Death of a Stranger

This is not at all the post that I was planning on writing yesterday.

It was Monday, a holiday, the start of the week– I was going to knock out something light, fun and relatively inconsequential. (You know, like most days around here–there, I said it so you don’t have to!) But on Sunday, as I was surfing around, checking out Twitter and Facebook like the social media maven I am, I started seeing a flood of Tweets that caught my attention.  Apparently someone named Trey Pennington, described by people in the online community as an overwhelmingly popular social media guru/consultant/personality (and self-described on his Twitter page as a “marketing pro, speaker, author, dreamer”) committed suicide by shooting himself in the parking lot of his church–and the posts from friends and strangers reacting to the news were so full of shock and pain that they jumped off the page.

I’m not exactly sure why this particular tragedy resonated so deeply that I literally spent the rest of the evening Googling and reading everything I could find out about the man. He was the father of six children, a recent grandfather, a Christian, a successful business man and by all accounts a truly endearing, kind, caring human being. I learned that he was in the middle of a devastating divorce from his wife of 28 years, and that he has suffered from a crippling clinical depression and apparently attempted suicide earlier in the summer– though it appeared that he had gotten the appropriate help he needed and was doing much better. People describe him as an encourager, someone who truly believed in the value of social media not only to promote business endeavors but to connect people IRL (in real life). The outpouring of grief from people whose lives have been touched by him is a testament to that belief. The very last thing he Tweeted, hours before he died, echoed those feelings:

So… this was a guy who had over 110,000 followers on Twitter and almost 5,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook. According to the many, many posts that have been written since Sunday he also had many people within arm’s (or telephone’s) reach who loved him, supported him, listened to him and tried their best to help him keep his balance despite the deadly chemical imbalance raging inside him caused by his depressive illness. But in the end, in the brief time it took to formulate a plan, get a gun and drive to his church, the desire to end his pain was stronger than his ability to keep fighting. Despair won.

I had never heard of Trey Pennington until yesterday. His interesting life and sad death don’t really personally affect me in any way. I have been blessedly spared the agony of losing a close friend or loved one to suicide, so his story doesn’t resonate with any deep personal pain in my past. So why haven’t I been able to shake this? I feel, pardon the expression, haunted by what happened to him and I’ve been reading every article and post I can get my hands on for the last two days.

Trey Pennington’s death has triggered a lot of discussion and debate online, and one main theme that has emerged is the question of what, if any, part did social media play in this tragedy? Some say none– some say that the very nature of social media creates a false sense of connection that is hollow, not real.  And maybe that’s one of the reasons I have been so focused on following this story.

When I started Babybloomr I didn’t have a well-defined agenda (well, other than complete bloggy world domination, of course.) I had blogged for the Tennessean for two years, and when that was over it seemed the perfect time to launch my own site. I pictured it as being a continuation of what I had done for the newspaper, but with more freedom to write about a broader range of things that interested me, and not just focus on mommyblogging, which is what I had originally been hired to do. And that’s just how it played out– Babybloomr was (and is) a work in progress, that on any given day can be funny or serious, light or heavy, wordy or full of pictures… whatever I’m feeling. You guys, bless you, have not just come along for the ride but have jumped in and helped create and shape what happens here. You’ve also created this whole community/support system/coffee klatch thing that happens between all of you in the comment section that absolutely delights me! I know that there are many loving, supportive friendships that have developed over the years on this site, and I truly believe that they are as authentic as any other relationships in our lives. But obviously, it is much easier to put up a brave front and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not if your main communication with someone happens online, and you are not able to look each other in the eye or notice if something in their voice doesn’t sound quite right.

Is that what happened with Trey Pennington? I don’t know. Maybe everybody missed it and failed to see how desperate he really was, or maybe his mind was made up and no one could have done anything to stop him anyway. Maybe, as some people seem to be suggesting, his church failed him– one wonders at the specific circumstances under which he chose to end his life– or maybe they reached out and were rejected. There are obviously no easy answers, and to me? The only clear enemy here is that soul-sucking bastard, depression. Depression lied to Trey Pennington and told him that there was no hope of things ever getting better, that God had abandoned him and the people in his life would be better off without him. Depression blinded him and gutted him and ultimately, destroyed him.

