Kayla Stoecklein, the widow of California Pastor Andrew Stoecklein has spoken out in the first interview given since her husband’s untimely death. Andrew, the senior pastor at Inland Hills Church in Chino, California, died August 25 after attempting suicide the day before.
In the few months that have elapsed since Andrew’s death, Kayla has written candidly about her process of grief on her website, GodsGotThis.org. Openly describing her husband’s period of severe mental illness that preceded his death, Stoecklein has sought to shine a light on the epidemic of emotional distress that is prevalent in our churches and wider society.
“He was sick,” she wrote of her husband in a post to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day. “His mind was overtaken by mental illness, spiritual warfare, and a series of unfortunate circumstances that caused him to lose control of his own thoughts and actions. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around what that must have felt like.
“He was an honorable man,” she said, “and his death is tragic.”
In a bid to bring more awareness to the plight of mental illness, and to honor her husband’s life and ministry, Kayla took the courageous step of featuring on a Facebook Live interview with well-known Christian author and Proverbs 31 Ministries President, Lysa TerKeurst. TerKeurst herself has battled against her own set of tragic circumstances last year, getting divorced from her husband due to his infedility, and even overcoming breast cancer. Certainly, the two new friends know the depths of heartache and loss, and it made for a compelling discussion.
Going back to a year ago, Kayla recalled the onset of Andrew’s panic attacks, and described how she and her family attempted to deal with it.
“He was having panic attacks two or three times a week,” Kayla explained. Stoecklein noted that they first thought that Andrew’s emotional ill-health was “as a result of hyper thyroid,” but, after bloodwork was taken, this diagnosis was thrown out.
The attacks, Kayla said, were “brutal.”
“One Sunday, a security guard found him upstairs in the bathroom having such a bad panic attack, right before the Easter services,” Stoecklein explained. “He was meant to give seven sermons. He ended up making it, he spoke the next weekend, and then the following week he ended up in the hospital.”
Kayla realized that the “panic attacks weren’t going away. And it wasn’t hyperthyroid.”
“What on earth was going on?” she asked.
Kayla went on to explain that Andrew had stepped into the role of lead pastor following the 2015 death of his father and Inland Hills’ founding pastor, David Stoecklein, who died aged 55 after a battle with cancer.
“He had never taken a break,” Kayla said. “He was running fast for seven years and never took time to grieve or process. We just thought he was tired.”
Finally, they received a diagnosis: “Your husband has depression,” the psychiatrist said. “I was stunned and scared,” Kayla recalled. Kaylsa said that following this, Andrew was placed on a “forced sabbatical.” It was very unpredictable. 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.”
I had only seen him cry a handful of times and he was crying all the time. He was in his bedroom all the time, isolating himself.
The doctors told Kayla that it was a “seasonal depression,” and that he would recover in a couple months. So, the couple embarked on a regimented treatment plan.
“We were doing everything right,” Stoecklein said, noting that Andrew was going to regular therapy. “We went on a trip just the two of us. He went on trips by himself. He went and stayed with a mentor for a whole week. And that doctors felt that he was better.”
In August, Andrew went back to work to a rousing welcome from his congregation.
“I went on stage with him,” Kayla explained. “People gave him a standing ovation. They were so pumped he was back.”
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