I knew it as soon as I saw the look on my husband’s face. I said without hesitation, “Is my Dad dead?” He slowly nodded. “Did he commit suicide?” He nodded his head again. As I ran from the house I felt a rush of shock, emotion, and horror.
Growing up as an only child in a pastor’s home, there was one word I was sure would never be part of our story. But it was on that day in January 2013 that our family began a journey that continues to this day.
To this day my dad remains the most influential person in my life. He poured deeply into my mom, and loved people so well. He was everyone’s favorite person. Maybe it was because he laughed heartily, wept easily, and asked questions like no one I have ever met.
My dad cared for his soul, took times of rest, and read widely. He listened like no other. You felt the same value from him if you were a Ph.D. or high school drop out.
How did suicide become part of our story? That’s a question we wrestle with to this day.
Reflecting on some of what I’ve learned, I have three observations I’d like to share.
- Pain and grief continue to be part of our story, but they were also a part of the story of Jesus. Jesus wept in the garden before His death. He asked God that what was ahead be taken from Him. In fact, He grieved so hard in Gethsemane that He sweated blood. Even in my worst grief, I have never sweated blood. As believers, we often talk about the physical pain He endured on the cross – but not so much about the emotional pain leading up to it. If you are dealing with emotional pain, let me reassure you, Jesus is with you intensely in that despair. He understands our wanting it to go away. He feels our agony. He doesn’t grow tired of our tears. In fact, I love to picture Him sitting beside me weeping more intensely than me.
- Trauma is lasting. It took me over six years and many counseling sessions to identify the connection between Sean lifting the phone to his face and suicide. I am just now exploring the “why” behind that. Six years is a long time to have a clenched stomach every time the phone rings. Many times we wish to grieve for a period and then move on. We wish for others to grieve for a period and then move on. However, trauma recovery takes time and is not easily identified. My encouragement is to give space to ourselves and each other on this journey.
- I’ve come to realize that I will never find answers to all of my questions.
Despite pain, trauma, and uncertainty it’s never been more clear to me that God is specific in how He shows Himself faithful. Often it’s the small ways that are the most beautiful, but we must be attuned to His care to recognize them.
We were so overwhelmed for our kids after my dad’s death. How could suicide now be part of our story – and their story?
My dad had specifically invested so much in our oldest son, Mack. Sean and I deeply grieved that loss and what that meant in the immediate and in the future. Even though we didn’t know the emotional pain to come, we knew enough to know the journey would be lifelong for our boys.
I remember standing at the visitation in Atlanta. My dad’s Australian friend, Paul Edwards, had been staying with us for the week. He walked up to Mack and said, “Let’s get out of here.” Mack came walking back an hour later with fries, a Coke, and a smile on his face.
That McDonald’s trip didn’t remove the grief for Mack. He would share if he were writing this blog, that he is still in counseling to continue to process. However, Sean and I had an “aha” moment. We realized it didn’t matter what we could or could not protect our kids from; God would be specific in His care for them moving forward.
This has been a difficult part of our story. Different things continue to reopen wounds we didn’t even know were there. We fully expect our family will continue to deal with this the rest of our lives, and even into the next generation.
An old hymn I used to sing with Dad says, “This is my story. This is my song.”
Suicide is part our story.
But the nearness of God is our song. Hallelujah!
Psalm 118:17 (NIV) “I will not die, but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”
[written by Mandy Chapman]