There’s a quote attributed to Plato that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I guess what I’m trying to say in this rambling, all-over-the-place little missive is that I truly appreciate the kindness you have all shown to me and to each other here in our own tiny corner of the internet. And that I pray that will always be a place where it is OK to be who we are, in all of our flawed humanity, and to reach out and ask for help if we are drowning. We all need to know that our trembling hand will be met by the strong arm of real friendship– cyber or otherwise. We can be that for each other around here.

I love you guys.

“Here’s something you can do right now, right where you are, and you don’t even need a book to show you how: when that next person walks into your office, calls you on the phone, or sends you an email, stop to seriously ponder the question, “Why am I glad this person is on the planet?”

When you have the answer to that question, take it from your mind, put it into words, and give those words to that person.”

- Trey Pennington

26 Responses

  1. jonny

    I truly have no idea where I would be right now with who I am, and more than a few other things, if you had not sent an e-mail to me, at two different points in time, asking me to be a part of all this. Grateful for Bloomr and all those on board. My life would not be as rich, full, challenged and blessed if not for all that this has been, and will hopefully continue to be.

    Peace !


  2. Lisa Strickland

    Tori…thank you so much for sharing this. I have not had the opportunity to tell you lately, but you truly bless me. I thank God for crossing our paths and helping me to grow so much more, just in reading your blogs. Any time I need some inspiration or even a good kick in the butt, all I have to do is come on over to Baby Bloomr.

    I too, understand what it is like dealing with depression. There have been times when I felt I was all alone, even God had stopped caring. You are right, depression is a liar and I too, have to somehow seek ways to remind myself of that.
    My cousin also took his life, due to depression, in front of his wife, just this year. He left behind four children, as well.
    I pray for Trey’s family and all those who suffer from this type ordeal.

    I love you Tori and all of your family. Looking forward to the next read and hope to see you all again soon! THANK YOU FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE!!!

    In Him,
    Lisa S.

  3. Phyllis S

    I wear the shoes of a family of a suicide, all shoes are different styles, different sizes and different colors, but all are shoes. My Mom took her life after retirement; no social media ever was part of her life. This too was a wonderful Christian, loving wife, mother and grandmother. Somewhere after retirement, she lost her self-will, her self-determination and self-motivation. Did we see the self-destruction coming, NOT! After many months and now years (14) I have come to realize that nothing we did or could do would have prevented this. We did have her hospitalized with the best doctors, yet it was not enough, nor would it have ever been.

    Our perspective changes after a life altering episode in each of our lives, my hope is that I take the change and help the next person or family with their shoes. I may not like their style or color, but it is shoes none the less and for a time I have walked in them.
    Thanks Tori so much for this blog, it is the first time I have put it in written words and it feels good.

    Much Love to you and Many Prayers for the Pennington family.

  4. jonny

    My sincerest condolences, Lisa.

  5. jonny

    To be honest, I’ve lost track of all those I’ve known who have taken their own lives, or allowed themselves to be into things that could clearly cut it short. I think the first was someone I was fond of when I was in third grade. He was a teenager. After him was a boy I knew a that was a little older than me, shortly after this first one happened. It also could have been a kid playing with a loaded gun accident. No one really wanted to investigate further than that at the time. A few while I was in high-school, and more the years following. A father of one of my sister’s closer friends tried it. Survived, but was never the same. Lost too much of his gray matter in the process. There was also my cousin who was gunned down by her husband, who also shot and killed their two small boys and then himself. A father figure of mine took his own life, and more recently the younger sister of my first girlfriend. There are also many I’ve known of that have affected community, completed and otherwise, but that I did not personally; and one that happened right under my nose. Literally. Sadly, it just seems to be a part of our existence here on this planet.

  6. tori

    jonny, Lisa, Phyllis– Thank you, each of you, for telling your truth.

    It’s actually kind of odd that suicide hasn’t hit closer to home for me, only because I have spent most of my life surrounded by musicians, writers and artists– and as we all know, the suicide rate among the gifted, introspective ‘creatives’ of the world is higher than average. But depression is not a stranger in my house, and I have had a front row seat to Russ’ courageous battle with it. I think saying these things out loud takes the power out of them, and I am so grateful that this site is a safe place to do that for all of us.

