Jordan Matthew Tommerdahl: Reflections on Jordan, Mental Health, & God’s Love

Jordan Matthew Tommerdahl: 12/9/1992 – 11/27/2019

You can read Jordan’s obituary here.

You can donate to the Jordan Matthew Tommerdahl Scholarship Fund here.

Romans 8:31-39 The Message (MSG, with my paraphrase )

 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing godself to the worst by sending Emmanuel, is there anything else God wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s beloved ones? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died on account of love for us—who was raised to life for us—is in the presence of God at this very moment saying the truth about us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not mental illness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst things listed in Scripture….

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus has embraced us.

Good morning. My name is Sara Wilhelm Garbers. My spouse and I are best friends with Sarah and Ty, and since their move to Boston have served as surrogate additional siblings to Jordan. The family has asked me to share a few words as a pastor and a friend about Jordan, mental health, and about God’s love.

Last week as I was reeling from the news that Jordan had died, I was reaching for something to give me words to hold the pain and, not surprisingly to any of you who knew Jordan well, I turned to music. Jordan loved music of all kinds, and he lived a life that made music just by his being alive.

One song captured me, and the reasons for this are many: because of what it names about the grief of loving and losing to death those whom we love; and because it is sung by an artist who also died by suicide. I am speaking of the song “One More Light” by the band Linkin Park and of their former frontman Chester Bennington who died by suicide in 2017. I’ve listened to it on repeat and wanted to share it today as a way to say something about Jordan, about God’s love, and about us.

The song begins…

Should’ve stayed, were there signs, I ignored?
Can I help you, not to hurt, anymore?
We saw brilliance, when the world, was asleep
There are things that we can have, but can’t keep

If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do

We are here today because a bright light has gone from us, a man who was love and magic, and goodness. And we care. And we ask why and have questions- “Could I have helped you not to hurt anymore?” and we grieve and ache and miss his brilliance and light.

Last year Jordan got sick, our bright light and radiant smile started to have questions about what was real as the realities he had once known began to seem suspect and unknown.

His family loved him, and so did you. And our beautiful friend was living in inner turmoil in his brain as his illness fluctuated. And he died because of this illness.

So today I want to be clear about a few things. The first is this: Mental health and mental illness is just like any other illness. Think of cancer- to hear the word itself causes fear, and yet we know that some kinds of cancer are more livable than others– “Stage 2 melanoma” is far different to hear than “Stage 4 pancreas cancer.” And I want to be clear so that we might continue to deepen our understanding about mental health, knowing that Jordan’s illness, like any other kind of sickness, wasn’t anyone’s fault, let alone his.

Some of us here in the room will get or are living right now with mental health illness of one form or another ,and through meds, therapy, and other supports we are and will be able to live and flourish…but for Jordan, though we all wanted him to get better and be healed, his illness got so deep that it took him from us. Yet even in the depths of his illness and despair, he was still absolutely Jordan, his illness didn’t nor does it define him, just like someone who dies of cancer is more than their tumor. To the very end of his life Jordan was who he was; he died with a desire to be a part of goodness and to keep safe the world and those he loved. Recognizing his illness at work, Jordan wanted to go to school to help others who also were sick with mental illness, which is why the family has started a scholarship fund in honor of Jordan to support those seeking educational in the mental health profession.

The second thing I want to be clear about as a friend of Jordan and a pastor, especially in view of the fact that we are honoring his life here in a church, is this: the church has so often failed us in our aims to name and make sense of death by suicide, so if you have ever heard that death by suicide is some other kind of death than by another illness, this is wrong and untrue.  Mental illness, just like any other illness, has nothing to do with categories of sin or selfishness. Jordan was wrestling with his illness and, in the end, he died from it, but none of us would dare blame a person for dying from cancer, right? Nor should any of us dare to blame Jordan for his death or name it as selfish.

We might not understand, but which illness makes sense?

That is why we rage and grieve because death always counters the logic of life.

Absence always counters the logic of love’s desire for presence. 

Know this: Jordan is a light and goodness and is held in the love and peace of the God who holds and Sustains all things, and I believe that in the end, when he came to that moment of facing his own death, he knew peace because his embattled mind found its freedom and home in the loving God, from whom he came.

There’s nothing anyone could have done to save him from this. And so we release and grieve and rage and cry, but we trust Jordan to this God and to the peace that heals and holds him forever.

When I listened to “One More Light”  on repeat on Thursday morning again and again, crying and thinking of Jordan, God, and death by suicide,  my mind turned to Genesis 12 where God promises Abram that his decedents would be as numerous as the stars… and it hit me that Jordan was and will always be one of those stars of the promise, and we who are here today got to bear witness to that brilliance and goodness and light.

And as the Romans passage I read reminds us, nothing can or will separate Jordan or us from this God of love nor the promise which was and is ours. 

So honor and remember Jordan by remembering the promise and shinning. The thing about Jordan is he always believed there was plenty…enough love, enough light, enough smiles and goodness and joy for each of us. So shine, risk , gather, dance to Disney songs, light campfires, tell stories, make music and art and love.  Be the light you are, look out at the stars and wonder around at night in awe, travel to other countries, backpack through wilderness and shine, remembering our bright light and brother.

The second way to honor and remember Jordan is to help to end the stigmas about mental health, name it as illness and then let’s work together to support each other if and when we get sick.

And finally, honor Jordan by loving, Jordan believed that at the core and center of all things was love and a God who was big enough to love everyone- people of all genders or all races, of all bakgrounds, of all loves, of all colors- black, brown, white, rainbow. So live this love, be this love, and cherish this love.

And grieve, laugh, cry, love, hug and sing for:

If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well we do

Yes, we do. We love you Jordan.

We trust you to the God of all love and peace. May you be held forever in this love. Rest in that light and peace and love forever, dear brother. We will and do already miss you terribly, Jordan.


5 thoughts on “Jordan Matthew Tommerdahl: Reflections on Jordan, Mental Health, & God’s Love

  1. Dear Sara,

    I’m grateful you posted this. Thank you. In the midst if your own personal sorrow and grief over your friends death, you held hope and proclaimed and explained truth, and stood for Jordan and his family. That’s part of what I heard as I read your words. I’m certain you know these things- I’m not telling you new news. And yet, as someone learning so much from you, I want to acknowledge and call out to you your prophetic voice for healing, hope, and Gods expansive and real love- with us and in us and for us.

    Jordan sounds like he was an amazing person. I’m glad you were friends. And I’m glad that because we know and believe this isn’t the end, I can say I’m also glad you still are friends.

    I’m so sorry, Sara.

    Sending love and prayers this snowy morning, Sara Silburn

    On Mon, Dec 9, 2019 at 7:31 AM, Sara Wilhelm Garbers wrote:

    > Sara WG posted: “Jordan Matthew Tommerdahl: 12/9/1992 – 11/27/2019 You can > read Jordan’s obituary here. You can donate to the Jordan Matthew > Tommerdahl Scholarship Fund here. Romans 8:31-39 The Message (MSG, with my > paraphrase ) So, what do you think? With God on o” >

  2. That is just super incredibly beautiful and so well said in all the things I want to hear in mental illness situations that seem so unthinkable, we blame the victim to make sense. You made any kind of blame laughable – I’ve heard mental illness compared to cancer, but with nothing but those words and sentiments to really back it up. I loved what you wrote and knowing you said it out loud and with our brush last year – and any possible future brushes or losses with anyone I love – this does and will bring me comfort and resolve. Thank you!

    Sent from my iPhone


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