Being passionate about the value and sacred nature of life is not a new passion for me. Yet, the events of 2018 have made this week unfortunately weighty for myself. My Uncle Bobby complete suicide this March. It has been the most mind-boggling experiences of my life. It has changed my family for the better and for the worse. It was shed light on characteristics of God I did not see so clearly before. His death has also stolen from me, whether it be time, emotional energy or the family dynamics that used to be. There are still many days I can’t even understand these past five months. Eventually, I’ll be okay with not understanding. Or maybe I won’t. Regardless, National Suicide Awareness Week had a different meaning to me this year. I felt compelled to share the following. It may solely for my own healing but I hope it offers something to each of you.
This was written in the middle of Bobby’s funeral week. I have often thought that the things our minds do during present and ominous grief produces strange comforts. I also recognize the Lord’s hand in the midst of the wildest of circumstances. It is harder to ignore his presence when grief has a way of making one event or feeling dominate your mind. My greatest moments of peace and comfort have come in times when I should not be feeling either. If I could materialize this peace I would bottle it and sell it. It can only be divine intervention because, otherwise, I would make myself feel this peace 24/7.
Bobby’s pastor addressed an issue that has put my stomach in knots before: do Christians who complete suicide still enter Heaven? The pastor read every account of suicide in the Bible before Bobby’s funeral. A common thread was found: Our God, who is not shy in His perfect judgement or condemnation, did not condemn the souls of those who took their own lives. However, they also were not looked to as examples to follow. This and my blaring grief and MercyMe’s song I Can Only Imagine (Bobby’s favorite) produced this train of thought one afternoon before the funeral:
“If our Savior is a personal God, if he faced 33 years of persistent temptation perfectly, if he conquered death so Doubting Thomas could place his fingers in the evidence of pain, suffering and sacrifice, then so he remains today in the presence of death. The same qualities remain, for an infinity.
“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).
As Bobby stands in His presence, so awed that he stands still, Christ moves to him. Recognizing a pain and suffering reminiscent of His own time on earth, He reaches into the depths of his wounds. Bobby’s hopelessness is absorbed by the fingers of the Prince of Peace. He offers what no doctor could. From the core of Bobby’s spirit, a magnificent transformation occurs. His Savior, because of the relationship he desires with each of us, enters into pain with no qualms. He does not shudder, He does not fear. Rather, He overcomes these things for us.
“Son, well done my good and faithful servant, let me take this pain for eternity”. Christ stretches out his hand and places it in the bullet wound.”
Two-thousand eighteen has been a year of seeing account after account of Jesus Christ’s incredible, perfect ability to empathize with any circumstance we have, are or will experience. Bobby’s pain, one I do not think many on earth can understand, was understood in full by the God who shaped him. In Uncle Bobby’s final days, the only words he could hold in his memory were from Psalm 23. Bobby still knew God’s peace.
Thanks to the diligent instructors in my undergraduate work, I now know there are steps that can be taken to be a helpful presence in the life of someone who, for any range of valid reasons, is burdened by the thought of enduring life for much longer. I was surprised early into college to be told that asking someone point blank whether or not they are having suicidal thoughts will not put ideas in their head that weren’t already present. We all have internal experiences which we do not reveal to even those around us that are closest. Ask. You may hear any range of responses but a response is better than always wondering what they would have said. Those of among us who have or are contemplating suicide will, in the best way they can, alert those around them of their plans. Any sudden changes in wills, personal valuable items given away as gifts, letters, or comments about “when I’m gone”, “you’re better off without me”, “I don’t want to be here anymore” and so forth are signs being laid at the feet of those around them. (Now is a good time to pause and mention that the death of a loved one is not someone’s fault or responsibility. It is a weight we were not created to carry nor are we able to.) All we can do is our best to say “I hear you. I see your pain. Will you invite me or someone else into it?”. We aren’t therapists but we do love them. Below are resources for crisis centers and crisis phone lines. Please, use them. The professional clinicians around us have resources that could change the course of a life.
It has been one hundred eighty one days since Bobby, “In awe of You, stood still” (MercyMe’s I Can Only Imagine). I still count the days since his departure and I imagine I will count the days for a long time still to come. Grief is a shapeshifter. It never shows itself in the same form more than once. It can haunt us in ways it wouldn’t haunt another. Survivors of suicide (yes, family and friends, that’s you too) give yourself grace. On days you can’t give yourself grace, find someone who will remind you. And remember,
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me.”
(Psalm 23:4, ESV)
May an indescribable peace reside in your hearts.
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