  7. jonny

    It is becoming a safe place for me again, too. Sooner than expected, actually.

  8. gracelynn

    This was powerful, Tori. I have a cousin that has battled depression for a long time and it is a demon that is extremely hard to overcome. Although I’ve never had to personally experience the loss of a loved one/friend through suicide, my mother worries daily that, should my father’s health continue to fail, he may at some point attempt it. So I’m well aware of the fear that it brings and causes to the loved ones involved. I’m blessed to have a strong support team, and you and Russ are most definitely an important part of it. I thank you personally for all that both of you have done by just listening and praying me through.
    Loneliness and depression are hard battles to fight, but by God’s grace, I’ve always been able to overcome them and move on. Sadly, many people spend their lives fighting this demon silently. It is all too easy though to put on a front that everything is fine. We go out, we smile and play our roles, but when the day is over, the harsh reality hits and sadly, that’s when the side that the majority of people never see emerges. And for people like my father, it is difficult to reach out and let the emotion show. So I encourage everyone to just take a few moments to stop and listen to the people around you. Sometimes, all they need is someone to do just that – listen.

  9. jonny

    ‘Ditto’ what Gracelynn wrote …

  10. DonnaMariePatterson

    Thanks for sharing Tori. I believe Trey’s death, the pain of depression, suicide, and loss bothers us because we are a family of God and we grieve along with Him when His heart is broken over the pain suffered by His creation.

    ‘Lord, help us all to be more loving and sensitive to Your Holy Spirit so that we know what to say to others and when to intercede in prayer. Help us block out all the noise and busyness that steals our time and thoughts. Forgive me when I fail you. Help us to be still and hear Your voice. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.’

    Love you!!

  11. Gramma Jac

    I’m glad you’re all on the planet!

    Tori, thank you for sharing this.

    When I first read your blog (a year and a half ago maybe?), I thought that I would find your words interesting, entertaining, enlightening,..and that IS what I found! What I didn’t expect was to find a group of friends who each share a part of their lives/thoughts, and, yes Lisa, that would kick me in the butt if I needed it, but also give a cyber-hug when that’s needed. (Or that will kindly tell me that my last sentence was terribly “run-on”!)

    So thanks to Tori and to each and every one of you–I’m giving a great BIG prayer of thanksgiving for “y’all”!

    I won’t even start on what this “Yank” has learned about the South!!
    (And, yes, I’m thinkin’ food!) :-)

  12. LindaB

    Thanks for this discussion, Tori. It does help to talk about it…..for the sufferers of depression, as well as those that love and care for them. I was one of those well meaning but ignorant Christians who had no patience with depressed people. Why couldn’t they just look around them and see what a wonderful world it is……or find joy in knowing God loves them……and just will themselves to snap out of it? If I ever had a case of depression myself, it lasted about fifteen minutes. I just didn’t understand it……..plodding day after day through hopelessness, helplessness, and despair……..despair so heavy that it hung in the air and made it hard to breathe. I guess God thought it was about time He did something about my attitude and ignorance so He gave me a daughter and granddaughter who suffer from severe clinical depression. And I have learned a lot! It has been a roller coaster ride of fear and frustration……..and regrettably, sometimes anger. Anger at people like the old me who thought that people who struggle with depression were somehow unspiritual or didn’t believe God, or that you could “talk” them out of it. Anger at the sufferer for putting the whole family through this hellish nightmare……of panicking when they’re in their room too long, of hiding all sharp instruments in the house, or sitting up nights in the ICU so they won’t feel alone and abandoned while they rail at you for bringing them there, and being unable to make plans not knowing what to expect from them or what mood they’ll be in. And anger at God for allowing my child and grandchild to have this dark and frightening malady that is so hard to understand and treat……..and if left untreated, can kill them…….and all the while they will fight against you for trying to save them.

