If you are reading this, then I must have had the courage to finally release and post these words that have been circulating in my head and my heart for some time now. Even as I type, I am questioning if the strength will come to hit the ole’ publish button. We shall see.
Let me preface by making it abundantly clear that I do not condone or promote the act of suicide in any way shape or form. I serve the God who created life, and each human life is valuable beyond measure. The act of suicide is never God’s will or plan. It is a tragedy.
The news of Robin Williams’ death hit us all on various levels, and it has sparked much conversation on the matter. I have noted lengthy debate and dialogue concerning how one views the act of suicide, and the debilitating depression that accompanies such a choice. Yes, I did call it a choice. I have seen much struggling with that term as well. There is a great deal of passion and emotion that is evoked with this topic, and even those with an honest and good intent are hard pressed to proceed without causing offense to someone. With that, I pray that my words might bring some joy and peace to anyone suffering from the intense pain that suicide leaves behind. And to anyone contemplating suicide, please know that you are worthy, valuable, and loved. God makes no mistakes, and He made you. I pray that peace will be yours at this very moment, and that that peace will give you the strength to keep on. There is great purpose in your life.
But what of those who have lost loved ones to suicide? Can beauty be found in the midst of such tragedy?…. And is it ok to embrace and cherish any such beauty?… The answer can be found in the pages of the Bible, in the gospel of Luke, “Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”….Luke 18:27.
I do not offer those words flippantly. I offer them with a heart that has wept bitterly over the sting of suicide. God has proven His word to be true once again. He indeed can offer light and hope in the midst of the greatest storms of this life…
On October 16th, 2007, my husband came home from work early. I knew something was horribly wrong from his demeanor. I still cannot imagine what it was like for him to have to be the one to tell me that my father had died. The news did not seem real, as I had just talked with my father on the phone two nights previous. He lived in AZ, and we had been in NC for a little over a year. Dad and mom had planned to come for a visit that October, but the trip was postponed as my father had fallen into a severe bout of depression. He had battled depression before, but we were hopeful that a new season of light was around the corner for him. But the news Grant had for me felt like it knocked the wind out of my lungs. My father had committed suicide.
I do not have words to do justice to the ache and torment one goes through to process the loss of a loved one to suicide. The question of ‘why’ is like a dark and endless tunnel that winds ceaselessly through countless life memories and mental images of that person. In my mind’s eye, I played back reel after reel of my father’s life, and I ached to somehow find the rewind button to undo this devastating and final act. But there is no going back. The only choice is to move on….but how?
The realization of it all was to intense to bear, and I found myself pleading with the Lord God. I needed to know if His promises in scripture were true, even in the case of a horrible circumstance like suicide. Christians often quote a particular verse in times of pain, “28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.…Romans 8:28. Is suicide the one instance where this particular promise is null and void?? If one reads the verses leading up to this one, the apostle Paul is inspired by the Holy Spirit to further share that there are times when we will not even know the words to pray, and that all we can muster up is a deep groan. God indeed hears those sobs, and the Holy Spirit interprets the deepest pains of our hearts in ways that we cannot. Our afflictions touch the heart of God deeply, and He indeed intervenes to bring rays of light and hope in the darkest tempest. While God would never cause or bring forth a suicide, He alone can lift the colossal burden of anguish that is left in the wake. His promises are true, no matter what.
The sum of a person’s life is most certainly not measured by the details of their death. Some of the greatest artistic and literary masterpieces are wrought with a tragic ending. That in no way detracts from the brilliance of the story. This is something God began whispering to my spirit early on in the grieving process. I began to take my mind off the specifics of my father’s last day on earth, and I began to appreciate the journey that was his life. My father was married to my mother for 40+ years, and they brought three children into this world, who in turn brought in five grandchildren. It is a legacy that will continue to live on. He worked tirelessly to put my brothers and me through college and he ‘took care of business,’ as he would say. Dad was not a man of great outward affection, but I will always recall the last time I saw him. Nathan and I had come to visit that very August, and dad and I sat out on the back porch for a chat. That was a special treat, as father-daughter talks were rare during our years. As Nathan and I were leaving to head to the airport, my father grabbed hold of me and gave me a true and meaningful hug. Typically he would lean in and do the quick pats on the back and step away first. This time was different. He held on tight and did not let go. Tears rolled down my cheeks as it felt so good to be embraced by my father. We left with a vow to see each other that October. I had no idea it was the last hug we would share. That memory makes me smile to this day, and I am grateful for it…. Gladness for mourning.
