A couple of months ago, a friend came to me and told me that his 74 year-old father-in-law committed suicide. This man was an upstanding Christian and of course, it shocked the whole family. As I reached out to his daughters, I began to reflect how suicide had impacted my own life – something I never felt I had the strength to speak out about – and a part of me felt that to speak it out would be to betray the distorted family messages that I had carried all these years. God continued to nudge me that it was time and he would give me the strength to face those horrific memories.
Suicide epidemic on the rise
Suicide is on the rise throughout our country today. A 2013 article in The New York Times notes that, for the first time, more Americans now die of suicide (38,364) than car accidents (33,687). The most pronounced increase in suicide has come from men in their 50s, a group that saw suicides jump by nearly 50 percent. Every year there are over 38,000 suicides in the U.S. Over 90 percent of those who die by suicide meet criteria for a severe and persistent mental illness. To make matters worse, among those who are committing suicide more are our veterans. Even more troubling: suicide is escalating in the Christian community.
It is important to know that over 28 percent of our youth report feeling sad and hopeless every day. Sadly, 7.8 percent of our youth report having attempted suicide and 2.4 percent of our youth attempted suicide and required medical treatment.
When successful, the person committing the act is not exclusively affected. The ripples drastically impact family and friends and can continue on for generations. The ongoing damage from unhealed wounds can be vast and relentless.
A Rocky Mountain nightmare
You see, I was raised in the Rocky Mountains where everyone had a gun just to survive. Hunting and keeping yourself safe from wild animals meant that guns were a must.
I was quite close to my two uncles, Jim and Darryl. They were like second fathers to me, and I desperately needed strong father figures since my own father was very unsafe. I was from a family where sexual abuse was the norm.
I was about nine years old and sound asleep when I heard a door slam and then high-pitched wailing. I awoke, startled, and ran to where the screaming and sobbing was coming from; it was my Aunt Fernie in our living room, she was a mess. She had “stuff” and blood all over her. You see, my uncle, Jim, put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, leaving her to watch. I was horrified and so confused…
This was how my family dealt with pain. So when my life was a mess and I was all alone with a bottle of pills, standing on the edge, and screaming out to God in my own painful state, that was one of the first things that came to my mind: this was an easy way to end the pain. If my uncles did it… why not me?
Crying out to God saved my life
I thank God daily that he spoke so profoundly in the middle of the night when I desperately wanted to take my life. God’s infinite grace and mercy intervened, rendering my attempt, thankfully, unsuccessful.
I have begun to see how desperately important it is to deal with the haunting pain of suicide – if unhealed and not spoken out it, it can affect us in dark and profound ways. So please:
Allow the atmosphere to talk about the pain of suicide – I wish someone could have just unearthed the secret – by holding me as a little girl, asking me if I was okay, how I felt that night, and after.
Tell the truth! Uncle Jim didn’t just disappear; he decided to take his life.
Reaffirm to those left behind that it isn’t their fault – this person decided to make a very very bad choice and end their life. It wasn’t my fault. Because I was so close (especially to my 2 uncles), I felt like I had done something wrong. Was I naughty? Wasn’t I worth living for? Did I say something to upset them?
Very important that we admit that just because they committed suicide doesn’t mean we love them any less.
Allow the person affected to feel. They may have a complex web of emotions they have been overwhelmed with for years! First of all, give them a space to just let emotions tumble out. God will make order out of the chaos of fear, abandonment, grief and anger. Please don’t rush them into forgiveness – they may be very angry at the person that died. Allow them to express their anger (hopefully in non-destructive ways) and give them time to heal. Healing can be a long journey – please don’t abandon them on that journey. The first uncle I had that committed suicide did so when I was 9 years old – almost 48 years ago – and because I wasn’t allowed to discuss it I still carried some of the haunting memories. It is now time to allow God to reach in and give them to him – the load feels so much lighter!
Reprinted Courtesy of Today’s Christian Woman
Julie Woodley is a professional author, counselor, speaker, and founder and director of Restoring the Heart Ministries and the Ministry Outreach Representative for Transformation Treatment Center and Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. Please call Transformations Treatment Center if you need help at 888-954-6434 or Julie Woodley to schedule a speaking engagement.