    We finally found a wonderful doctor who helped our granddaughter. He was amazing. But I have to say this……I admire her so much for fighting through this darkness and coming out a better person instead of a bitter person…..a relatively happy well adjusted girl who knows her limitations and plans for them. She is one of the bravest people I know, and I’m so proud of her. Can you imagine KNOWING that there is something wrong with your thought processes or the way you perceive things? It’s downright scary! I also admire Russ and anyone here on Bloomr that fights with this monster called depression every day. And my heart goes out to those of you who’ve lost loved ones and friends to depression and suicide. It DOES help to talk about it…..and find out you are not alone, and you are not to blame.

    Thanks Tori for once again making this a warm safe place to share with friends. And get a virtual cup of coffee!

  13. delightedabroad

    Thanks to all of you for sharing.
    I’m sitting in front of my computer, deeply touched and struggling with my old habit: “chewing” it all on my own. (I might have problems with speaking out loud, I’m definitely more talented in listening) I belong to those who deal with depression and suicide within their family (and friends). And my experience is that it is a burden/fight for both sides.
    Thank you, LindaB, for saying you’ve been angry – at times I felt the same.

  14. jonny

    “Can you imagine KNOWING that there is something wrong with your thought processes or the way you perceive things?”

    Thanks Former for sharing all you did. Means a lot, for what it’s worth. And yes, I can even more than imagine that = )

  15. Phyllis S


    Your words have such a profound way of saying exactly what I stumble to express.

    I know that I talked extensively (way to long) to you, Beth, Mommalloyd and Betty M. @ MB about Mom and depression. It just feels GOOD to express ourselves and hear someone else say, “I’ve been there, I’ve done that” and realize that we are not the only ones on this planet that has experienced this awful anomaly.

    Tori, this blog is so good for each of us, we find ourselves with “friends” whom we share life’s treasures, good and not so good, but treasures just the same. It is these treasures that make us who we are.

    To each friend here, we can be thankful we know where we have been and where we are going (not easy), but we know that God will lead us and watch our backs.


  16. LindaB

    I want to add one more thing to my commnet (surprise surprise!). We have learned in our family of a few things that really help in the war on depression besides medications and good counseling…..simple things anyone can do. One is exercise, preferably in the great outdoors. Another is vitamin C. And one is sunlight—-either outside in natural sunlight, a broad spectrum light bulb in a room where you spend a lot of time, or a tanning bed i.e. one of those tanning spas. It makes a very noticeable difference! One of my granddaughter’s therapists suffered from depression and she went to a tanning spa throughout the winter months and recommended it to us. It’s not necessary to tan so much you look like you just got back from a desert island………a few minutes a week is all that’s needed. And one of the newest weapons against depression we’ve found is fish oil capsules! A doctor suggested that to us a few months ago and it really works!

    Depression isn’t an illness that can be cured with a pill or two and a few counseling sessions. It’s something you have to live with your whole life……like diabetes. It’s always lurking in the background. It needs to be managed. And anything you can use to keep it at bay is helpful!

    My granddaughter is also a type one diabetic. And any dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar will also cause dramatic mood swings. So, she must manage two capricious conditions at the same time that affect each other. See why I admire her courage and strength so much? And her determination to live a normal life?

  17. LindaB

    “commnet”??? Shall we discuss dyslexia next??? LOL

  18. JasonW


    I stumbled onto your blog because of a trackback link on another post about Trey. I’m like you in that I didn’t know him but his death really hit me hard because of my past with suicide attempts as a teen and depression so severe if I didn’t have a personal policy against suicide now I probably wouldn’t be here.

    The quote you put at the end just haunts me. The reason is that I have said the very same things to people in what seems like a guise to encourage them but it really my soul screaming out for someone to give a crap. To tell ME that I matter to them. When your soul is dry you cry out for any rain you can find.

  19. Phyllis S

    Welcome to the blogg, we have great discussion here, some so off the wall that you wonder where do these nuts come from. Stay with us, you will laugh, you will cry, you will make some of the most incredible friends you have ever known.

    Tori is one great writer, inspirational to each of us and as nuts as each and everyone of the crew.

    Again Welcome and Come Back Often For Many Visits.

