My Twelfth Rose: A Story Of Love, Bipolar And Suicide With Pastor James Ford Jr. - Part 3

WRT | Story Of Love

Leave a well in the valley. Pastor James Ford Jr. believes it is his mission to help others who have lost someone they love through his own experience of losing his wife to suicide. In this final episode of a three-part conversation, he talks to Tina Fornwald about the importance of talking about the pink elephant in the room: mental illness. Through his story, he has helped lighten the load of others. Join him as he shares his grief journey, the role of faith in the process, and where he is finding joy now.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others. 

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country:

How To Contact Pastor James Ford, Jr.: 

Pastor Ford: 

Christ Bible Church of Chicago:,at%20Trinity%20Evangelical%20Divinity%20School 

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My Twelfth Rose: A Story Of Love, Bipolar And Suicide With Pastor James Ford Jr. – Part 3

This is part three of our final conversation with Pastor James Ford regarding the conversation of the death of his late wife, his love of many years. I want you to know that you are not alone. Let’s get into the discussion now.

WRT | Story Of Love

You mentioned something important. Thank you again for having this conversation. I know this is not easy. Not even being a year, why would you want to talk about this and share this? Why is that important to you?

It’s the pink elephant in most Black communities, especially in Black churches. Even while I was going through this separation, I was still speaking. People were coming to me, asking me questions, and looking for answers for the situations they were going through with primarily bipolar. For example, I had a marriage conference. There were about 200 couples in 4 days. In those 4 days, I had 4 different pastors approach me saying, “I’m going through the same thing with my wife.” I had one pastor’s wife who said, “The church drove my husband crazy. I don’t know who he is. Can you talk to me?”

I talked to all those people, and God seemed to be saying to me, “This is going to open up a new avenue. Now you know what the pain is when someone loses their spouse through suicide, and you’re able to leave a well in the valley. You can’t totally alleviate, but you can make an effort to lighten somebody’s load.” That one pastor’s wife was still amenable to him getting guardianship. He called me up, “My guardianship went through. It took a couple of months, but I got guardianship now.” If she gets to the third or fourth stage, he’s able to say, “My wife needs to be in here. She does not want to come, but I have the paperwork. I need her.”

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You helped somebody.

Even in my congregation, people were coming to me and saying, “I never told anybody, but my son, my daughter, my husband, and my wife committed suicide.” They’re coming to me, and I meet with them and share. I’m not a “professional.” I always encourage them to find themselves a good Christian counselor who knows about these mental illnesses. It helped me with my seatbelt.

There’s a thing called DARVO when you deal with people who are bipolar. They go through Denial, Anger, Retribution, Victim, and Offender. My wife went right through it. He told me, “I was struggling. I don’t want to do this. I made the slip earlier because everybody was trying to get me to do an order of protection because my wife said she wanted to kill me.”

I said to him, “What does an order of protection mean?” “She can’t come within 500 feet of you. How is that going to work? How am I going to take care of her then? That means I can’t go within 500 feet of her. I’m not doing that,” but then when he explained it to me, I was struggling. He said, “This is what will happen. I’m not the one that’s sick. You need to get up off of me. You have some issues you need to deal with. You’re trying to take it out on me because it’s you who had the problem.”

Seeing a psychiatrist helped because I learned some things like DARVO where they will go through a phase, and you will hear it. First, there’s denial, anger, and then retribution. They become the victim and then the offender. It all fell into place. I said, “That’s what she said. I’m not sick.” The anger part or the venomous spurred out, and then the retribution, “You are this, that, and the other.” She becomes the victim now, “You are the one that’s doing this to me.” She’s then the offender, “You need to do this. You need to do that. You are the one that has the problem.”

When he shared that with me, he said, “You’re mighty quiet, Pastor Ford.” I said, “This happened. This has been happening, and I didn’t know it. You’re telling me this. I wish I had known the things that you were telling me early on. I should have done my homework early on.” That’s what I would say to anybody who’s dealing with anyone that you even suspect that they have mental illness. If they’re amenable to it, get them evaluated and checked. You learn as much as you can about that illness.

