The only way you’ll get me into a church is to support my family

Julie Lynn Bjornsson Myers — 1961-2021

It says something about my brother’s character that he marries well. His first wife, Karen, was the sweetest, kindest young woman you’d ever think to meet, and they had a long and happy marriage until she was killed by melanoma.

A few years later, lightning struck a second time, and he married Julie, a marvel and a saint, former Peace Corps volunteer, health care worker, and just general all-around joy to be with. Yesterday I met friends who’d known her for over 50 years, and were still loyal and loving her. She was active in her church, and was a critical part of the glue that held the congregation together.

She had a secret, though: bouts of severe clinical depression. It killed her earlier this year.

So I sat through a church service yesterday and listened to her friends, many if not all of them equally devout, sing her praises, entirely deserved from all I knew about her. She was someone they knew was in heaven.

All I could think was that my brother was a better person than their god, and God didn’t deserve her.


  1. hillaryrettig1 says

    I’m sorry about your family’s loss, PZ. Unfortunately it’s sometimes the best people who have the toughest struggle.

    I have no problem with the tiny minority of religious people who actually walk the walk. And I spend a year going to church so my foster kids wouldn’t have to go alone.

  2. asclepias says

    Same here, and even then I am very uncomfortable. My take on it is that if people need to believe stuff like that in order to have some comfort, that’s fine. Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to have eople see things from my point of view. I am disabled as the result of an accident. I was talking to a friend about it once, and she said, “God has a plan for you.” I told her, “I know that’s supposed to be comforting, but it really doesn’t help.” And she got it right away. Her reply was along the lines of, ‘Thanks a lot, God.” Clinical depression is horrible–I should know, I take medication for it. It translates to physical pain.

    On the other hand, having some knowledge of religion isn’t a bad thing, if only so you know what’s going on. I was at my cousin’s wedding, the priest was talking about the Gospel, and another, much younger cousin (she was 11 at the time) turned to me in the middle of the service and asked, “What’s the Gospel?” My uncle is an atheist with direct experience–one of his relatives is a Catholic priest who is living large on the taxpayers dime.

    All of this to say, I’m really sorry you have to be out there for such a miserable reason. It’s just not fair.

  3. PaulBC says

    We do what we have to for family. My older brother’s memorial service was non-denominational and held remotely due to COVID, though that was not the cause of death. My mother’s, when it happens, will undoubtedly be a traditional Catholic funeral. I’ll need to find something to wear besides the company swag that makes up most of my wardrobe. I haven’t been to a church funeral or wedding in many years, and still have a cheap jacket hanging somewhere but I wonder if I should buy a suit.

    So I sat through a church service yesterday and listened to her friends, many if not all of them equally devout, sing her praises, entirely deserved from all I knew about her. She was someone they knew was in heaven.

    The heaven talk always makes me cringe a little, but you’re going to hear it. I hate it especially when the subject is a child. People find their own ways of coping. Very sorry about your brother’s loss.

  4. says

    I’m so sorry for your loss PZ. I only recently sought help for my depression and anxiety. 2020 took me to a pretty dark place. It motivated me to get the help I needed. Nobody should suffer in silence. She sounds like my friend Carlee. None of us knew. She seemed so happy. Then about six years ago she took her own life. Mental health matters. Don’t let your friends and family suffer in silence.

  5. says

    Yeah its tough. Depression is awful. I am sorry for your family’s loss. Some of my family are deeply religious and I generally feel uncomfortable at fully religious funerals in churches but they are family and you turn up to show support. Hardest was my mother-in-laws. Custom dictated that her son had responsibility for placing her body in the grave. She had no son so my son and I did our duty. My son also took on the responsibility of doing the same for a close friend who was killed in a motorcycle accident. I stood with him at the scene during the night his friend died and was alongside him at the burial. My parents were different. My father’s was very secular and I read one of the eulogies. My mother’s had some religious touches and I participated by reading a favourite poem. All that and a few health problems have put me in touch with my own mortality but I blunder on regardless. I only hope I am as accepting of it as my father when his time came.

