, the pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California died in August, but understandably, it has taken his wife several months to be able to speak publicly about his untimely death.
While she has regularly documented her and her sons’ grief process on her blog, GodsGotThis.org, Kayla bravely spoke for the first time in a Facebook Live interview with Proverbs 31 Ministries President, Lysa Terkeurst, last week.
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My conversation with @lysaterkeurst went live today! This is the first time I’ve sat down and openly shared my story. If you too are walking through a season of unexpected pain and heartbreak, my hope is that this conversation can serve as an encouragement to you. You are not alone. (Replay the video on Lysa’s Facebook page)
In an attempt to honor her husband’s life, the widow is on a mission to raise awareness about the severe dangers of mental illness, a subject that is largely misunderstood by the general population.
Reflecting back on the prior year, Kayla started by explaining Andrew’s onset of panic attacks that began happening [two] to [three] times a week. Initially, doctors thought that it was a result of hyperthyroid, but his bloodwork did not verify that diagnosis.
Kayla describes the attacks as “brutal.”
“One Sunday, a security guard found him upstairs in the bathroom having such a bad panic attack, right before the Easter services,” she shared. “He was meant to give seven sermons. He ended up making it, he spoke the next weekend, but then the following week he ended up in the hospital.”
Kayla further explained that her husband had taken the role as lead pastor of Inland Hills following his dad, David Stoecklein’s, death from cancer. David was the founding pastor of the church.
“He had never taken a break,” said Kayla. “He was running fast for seven years and never took time to grieve or process. We just thought he was tired.”
After finally getting an official diagnosis, Kayla was “stunned and scared.”
“Your husband has depression,” Andrew’s psychiatrist told them.
After that, the pastor was put on a “forced sabbatical.”
“It was very unpredictable,” said the grieving widow. “I didn’t know who I was gonna get when he walked down the hall in the morning. Was he gonna be mad? Was he gonna be crying? Was he gonna be angry? I had to tiptoe around that. And I had my three little boys at home, too.”
The doctors relayed that Andrew only had “seasonal depression” and should be on his road to recovery in a couple months.
While Andrew was crying constantly and putting himself in isolation, the couple continued to pursue a treatment plan that would restore his health.
He regularly attended therapy, went on trips alone and with his wife, and even stayed with his mentor for a week.
“We were doing everything right,” said Kayla. “The doctors felt that he was better.”
Kayla went on stage with Andrew after he was able to return to work, and she recalled that people were ecstatic that he was back, even giving him a standing ovation.
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To honor Drew and continue the movement we started seven years ago our family launched a brand new website! Our passion and hope is that the @_godsgotthis movement will continue to bring the darkness to light. As you read the blogs, share your stories, and shop in the store (coming soon) our heart is for you to be reminded, “You Are Not Alone.” . Thank you @golivehq , @promisetangeman & @alyssayuhas for making this dream a reality! We are in love with every single detail and we are SO grateful! . To kick off our new site I wrote another letter to my guy. (Link in Bio) #Godsstillgottthis
Just two weeks before his death, Andrew got raw and real about his struggles with his congregation.
He shared that while the church was “thriving, growing and moving,” he, on the other hand, was “crumbling, exhausted, weak and tired.”
To top off the stressful situation, his family was also dealing with “several stalkers” known to be dangerous. It resulted in making them sell their home as well as his Mom’s.
Congregants were incredibly receptive to Andrew’s brutal honesty, according to Kayla.
She then went into the details surrounding her husband’s unexpected passing:
“He was going into the third week, he already had his message prepared and was feeling good about the weekend. He went into the office Thursday and had a really bad day.”
She remarked that there was an unidentified “trigger” that led to his ultimate down spiral.
“Friday morning we were all trying to get him help from a distance. We were trying to give him space. I was on the phone calling inpatient places and talking to different pastors,” said Kayla. “Unfortunately, while we were doing that was when he attempted suicide.”
Though Andrew was revived, he ultimately got put on hospice support and died the next day.
Kayla firmly holds that the suicide was “not his fault” and is assured of her husband’s place in heaven.
“We don’t believe it was a decision,” she added. “We don’t know what was going on for him. It wasn’t him. He wasn’t capable of making a rational decision. It wasn’t the Andrew that I knew and loved, and it wasn’t the Andrew that our church new and loved.”
Amidst the devasting loss, Kayla’s hope and trust in God has been strengthened through her grieving process.
“God is still good,” she said. “God still cares. God is still for me and God’s got this.”
Watch Kayla Stoecklein’s full interview with Lysa TerKeurst below:
Join me now for a special Facebook Live with my friend Kayla Stoecklein.
I’m so thankful for Kayla’s bravery and willingness to share her story with us all. It’s a story she never thought she would be living – one that unexpectedly left her a widow and a single mom overnight.
If you’re struggling with the fact that your life doesn’t look the way you thought it would, I truly hope you’ll take a few minutes to be with us today.
Order your copy of “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way” here: www.ItsNotSupposedToBeThisWay.com
Hear from Kayla here: www.GodsGotThis.org
Posted by Lysa TerKeurst on Wednesday, November 28, 2018
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.