The young man discovered his wife was having an affair with a cop. They talked. She wasn't sure what she wanted. The next day when he came home from work, the cop and his wife were sitting at the table. An argument ensued. At a heated moment, the young man reached on top of the refrigerator and pulled down his pistol. The cop started to get up. The young man said, "Maybe this will convince you." He put the pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. He was gone.
I officiated at his funeral. It was my first funeral of a suicide victim. The family asked a friend, a talented guitarist and singer, to sing two Garth Brooks songs: "The Dance" and "Much too Young." The young man's wife, his widow, sobbed through the whole service. There were no words I could say to take away her shame, guilt and grief. We buried that young man on a cold Kentucky hillside.
I wish I could say that was my last funeral of a suicide victim, but it wasn't. Sometimes people act impulsively, like the young man. Sometimes the pain of living is so great, a person feels like they can't go on. Sometimes a person feels alone, isolated. They truly feel like no one cares if they live or die. Suicide seems like the best option.
Once, when I had to do a funeral for a person who took their own life, God put in my mind the thought of fog. Ever been in a fog so thick you couldn't see? A fog so dense you didn't know where you were? That's what life is like for someone who commits suicide. They have lost their way in the fog. Suicide seems to be the only way out.
I've been asked more than once if people who commit suicide are barred from heaven. The answer is "no." The manner of a person's death does not determine their relationship with God. When a Jesus follower chooses to end his or her life, I think Jesus meets them with a mixture of sadness, because they have arrived at heaven early, and compassion, because he understands their pain.
The title song for "M*A*S*H" was "Suicide is Painless," but that's a lie. I've held mothers who have wept over their child's tragic decision. I've stood by fathers who look at the casket holding their child with a vacant stare, searching for the answer to "why." I've sat with a wife and daughter trying to fathom how their lives changed in a moment by a choice they had no part of. Suicide leaves devastation in its wake.
Words do not quench the pain of suicide. A good friend of mine from college lost her husband to suicide. She shared with me that one pastor came by and, meaning well, began to talk to her about all the stages of grief. She remembered thinking "I wish he would just shut up." What did help was a friend who came and just sat. Didn't say much. He was just there. Sometimes the most holy thing you can do is just be there.
This same friend told me it helped that people had not forgotten her. She still gets texts from people asking how she is, expressing concern, extending care. A funeral marks the start of the grief journey, not the end. People need support, encouragement and presence on that journey. They need you to be there.
The people left behind after suicide have to wrestle with doubt: "Could I have stopped him? Was it something I did or said? Was I not enough for him or her?" People come to me during the grief process and ask, "Why did God let this happen?" It's not time for a discussion on free will and the sovereignty of God. I tell people it is OK to be angry at God and not even know why you're angry. When my children were small, they would get angry at me, not because I had done something to hurt them, but because I was safe. They knew I would not stop loving them, even if they were angry. God doesn't stop loving you in your pain. He is safe. You can pour out your heart to him.
If someone you care about has ended their life, I will not offer the flippant advice that "time heals all wounds." What I believe is this: Our heavenly Father loves you, will listen to your pain, will guide you and will give you strength. You don't have to be put together. You can be real with your Heavenly Father. Your grief is his grief.
If you are thinking about ending your life, if that dark thought dances through your soul from time to time, I want you to know there is hope. There are people out there who care about you. You are not a burden. The most courageous thing you can do is not end your life but reach out for help.
Psalm 30:5 says, "Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning." Your life is a precious gift. If you are in the dark, reach out for help. Hold on. Joy is coming.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day: 1-800-273-8255.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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