More moments of wonder and light would seep in despite the devastation. My mother would shortly thereafter fly out to NC to be with my family. She was hurting deeply and was desperately trying to make sense of it all. The question of ‘why’ truly never lets go. The pastor of our church reached out during that time to see if I might be willing to minister to a young woman in a hospital that had tried to commit suicide. This would be a difficult and painful visit, but I knew God wanted me to show his love to this woman. There was no doubt. I was not sure if my mother would be ready or up for such a call. It had only been about two months since dad’s death. She did agree to go with me, so one beautiful afternoon my mother and I found ourselves driving to uptown Charlotte to minster to a young suicidal woman. We would never have cause to cross paths with her in this life otherwise. We had no idea who she was, and she certainly had no anticipation of the two women about to enter her hospital room that afternoon. It was a divine appointment. She was in the ICU as she had caused enough harm in her attempt as to warrant critical monitoring. When we entered her room it was very dark and quiet. Her eyes were open, but her affect was very withdrawn. She looked up at us with a clear confusion as to who we were. I quickly introduced ourselves but that did not clear things up for her. My mom was barely inside the doorway at that point. I sensed a sadness and fear in both of them. I brought her a Bible and asked if I could share some scripture with her. She was willing and slowly began to open some of her heart to us and share what happened. She was such a beautiful girl, in her early twenties, with so much life ahead of her. She was desperate and sad. Tears poured down her cheeks as she shared of her pain. I could see my mother slowly approaching her in the periphery… cautiously, slowly, but getting closer. This woman’s words of agony were calling my mother forth, and before long my mother was embracing her in her arms. She held her face in her hands and begged her to fight for her life. Her pleas were so heartfelt and passionate that I knew she was partially seeing her lifelong mate in this young girl’s eyes. She refuted every lie this woman was expressing about her life not being worth living, about how people in her life would be better off without her, about there being ‘peace’ in this kind of death. My mother was able to negate all of that with her tears and the simple words of one living on the other side of suicide. My mother knew firsthand that life is worth living, that life is not better without a loved one, and that suicide is never the answer. She knew this because her personal pain and anguish over suicide proved it to be true. When she shared with this young woman of what her beloved husband had done, they both melted into each others’ arms in cleansing sobs. No more words were needed. These two strangers shared in a deeply personal moment that forever changed both of them. I believe it was the first spark of light my mother could cling to back then, and for this young woman, it seared a hole in her heart with the knowledge of how precious and valuable her life was. They came to this place of unity because of their pain. How could my mother have ministered to her if she had not herself known the pain of suicide?? God does not cause such a hurtful act as suicide, but it is His miracle to bring hope in the wreckage of it. ….Peace for despair.
It would be about two years later that God again would prove His promises true, even with the backdrop of suicide. I am an ER RN, and one particular night a woman in mental anguish came in to the hospital. It was the end of my shift, but I heard the voice of the Lord in my spirit telling me to reach out to her. My flesh of course wanted to badge out and go home, but I am so grateful that I chose obedience over my flesh that night. She appeared angry when I entered her room, and she initially refused to look at me, let alone talk to me. Her husband was at her side and he was hopelessly trying to reason with her. He had brought her in for fear that she would try and harm herself, and she was livid about this. She put up high emotional walls that seemed impossible to scale. My heart started racing as I was trying to piece together the right words to say, but then I felt a sure knowledge to just be still and silent next to her. The silence clearly started to agitate her all the more, and she finally lashed out in a screaming rant directed at me. We were finally talking! She forcefully demanded that her life was useless and that everyone would be better off without her. My tongue let loose then to speak, and I proceeded to tell her how beautiful and precious she was, and that her life mattered so very much. As I continued to speak she only glared at me with contempt, but when I told her that my father had taken his own life, her demeanor completely changed. I told her of how I missed him every day, and how I would give anything to have him back. As I spoke, our eyes were locked into one another, and her high walls of distrust came crashing down right before me. Her cold eyes became soft and a river of tears began to flow from them. She could not believe a single word I was saying until she knew that they came from a place so personally touched by the pain that is suicide. We embraced for a long time, and it was like I could feel my own father’s arms around me for a moment. God’s healing never ceases.
When I went home that night, I prayed scriptures over her that God revealed from the Psalms. I wept over her, over my father, and over all of the lies that suicide so deceitfully promises. When I returned to work that next evening she was still there, but was actually being released after a mental health evaluation thought it appropriate to release her with family for outpatient counseling. She had been there many hours and had become quite angry over the process and was demanding to leave. Just before she was being discharged, I made it into her room. She was pacing angrily when she looked up and saw me. She immediately told me she was leaving ‘now!’ Her walking papers were indeed on the way, but I asked her if she would allow me to read a few passages of the Bible to her. She sighed heavily and hesitantly agreed. I motioned her to sit next to me and I read the same parts of the Psalms to her that the Lord had given me the night before. My words of course do not have the power to change a heart, but God’s words can do just that. My words offer no lasting hope at all, but God’s words change everything. In that moment she heard the precious and life changing word of God. God always has a plan when his word is spoken…So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it...Isaiah 55:11. She gave me a hug and thanked me, and she and her husband left.
It would be about two hours later when an overhead page announced that I had a telephone call. When I answered, I could barely make out the words that were being spoken. It was the voice of a distraught and broken woman….it was her. She had asked for me by name, and was admitting to me through tears that she had definitely decided earlier in the day that if she were released, that she would use a gun that she had access to and kill herself that very day. She went on to reveal that she was ready to do just that, but that when she tried to pull the trigger, she just kept hearing those Psalms over and over in her head. She finally had to put the gun down because God’s words would not allow her to proceed with her plan. God’s word became a strong shield of protection in her darkest hour. She agreed to return and receive full treatment, and to be truthful to the degree of pain and depression she was experiencing. She was taken to a treatment facility the next day, and her very life was spared. I hit my knees that night in pure gratitude to God for using a broken and weak woman like me to help shine the light of his love in the darkness that is suicide… Beauty for ashes.
There are times in life where we just will not understand why things happen, and we may never find the answers that we seek. But if we trust in the Lord, then He will call forth beauty and hope in places we never thought possible. Put your trust in Him today. And yes, beauty can be found where you would least expect it.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
I love you dad.