When we were taking care of her mom, I learned everything I could about Alzheimer’s. I learned that there are seven stages to it. All of this stuff made a difference. I said, “If I would have done the same thing early with her, it wouldn’t have alleviated anything. I wouldn’t have stopped anything but I could have ministered to her a little better. That’s about it.” We buried her in Pittsburgh. I got the plot right next to her so that whenever the Lord calls my name, they will take me home and put me beside her.

I have a few more questions for you. I’m going to flip the chair a little bit. Are there any questions you have for me?

We’re peas in a pod. We both were mightily in love and now we’re working through it. I still wear my wedding ring. Everybody goes, “What are you wearing it for?” “It’s because I want to.” “When are you going to take it off?” “Whenever I want to, and I don’t want to.” I probably shouldn’t even share this.

Go ahead.

I had a sister say this to me.

“Do you want a pie? Can I bring you over something to eat, Pastor? You need a meal.” How long did it take to get to that? Was it 30 days? I wanted to talk about it. What did you think?

I thought, “How insensitive.”

Talk about that right there. People see you as open and available in a target. You were trying to figure it out, “My whole spouse died in a horrific way, and you think I have space to entertain you. How insensitive. If you want to comfort me, then you should be praying and fasting someplace by yourself and never talking to me.” It’s mind-boggling. Are you serious?

I had one say, “When are we going to dinner?” We’re not. There’s nothing wrong with going to dinner. I’m not ready to do anything with any one woman. I was with my wife for 60 years.

Sixty years times three hundred and sixty-five days in a year times how many minutes and moments. What does your mind have to do to unpack? You’re seeing your name without hers, with you understanding what dinner looks like, and what every aspect of your being looks like. We are trusting God in that process. God is your keeper but you have to go through the unpacking of wanting to call her when something happens. It’s automatically the thing you want to do to say her name in the house and think about all that. Do you think I have space for your raggedy self?

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I had somebody say this. I’m glad I’m a pastor. I’m glad I’m a Christian because I don’t believe any man ought to hit anyone for any reason. That sister said to me, “Whenever you do decide, you let me know because I ask first.” I walked away and said, “Let me walk away from it.”

You heard from other people who lost their spouses. People did that. You hear these things like, “Everybody is approaching me.” You think, “Not really,” and then it happens to you.

It blows you away. I don’t believe people.

There’s a reason that Jesus had to die.

Amen. That’s it.

We are two peas in a pod in that unpacking. I’ve asked you a lot of questions. I have two final questions, and then I’m going to ask you to close out this conversation. Maybe there was something you feel like we didn’t talk about that you wanted to share. Here are my final two questions for you. What gives you joy now?

There are a couple of things. My son made a video of me and his mom from pictures that we took when she was 8, and I was 12 all the way up to this picture three months before she died. He put it to her favorite song. Whenever I want to think about my Sugarbabe, I play it. I sit in front of my desktop, watch it, and cry. I’ve never been able to watch it without crying but there’s a catharsis that happens with the good memories. Not the last eighteen months but all those memories of all the places we have been and all the things that we have done give me a lot of joy.

The second thing that gives me a lot of joy is I’m helping a lot of people. This is not the route that I would have taken to be able to do that but it does bring me joy when I’m able to see what I shared with you with the pastor who was able to get guardianship. It isn’t the answer to everything but it is an answer to something. I’ve got my counseling ministry. They will be going through specific training for mental illness. They have certificates from accredited psychological ministries. They’re going to go through that. We’re going to expand. That brings me joy. The third thing is I have two dogs. When we were apart, she wanted a Shih Tzu, so she got a Shih Tzu. I said, “I’m going to go back to my dog.” I have a Pit Bull. I have both of them.

How do they get along?

