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Turning Tragedy into Good

Debbie and Dennis Jones"God's hands have been at work. He has been putting the pieces in place."

“If you ever need anything, don’t be shy. Let me know how I can help.” These words, spoken by Dennis Jones to his Germantown United Methodist Church pastor, Rick Kirchoff, began a friendship that would last a lifetime. From that first conversation, Rick says Dennis always made it clear he was here to help others. Yet Dennis did not share the depth of his personal struggle with depression—not even with his most intimate partner—his wife Debbie.

“After 35 years of marriage, I didn’t know that Dennis suffered from a cancer of the mind and it wasn’t being treated. In fact, it was terminal,” says Debbie.

On December 28, 2009 Dennis took his own life. Debbie remembered, “It was a shock. I had no idea.” Debbie and her daughter, Cristin Santana, quickly realized that “nothing good comes from keeping secrets” and decided not to hide how Dennis had died or how he had battled depression.

Instead, Debbie says, “I wanted to do something to turn this tragedy into something good.” She talked to Rick about starting a program that would offer help to other families battling depression. Rick wasn’t sure any single church had the capacity to sustain the work for decades to come and connected Debbie with Gary Gunderson, Sr. VP of Faith and Health for Methodist Healthcare. After much prayer and planning, the Dennis H. Jones initiative is underway at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.

And, Rick has joined Methodist, and one of his roles will be to lead the effort. “It’s a work in progress and is yet to be named,” he says. “But, one thing is for sure, it will honor Dennis.”

“I wish I had known enough to be able to help Dennis. With this program we can plug a hole where we didn’t even know there was one,” she says. “Dennis was giving and caring. Now he can continue to give and care through this work for years to come.”

Photo: Debbie Jones (l) and Rick Kirchoff (r)