  20. jonny

    Yeah, JasonW, welcome aboard = ) And whatever happens, please don’t give up on us too easily …

  21. jcolquette


    Thank you for your transparency which allows each of us to be transparent. I know for myself, I am always bothered, and yes, there are times that I cry,for those I do not know and especially for those I have known and loved, who for whatever reason, couldn’t keep holding onto the life jacket or for whom the life jacket was ripped out of their hands. I am learning that I have been so judgmental in my life, especially on the subject of suicide. It becomes more when it is my friend or family member who has attempted or completed the end of their life. I have had arguments with theologians, pastors, counselors, and yes, even God, about the why’s and the Where’s-as in Where does one’s soul go after suicide; I have felt the utter desolation and hopelessness of the “If only’s”, and have ultimately had to still say, I trust you Lord, even and especially when I don’t understand, even when the pain feels as if it will never go away, even when I can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel….I only can see the hearts left behind, the ripped openings that will never be healed on this side of heaven, the questions left behind, the arms that will never be complete again…..YET I WILL TRUST YOU.

  22. jonny

    Just found out a friend lost one of her girlfriends this way. Possibly this evening, but could have happened earlier as well. She recently put the following video up on her facebook wall. I thought it was a simply brilliant visual take on the song. I remember asking myself, after my ‘father figure’ took his life; wasn’t my love for him, the appreciation, gratitude and love others had for him as well, enough to keep him holding on a little longer ??

  23. jonny

    Was working on one of our new songs with the band last night; one that I threw lyrics up here to some time back. Forgot about them actually until last night, but was reminded of what helped finally bring them together in the first place. Someone else who took their one life. Anyway, thought it fitting to post them here, in this thread, again.

    Peace !

    11.11. Dark Valley

    In a harsh and troubled land
    Wait for someone to take my hand
    Be it friend; or be it foe
    Prob’bly follow wherever they…

    Had to find some hide-a-way
    A refuge to crawl in an’ stay
    Air’s so thick; hard to breathe
    Where we watch each other… bleed

    Where’s the beauty gone ?

    In the shadows dark and grim
    Wait for someone to come in
    All alone, I tried to cry
    But those tears have all run, dry

    Thought again about this life
    What she did just cut like a knife
    Light’s so dim, child; it’s hard to see
    What you should have been to, me

    Where’s the beauty gone ?
    Where’s the beauty gone ?

    In a cold and tortured soul
    It’s clear I have nowhere else to go
    Hurts so bad how could one say
    Tomorrow can’t be no worse than to-day

    Hard to face what I’ve become
    All that which can not be un-done
    A pall so thick, can hardly see
    All that this was supposed to… be

    Where’s the beauty gone ?
    Where’s the beauty gone ?
    Where’s the beauty gone ??
    Where’s the beauty gone ?

  24. JanetB

    Haunting, j.

    Tori, I’ve had the same experience many times – finding myself drawn into/obsessed about a story of someone that I have no connection to. Maybe I’m supposed to pray…or learn something…

    Close to 24 years ago, my cousin’s son – young, funny, smart…and secretly troubled – took his own life. He was 22. His mother was standing outside his locked bedroom door when he shot himself. To this day, we have no clue as to why.
    He was the son, grandson, & nephew of preachers. Having always been taught that there’s no hope for someone who commits their own murder, you can imagine how bleak the scene at his funeral was.
    However…that is still the most amazing funeral I’ve ever been to. His uncle preached, saying that he was ashamed that it took the death of his own nephew to push him into the Word to see what God had to say on the subject.
    What he found was compassion…mercy…love…grace. That only God knows the utter turmoil inside the mind of someone who decides to do something so drastic & final. And – we can’t judge what we don’t know. (Sounds simple enough…)
    It’s sad that I’ve had to draw on that sermon so many times over the years when talking to the loved one of another of these poor souls. But at least, I had it to share.
    Our next door neighbor’s daughter killed her 5 children & herself, distraught over an abusive relationship. After the funerals, the minister actually said to my neighbor that her grandchildren were in heaven, but her daughter was in hell. Why he felt the need to burden her that way is beyond my comprehension.

    All I know is…I’m not God. He is, though. Hallelujah.

  25. jonny

    “After the funerals, the minister actually said to my neighbor that her grandchildren were in heaven, but her daughter was in hell.”

    That does seem very much out of place, insensitive, and absolutely none of his business. Only one who knows these things for sure.

  26. jonny


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