I recently lost a cousin of mine to suicide. As you can imagine it was a complete shock not only to his immediate family, but everyone who was ever blessed with his presence. He was a warm-hearted person with a lively spirit. Anyone you ask would say he always had a smile on his face and was a very happy-go-lucky kind of guy. When I first heard of the way he passed, my heart instantly broke! I knew all too well the pain they were feeling. Twelve years ago, I lost my dad to suicide. Twelve years ago, I didn’t think I was going to make it through the day let alone years later without my dad. Twelve years ago, I couldn’t even say the word suicide. Over the years after his death, if anyone ever asked how he died, I sometimes wanted to lie and say something else, anything else. I wasn’t prepared to answer the questions they had, the very same questions I was asking myself, the very same questions no one had answers to. Though we weren’t as close as some fathers and daughters, suffering a loss and being bereaved by suicide is one of the toughest losses to deal with. Not only do you have the hardship of the many questions, but often those who are closest to you, get completely quiet, shying away from being there for you because they don’t know what to say, they can’t answer the questions. You soon realize, though you might have immediate family suffering right with you, you are in the trench alone with no one to dig you out.
The moment my mom shared with me about my cousin’s death, I wanted to drive the 4-hour trip that night to be right beside my aunt and cousins going through the very pain I once felt. I wanted to tell them it was going to get better. That they would get through the first day and the next and the one after that. I wanted to tell them all the facts I had learned about mental health and suicide in the last twelve years. I wanted to share with my cousins that even though they have many questions, most of them aren’t going to be ones that can easily be answered. I wanted to breathe into them the wealth of advanced knowledge I had learned and the comfort I had received since my dad died. But in all honesty, I wanted to give them the opportunity to skip over the hard work of grief, I wanted them to get to my point on the journey. I didn’t want them to have to live in the trenches of grief for as long as many people often do, for as long as I did! I wanted to tell them that one day, far from today, they will look up and thank God for the journey through their loss because just like it says in Romans 8: 28, He will use their painful journey for good.
I can say that today because digging through my trench of grief, lead me to being on a LOSS team (Local Outreach for Survivors of Suicide); a first responding team to the death of a suicide. We show up to the scene, within two hours of the death, offering the families support, hope and resources for when they are ready to seek help. I know our team is a lighthouse of hope for the families to see. When I show up and look them in the eye and say, “I understand your pain. My dad completed suicide. I am here to help with anything you may need.” They look at me shocked that not only is a stranger offering to help them but that I am standing in front of them confident, twelve years after my own loss.
As I grab the stranger’s hand to show love and compassion, though the death still took place, they have hope. They are comforted by someone who still might not have the answers to the questions, but at least will sit with them as they try to process the questions. Statistics show that the average time families seek the much-needed help after being bereaved by a suicide, is an average of 4 years. Families who have a LOSS team respond often seek help in under 40 days! I learned during my first response, that being a member of the LOSS team was not only a way I could bear fruit, but was the very thing that God was using to help me in my healing. I praise God today for my journey, because even though I miss my dad every single day, I know that I can only bring the much-needed hope to families because I can empathize so well with their pain.
However, I can’t advance my newly bereaved family down the journey of healing to the safe spot I am today, because God doesn’t have the soil of their souls ready to receive my advice. It is similar to when new moms often get unwarranted advice. I remember being pregnant with my first born. People would see just the sight of my pregnant stomach and feel compelled that it was their life’s mission to tell me which bottles to use, how to correctly swaddle my newborn, that even though the doctor will say no, it’s really ok to start rice cereal when they are born. Though the advice I was given was from the hearts of well-seasoned moms who felt they were being helpful to my needs and whose feet were stable on their motherly journey, I wasn’t ready to hear it because I had to experience it. I had to deal with the hours of non-stop crying to realize a different bottle would solve the problem. I had to experience waking up in all hours of the night trying to feed my child only to find out we should start formula to supplement her feeding. I had to go through the trenches of early motherhood experiences to realize what worked and what didn’t work. I had to go through the endless nights of me crying big ‘I can’t do this’ tears to realize it’s okay to let them cry themselves to sleep.
Though my intentions are good in wanting to help, and my heart is in the right place due to my well-seasoned journey with grief; my cousins and family who lost that very special soul will have to dig through their own trenches of loss and grief. They won’t be ready to heed my advice, because it is the journey itself that allows the healing. It is the process of being on their knees, doing the hard work of digging in the trenches, living the pain, crying big, ‘I can’t do this’ tears to be able to hear from the Holy Spirit. Because it is then and only then when God will uphold them with his righteous hand and put the right person in their path to help them dig their way out of the trench.
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with your righteous hand.” Isaiah 41: 10
“Though I am absent in flesh, I am with you in spirit, waiting to see your steadfastness in Christ.” Colossians 2: 5
I know that one day God will provide an opportunity in which I can share all He has allowed me to learn in the last twelve years. One day God will have the soil of their souls ready to hear what will advance them further into their journey of healing. At that time, I will be ready
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3: 15
I pray that whatever loss you are facing today, you see the hope in the situation. I pray that one day you will look back on the grief you went through and realize it was Gods hand that lifted you up and out of the pain you once felt.