They get along well because when I got her the dog, I got her dog for one month. She had it for about a year, and then I went and got myself one. He was a puppy. I was over every day in the apartment that she lived in because she called me up, “I’m hungry. Bring me some food. I want this and that.” I get up and get it. One of the things the psychiatrist told me was, “You have to have some boundaries.”

I shared with her, “This is what my psychiatrist told me. We’re going to set some boundaries. I’m going to turn my phone off at 11:00 so you can’t call me at 2:00 in the morning and say, ‘Come over here because I’m afraid.'” That’s what she would do. She would call me at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, “What’s going on? What’s up?” “I feel afraid. I need you to come over here.” I went over there, and she said, “Get in the bed.” She fell right asleep. One time, I said, “This doesn’t make sense. You come on home and get in the bed.” She snapped, “Get out. I don’t need you.” She called me the next night.

His name is Zeus. I say, “Buddy, Blessing is Pudgy. You are me.” That’s the way they roll. I laugh all the time. I fed him. I laugh because I’ll give him snacks. She will take his snacks. She’s a Shih Tzu. He’s a Pit Bull. She runs him. I got him a toy basket, and all their toys were in it together. They like to fetch stuff. I’ll throw it. She gets in this mood where she will take all the toys from him, put them in the basket, and stand in the basket, “These are all my toys.” He will try to get a toy and back off. He will come over and sit by me. I say, “This is Sonny and Pudgy here.” They’re hilarious.

Probably not in any order but now, all I’m trying to do is build memories with my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren. I do things with them. We do Zoom calls with my grandkids. I take them out at least once a month or sometimes twice. We eat, talk, go to Dave & Buster’s, and all that stuff. We’re getting ready to plan a trip together. We’re going to Ohio, Disney, or something like that. We’re creating memories. That’s about it.

Here’s my final question. If you could pick any timeline in your life, and you could go back and talk to younger you, what age span or age would you pick? What would you tell yourself?

I would go back to when I came out of the military.

We didn’t even talk about you being in the Marines, jarhead. Go, Army. Twenty-one years. I’ve been doing my studies. I come from a military family. Our dad was in the Air Force. My middle sister, Ulanka, is a retired Senior Chief. Our youngest sister was in the Marines. We say our mom is the Chief of Staff. She has kept everything together. My oldest sister is a servant. She was a schoolteacher in the Chicago public school system. Our brother was on the American bobsled team. We have a serving family. We can go ahead and talk about you being in the Marines.

I was a jarhead.

I don’t want to say it but that’s why it almost came out of my mouth.

Simplify until I die. There you go. I did two and a half years.

That would be the timeline.

I would talk to them about choices. You are the sum total of all the choices that you make, and you’re free to make choices but you’re not free to choose the consequences of your choices. Every choice has a consequence, whether it’s good or bad. I can choose not to brush my teeth but the consequence is bad breath and tooth decay. Try to follow your decisions to the ultimate end. What is this going to do? If I make this choice now, how is it going to impact me later?

You are the sum total of all the choices that you make, and you're free to make choices but you're not free to choose the consequences of your choices. Share on X

I got a sermon that I preached, and it was called Death by Fork. Gluttony is my favorite sin. Here’s how I started, “You better be careful what you eat now because it may eat you later.” I shared with everybody that I had diabetes and high blood pressure. I almost lost my foot. I could trace it back to all the sweets, bread, donuts, and all the rest of it.

That’s what I would share with the young people, “You’re making this choice now. It’s going to impact you later. You have to find out. Before you make that choice, what is the impact ultimately going to be? You’re looking at the immediate effects of it. You’re going to have fun but what are the ultimate effects of it?” You recognize you may get by but you never get away because you are the sum total of all the choices that you make. I would end up telling them, “You are becoming what you will become.” I would also add icing on the cake, “Show me your friends. I’ll tell you your future.” That’s what I would share.

Thank you for this conversation. I will allow you to wrap up with any final words or things that you want to share.

