How Do I Cope with a Suicide in My Family?

Name Withheld

“John’s gone.”

I slumped down into the closest chair, holding the phone to my ear. “John? Gone?” Vibrant, healthy, so full of life, just six weeks after his 38th birthday . . . must have been a terrible car accident . . .

“He hung himself. [Long pause] I’m so sorry.”

The reality slowly sunk in. My brother-in-law John – graduate student, in the prime of life, with everything to live for – wonderful wife, four charming children ages four to twelve, a promising career ahead of him. Gone. His suicide note made no sense. But his final act demonstrated John’s characteristic thoughtfulness. To be certain that neither his wife nor any of their little kids found him hanging, he drove out of town into the countryside. A state trooper found his body.

You remember that poem “Footprints?” It’s about the guy walking on the beach with Jesus Christ, noticing a single set of footprints in the sand during the hardest times. “That’s when I carried you.” In the blur of days to come, I was carried by Christ. He got me through the open casket funeral (his wife’s choice), with John’s bloated face, his shirt and tie pulled up to his ears, covering his broken neck. The overwhelming grief made it hard to sleep or eat or think. Trying to comfort the children, who understood so little and missed him so much. The endless wondering “why” and “what if”–all unanswerable questions.

The only answerable question is “What now?“

My answer to the “what now” question is to continue to walk that beach of life alongside Christ. I do it in John’s memory, knowing that I WILL see him again after this life. I know – I KNOW – that he is with Jesus now.
I don’t judge, knowing that I have no idea what tortured demons were in John’s head, completely invisible to me. At his funeral, his wife’s brother, a doctor, spoke with conviction that John died of an untreated brain disease. I agree – depression is a brain disease, a chemical imbalance. It’s easier for the children to tell their friends that their daddy died of a brain disease. That doctor’s posthumous diagnosis was a merciful gift.

There are some things that are just too hard to get through alone. The suicide of a loved one is like that. I lived through it only because of Christ’s help. Jesus is the best kind of friend – always with me, always available, only a prayer away.

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