It was my day off. I don’t usually answer the phone on Mondays, but my wife did. It was Victim Services, requesting that I go across town to a certain address. They mentioned a name but got it wrong, so I didn’t know whose house I was going to. I just had an address. As I neared the right address, I realized that it was the home of a couple where the wife faithfully attends our church but not the husband.
I knocked on the door and entered, not quite sure of what to make of things. As this was a couple of years ago, I don’t recall if I knew it was a suicide before I got there or not. All I remember is feeling helpless. How do you help someone who has just lost her husband, and then specifically by suicide?
There were a number of family members and some friends in the house already. This had happened in the morning and it was already early afternoon. I slowly got the story of how her husband had helped her get the leash on the dog for her walk and then hung himself in the basement as she was out walking the dog.
People like to be helpful. Throughout that day and the next people were trying to make all kinds of comforting statements about how this happened and why and how God was involved. Most of those comments didn’t help. I think one of the biggest helps was just to try to get her to talk and for me to listen. And I just showed my love by being there. I didn’t know her family but tried to just be there to even allow my presence to show I cared.
I spent a number of days with her and her family as we prepared for the funeral. There were some things I tried to get across.
1. It was not any of their fault. They hadn’t made their dad and husband do this. They shouldn’t feel guilty for not noticing the signs. They shouldn’t feel responsible for not being there enough. This lady and her husband had a good relationship. He had a good relationship with his boys and their families. It was only after the fact that they could have seen any signs pointing to this final act.
2. Suicide is not the sin that will keep us out of heaven. While suicide is a terrible thing and a very selfish thing, what keeps us out of heaven is our unbelief. We do not end up in hell because we commit suicide but because we ignored Jesus. Supposedly he had prayed to surrender his life to Jesus with another pastor before I came to town. But again, the final judgement belongs to God, not to me. At the funeral I made sure not to declare that this man was in heaven. I also didn’t downplay the word “suicide”. Everyone knew it was a suicide so we might as well address it. And I wanted to address it so that others in the room would be reminded that there is always help. Sometimes it seems that when someone hears about another suicide it gives them boldness to do the same. I didn’t want anyone thinking that was the case.
3. I helped the family – especially the wife – recognize that dealing with suicide is harder than dealing with death. Not that she needed anyone to tell her that. But suicide is harder on those left behind because there are no answers. The lady is still – now two years later – fighting with reoccurring feelings of anger. We talked about the Stages of Grief, recognizing that it would take time and effort to move on.
This lady is still struggling with the results of this, as is her family. And in her loneliness has even made some moral decisions that she would never have made before.
As a pastor, we must deal with suicide honestly and scripturally. I know I don’t have any scriptures in here, but we need to answer questions as they come up with scripture and not just our opinioins. People have some very misguided opinions about suicide.
We must allow the family to grieve again and again. We can’t just tell them to move on. It is not the same as a natural death.
May you never have to face this, but if you do, may the grace of God lead and guide you.