I believe this. I don’t know how people make it without the Lord. I don’t believe that I could have “hung in there,” stayed by the stuff, and given my twelfth rose the care and the love that she so desperately needed. I will share this. We both journal. I’ve got over 40 years of journals. I was reading her journal, and it was eye-opening. In one account, she writes, “I know he loves me, and I know I love him. I don’t know why I’m treating him this way.” I’m reading stuff like that. It’s something that concretizes in your thinking, “I’m so glad I did the right thing. I’m so glad that I loved her unconditionally.”

If you’re married, marriage is an unconditional commitment to a flawed person. Marriage is a union of two forgivers. If you’re not ready to forgive, you’re not ready to get married. In 60 years, 58 and a half were beautiful years. I wouldn’t let those last eighteen months spoil the memories that I have of my Sugarbabe. I put them aside, go back, and revisit all of the times that we had and all the things that we have overcome together like the loss of children, my not having a job, moving, taking care of a sick mother for seventeen years, and how we were a team. You can’t beat that. You have to have that commitment. I used to tell her, “If you ever leave me, I’m going with you,” and I did.

WRT | Story Of Love
Story Of Love: Marriage is an unconditional commitment to a flawed person. Marriage is a union of two forgivers. If you’re not ready to forgive, you’re not ready to get married.

Thank you.

You’re welcome.

Thank you for being part of this conversation. I am sorry for the person that you have lost that is no longer here but I am so glad that you were able to connect with us. I pray and I hope that the conversations have made us part of your hood, and we are able to help you and know that you are not alone. We are your community. We are here on this journey with you.

This conversation with Pastor James Ford was intentional to be able to help you and your family members to be able to understand that this journey is hard but there is something powerful that can come out of sharing and talking to help other people to be able to process, move, live, and know that they are not on this journey alone, and there are people here that understand you. Talk to you soon.

Important Links 

About Pastor James Ford Jr.

WRT | Bipolar SuicidePastor James Ford Jr. has served as Senior Pastor of Christ Bible Church of Chicago (formerly South Shore Baptist Church), located on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, for 42 years. He is preceded in death by the love of his life, Leslie A. Ford, whom he affectionately called his Sugarbabe.

Pastor Ford is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and completed his Master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Pastor Ford currently serves on the Board of Directors for Pacific Garden Mission and has served on several boards, including the Baptist General Conference’s Board of World Missions and the Board of Overseers, Board of Directors of the Ada S. McKinley Special Educational Services, Board of Directors of Fellowship Christian Academy, and the Alumni Board of Moody Bible Institute.

Pastor Ford is the senior pastor of Christ Bible Church of Chicago as well as the president of James Ford Jr Ministries, which is a ministry committed to strengthening marriages and developing leaders in the body of Christ. Pastor Ford provides the messages of “Treasured Truth For Troubling Times, which is aired daily over WMBI 90.1-FM, as well as over 160 WMBI syndicate and affiliate stations nationwide and in some U.S. territories.

Pastor Ford is an international conference speaker, seminar leader, and Bible teacher. He has served as an Adjunct Professor at Moody Bible Institute, an instructor for the Pacific Garden Mission’s Bible program in Chicago, Illinois and is a special instructor at the Ecola Bible School in Cannon Beach, Oregon. He has been a speaker at Moody Bible Institute’s annual Founder’s Week and has taught many courses in the Greater New Era District’s Bible program.

Pastor Ford has been honored as “Pastor of the Year (1993) by Moody Bible Institute and was bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by St. Thomas Christian University of Jacksonville, Florida. He has been lauded as an influential leader in the Christian community by “The Chicago People’s Voice” newspaper and “Man of the Year” by the Chicago Bible Association.

As an author, Pastor Ford is a contributor in the book “A Heart For the City”, published by Moody Press. He has authored 7 books: “When a Man Loves A Woman”; “Seven Reasons Why God Created Marriage”; “When A Woman Loves A Man”; “Living The Blessed Life”; “A New Look At An Old Prayer”; “Rules of Engagement”; and “What To Do When The Devil Talks To You”.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country