This past weekend, a student at South Charleston High School took her own life. The aftermath of this suicide has left her friends and family reeling from the shock, grief, and pain. There are no words that can adequately describe the emotional roller coaster that people experience when a loved one commits suicide. Feelings of numbness, emptiness, depression, guilt, and anger are common responses.
How do we muddle through the waters of grief? How do we even make sense of what has happened? Why did she do it? What has happened to him now that he has committed suicide? How do we support those who are grieving a loss from suicide?
First and foremost, it is important to affirm that there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, not even suicide. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote this:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
There is no power, not even death at ones own hands, that can separate us from the love of God. These are words of hope for those who grieve the loss of loved ones. God’s grace is big enough to hear the cries of those who in final moments of desperation and need, take their own lives. Nowhere in Scripture is suicide named an “unforgivable sin.” The love of God through Christ Jesus is greater than the powers of despair that lead to suicide. The love of God through Christ Jesus is greater than the death that comes through acting upon that despair.
For those who are grieving the loss of a loved one from suicide:
- Take care of yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself if you can’t concentrate or accomplish the tasks you feel like you should be able to.
- Do things that provide comfort. Give yourself permission to take naps, go on walks, take a bath, spend time with friends, watch a movie, etc.
- Spend time with friends and family, especially people who are dealing with the same grief as you. You can be one another’s best support.
- Keep a journal or write letters to the loved one you have lost. Write down anything you want to say to them, whether it is recalling good memories, asking them why, expressing your anger at them, etc.
- See a licensed counselor who can help you navigate the grief process in a healthy way.
- Spend time in prayer. Express whatever you want to God. God hears it.
- Allow your church family to embrace you and lift you up in support. Don’t let yourself withdraw from others, even if that is your desire. You need your faith community more than ever right now. Let them be there for you.
For those who want to offer support to those who grieve the loss of someone by suicide:
- Affirm to him or her that nothing can separate him or her or the loved one from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
- Take time to listen. You don’t need to do much, if any talking. Just listen.
- Pray with and for him or her.
- Find ways of helping out with daily routine activities. If it is a family who has lost a child, bring food to them so they don’t have to cook. If it is a friend, offer to run errands with or for him or her. There is no shortage of ways you can offer your time.
- Offer reminders of your support and prayers. This could be daily messages on facebook, notes in the mail, a phone call, or anything else.
- Invite him or her to catch a ride to church with you (even if they normally come on their own) and sit with you so they don’t feel so alone. (But don’t be offended if your invitation is declined)
Also, importantly, here are some things NOT to say, even if they are well-intentioned:
- “Everything happens for a reason” or “this is God’s will.” NO SUICIDE IS EVER GOD’S WILL. God never desires that anyone should take his or her own life, nor does God make him or her take her own life. God can still bring something new and good out of even that which is most tragic, but suicide is not a part of God’s divine will. It is part of the brokenness of humanity. Often people with the best intentions will say something to this effect, meaning for it to give comfort. It does not give comfort and it is not a theologically accurate statement.
- “God just needed another angel.” Again, this line, meant to offer comfort, actually communicates that it was God’s will to take someone in this tragic and traumatic way.
- “You shouldn’t feel like (insert emotion here)”. You may think that you are offering words to help someone move through grief, but instead, what you are doing is causing more internal turmoil within the grieving person by saying that his or her feelings aren’t valid. Feelings just are. They happen, and they are neither right nor wrong. Anyone going through the grieving process will experience any number of emotions, some of which may be unique to him or her. Validate what he or she is experiencing as real and ok.
It is a vast understatement to say that suicide is a difficult and tragic situation to go through, and that many people feel like they do not even know how to support those who are grieving. The biggest thing you can do is offer your presence and your shoulder to cry on; to be present with another human being struggling through grief is the very definition of compassion. As Christians, God calls us to be mirror images of his Son, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” God himself, became present to us through Jesus Christ, as he became human, and waded through the mirk and the mire of human existence with us. Now we are called to do the same thing for those who grieve.