This is a time of great joy in my family. The season brings images of childhood, laughter, expectation...a sense of belonging, of being connected. I have my own family now - a wife, two children. Heck, I've even got a little dog. And as Christmas approaches I can't help marveling at all the miraculous changes in my life over the last decade-and-a-half or so. God has truly restored my life. He has given me hope.

But this was not always so. Once, in a place and time that now seems near enough to touch and yet just beyond my reach, finding myself caught between the dreams of a boy and the desires of a man, I ran away from Home. I became very lost, lonely...very afraid. I walked through that part of my life barely half alive, in a place only half real. It is a time mostly forgotten now. But there are moments when this past reality comes back at me with unexpected force, startling me, threatening my joy.

This is why I shuddered recently, as I read in the newspaper about a "cyber suicide pact" in Japan - an unofficial "death chatroom," where those wanting to kill themselves offered one another encouragement and support to do so...a sort of death-wish fellowship. And only a few days before, I'd seen other reports showing a statistical rise in suicides as the holidays approach.

As I read, I remembered, and I felt cold. I knew these people. I could feel their deep longing for something, for someone, for connection, for a filling of an empty place within their hearts and souls. Every time I see such a story, I pause, and remember.

Suicide has long been a part of not only my memory, but of who I am, and perhaps who I will always be. After years of struggling with bipolar disease and drug addiction, my mother succumbed to that stranger who had always stalked her.

In my memoir, Prodigal Song, I painfully remembered: much of it I simply can't recall. There's nothing left but flashes of memory, mercifully unclear. And yet some of the images that sneak through are too dark and sordid to tell, without giving evil more sensational coverage than it deserves...

But I remember clearly the day, there in my empty apartment - the phone ringing, my heart pounding, and a few moments later numbly pulling down my suitcase from the closet shelf. Twenty-eight years old, long-hidden from the responsibilities of my far away family, wrapped so tightly around myself that I could often fool that self into thinking there was no real tragedy playing out all those thousands of miles away...

After one earlier attempt, this time she had succeeded. After being dead in her spirit for so long, after divorce and being left lonely and bitter and with no one close to minister to her, my mother had finally found a way, finally taken enough pills and washed them down with enough booze, though the doctors said her heart was still barely beating. She was almost done dying, now, broken into too many pieces, and though I had been trying to hide from her, and from what she had become and what I had become and what my family had become, suddenly the selfish insulation around me crumbled, just for a moment, and reality crashed down..."

Though I had been steadily declining into my own pit of alcoholism and drug addiction for many years, losing my mother catapulted me into a deeper despair. I had been killing myself for some time. Now I sought a quicker release.

"A few days later - though I'm not really sure how many days had started or ended my then - while lying on a nearly deserted beach a few miles from the coastal town of Brindisi, Italy, I decided to kill myself. It wasn't some plotted, melodramatic moment; it came almost as an afterthought, something I had meant to do for the longest time but had somehow never quite gotten around to. I was so tired, so profoundly weary, that the thought of endless sleep brought with it a sort of resigned peace. Every indulgence had failed me. I felt finished. And so I stood up, almost casually, and walked into the green sea..."