I attended a funeral yesterday for a beautiful, successful, straight-A high school student of my former school in Maryland. My younger sister, who attends the school now, was devastated by this girl’s death; she described her as “the nicest person.” Everyone knew her and loved her. She played sports all year round – cross-country, basketball, lacrosse and others. She was a stellar athlete, already making varsity teams in her sophomore year. At age 16, she clearly had tons of friends and was always making people laugh. And yet we gathered by her grave yesterday because she took her own life last week.
The community is completely undone.
When we went to her viewing, we could barely find parking, and had to squeeze our way through to get a glimpse of her. For the funeral the next day, the church parking lot was overcrowded and cars were jammed along residential streets. Inside, it was literally standing-room only. Many people couldn’t even get through the doors from outside, much less into the sanctuary. Teenage girls had “tattooed” their beloved friend’s jersey number on their hands or on the backs of their legs, and held one anothers’ arms in groups as they walked to the graveside. My sister and I were some of the first to get to the cemetery site, and we watched and waited as hundreds of people kept coming and coming – there seemed to be no end to the masses of mourners. It was like watching a slow river flow… except it was made up of silent, bleary-eyed people dressed in black.
I cried many times yesterday for this young girl, her sorrowful family, and this community of people that is wounded so deeply. Having experienced suicides in our family, I am pained for the family most of all. Losing a loved one to this kind of death throws all sorts of questions out there. Most of them won’t be answered. Mostly, those of us left behind just mourn that we couldn’t do something to save our sibling/son/daughter/parent from the suffering they were experiencing. We would rather have given our eyes or limbs than to see that beloved one die. It is one of the worst pains a human being can experience.
And yet, I wouldn’t ever want anyone to judge this young girl for what she did. There will be moments, or even days, of feeling angry – yes. But ultimately, we have to remember compassion. We have to remember that a person must be in deep, inescapable sorrow to actually take their life. If you’ve not walked in their shoes, then you don’t know what they were living. If you haven’t ever struggled with depression, then you can’t begin to imagine how very dark and scary the world can seem. Please, return to compassion for her – and return to compassion for her family. Remember that they would have loved to do something for her if only they knew.
After a suicide in my own family, someone spoke the most unkind words that I’ll (unfortunately) never forget. They implied that the family knew it was coming. In essence, they were saying the family should have done more. What an ignorant, insensitive thing to say. Don’t EVER say anything like that. If you ever hear anyone say something like that, gently remind them that they assume too much and that they don’t understand what really happened. Because what really happened was a person in pain hid their pain and didn’t ask for help. And what’s happening now is a family is blown to pieces and will always, always, always, for as long as they live, regret that they couldn’t stop them. Don’t ever assume you know what could have or should have been done. Just be there, and be silent, and learn to walk the road of sorrow with the sorrowful.
To the family, I wish I could say it will be all right, but those words are pretty empty. I wish I could embrace them and make everything feel a little better, but that’s the job of the Lord, and His healing is something that comes day by day. I can say it WILL get easier, but it’s going to take time – and maybe more time than you would like. But it will get less raw, and the tears will stop coming every day after a while. Grief is a shadowy figure that lurches close behind us, but he does begin to let up after a while. And you also have a Savior who is greater than grief, and greater than pain. Jesus died to take away the sting of death. He died to reconcile us to the God who made us and loves us. You may have lots of questions for God, but please don’t turn away from Him. He loves you so much and wants to bring comfort to you. If all you can do is pray, “Help,” then do that. If all you can do is read the same Psalm over and over, then do that… but let God in. Look for Him… He is eager to comfort you. His word is “living and active,” and is a living, healing balm. If today, you can’t bear to talk to God or even think of Him, try again later. He will wait for you.
“He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.’ Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” Lamentations 3:16-20