  6. says

    Meanwhile: religion has had plenty of opportunities to “cure” depression yet it consistently strikes out.

    Sorry for your loss, but don’t let religion and psychological pseudoscience off the hook.

  7. Numenaster, whose eyes are up here says

    I’m sorry for your loss and your family’s loss, PZ. Good on you for being there at the right times. It’s what this atheist tries to do as well.

  8. christoph says

    It’s ironic that you can look at a person and never know what pain they’re going through. I’m sorry for your family’s loss.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    Melanoma: it killed my father.
    Clinical depression. The culture has maligned mental disease so much that people are unwilling to seek help.
    And woo merchants are telling people the medication medication that may help them is “unnatural”.

    I am unable to find phrases that might give any meakingful comfort.
    The generations after us will almost certainly enjoy far more effective cancer treatments, and psychoactive medication without the severe side effects of lithium et cetera.
    They will look at our generation with the same pity we have for those living in the 19th century, and earlier.
    Grief- our ‘domesticated’ brand of church in Sweden is wise enough to provide support groups for those who have lost close family members, and those support groups are not intrinsically religious. This way even a grumpy atheist like me could benefit from it after my mother died.

  10. raven says

    Robin Williams:

    “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

    This is even more true these days.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    raven @16: That reminds me of what Mark Vonnegut (Kurt’s son) said:

    We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.

  12. magistramarla says

    My condolences, PZ. The pandemic has been very tough on families. I’m glad that you were able to go to be there for yours.

  13. redwood says

    I like the electric chair/noose/lethal injector/firing squad thing on the back wall of the church. Death from melanoma–my sister, check. Death from clinical depression–my brother and his son, fighting hard against it. Me–lucky so far.

  14. redwood says

    Yah, hang in there, PZ and tell your brother the same. Donne’s “No man is an island” means that we are all diminished by someone’s death because we are all part of something bigger than ourselves–humanity–and any loss to humanity is a loss to us as well. However, I always took that quote to mean that we are not alone in the world and all have friends and family to console us in our times of loss and need. Just as there are people who support us, we must also be there for them.

  15. brightmoon says

    Sorry for your loss ! Some churches and religions are toxic this one seems not to be

  16. birgerjohansson says

    I realised Julie Lynn Björnsson Myers and I were born the same year
    There but för the grace of…

    Since society is an enterprise that involves everyone, she lives on by making the lives of many others better, like in It’s A Wonderful Life, but without the angel business.
    The nuts and bolts of how anti-depressants work are very poorly known leading to medications that often have such side effects that people refuse taking them, or a long hard process of finding the right dosage.
    Like cancer- and alzheimer research we see a lot of basic research promising significantly better treatment options in the future. Of course, this is little comfort for the next of kin of those who die today.
    We must remember to support the next of kin of those who have died during the time it was too dangerous to gather in large groups for funerals.

  17. DLC says

    First, allow me to express my condolences to your family. I wish I could make it easier. Second, I would like to say that I don’t offer my condolences, weak as that may seem, out of some sense of “Christian Charity.” I am not religious, but I do believe in the quality of empathy. As I have been hurt by losing family and friends, I know others must also hurt when suffering loss. So I repeat myself. Please accept my condolences.

  18. Evan Myers says

    You know, if you’re going to fly across the county to the memorial service of the wife of your brother who committed suicide and attend the the church service were people profess their faith that she is in better place, you shouldnt belittle it for the sake of your blog. You’re an asshole

  19. Evan Myers says

    You delete my comments, here is what your bother thinks.
    He was complimentary of Julie but he was pretty negative about the church I wish he could have just not said anything about the service and I thought some of the comments made about his opinion were out of line. Julie grew up going to church and it was a big part of who she was I have never been very religious but I believe in respecting other’s beliefs I don’t know if there is a heaven but I hope there is and when my time comes I hope to see your mother and Julie there. Paul can be a little full of himself and insensitive at times but he is my brother so I try to look past what I think are his faults and hope he can look past mine.