With all the news we’ve been hearing about suicide, I am often asked: “What do you say to those who have lost a loved one through suicide?” It depends on who you are talking to, how you know them, and what the situation is, but as one of many ways to respond, I’d like to share with you a transcript of a message I shared at a recent funeral of one of our own Journey families who is grieving a loss of a loved one through suicide. I hope you’ll find some comfort and help in these words.
This week, I was reading a story from Jesus’ life. It’s the story of when he went to visit the family of a friend of His who had died. His friend’s name was Lazarus and when Jesus arrived after Lazarus had died, his family was in the throes of grief. They were sad, angry, numb, confused.
That’s grief. All those beliefs, and many more, are normal and natural when we lose someone we love. I think of emotions of grief to be like a tangled ball of Christmas lights—all the different colors are all of our different feelings and it’s hard to know how to start unraveling them. When we are grieving, we all express and work through our feelings in different ways and timings. Maybe what makes it difficult to connect with people when we are grieving is that we all grieve in different ways.
My father died when I was 11 years old. I had all these tangled up feelings and so did my brother and my mother but we had them in all different ways at different times. It made our home a messy place. We had a lot of conflict. That’s kind of normal and natural too because we are all different and related to the person that died in different ways. We need “grace and space” with each other when we are all grieving at the same time.
So, in this Bible story, Jesus showed up to His friend’s house. The family was grieving with all these tangled feelings. But they had something else too; they wanted someone to blame. So, they blamed Jesus. They said, “If you were here earlier he wouldn’t have died!” Blame is a very natural and normal thing we do when something bad happens in our life. We blame the doctor, the sickness, society, a family member, or other people. Sometimes we blame ourselves. We say things like: “I should have said something” or “I should have done something.” When we are grieving, it’s best to see blame as a reaction to feeling powerless more than a logical way to get rid of what we are feeling.
Sometimes we blame God. If we believe that God is in total control (or we believe God should be in control), then talking to God about how we are thinking and feeling is a good first step. Even if our words don’t sound nice and pleasant, that’s okay. God can handle that. There’s a big prayer and songbook in the Bible called the Psalms and over 50% of the prayers/songs recorded there are “complaints” from people who are grieving. Maybe that’s why so many people find comfort in the Psalms.
Another person we might blame is the person that died. “He should’ve taken better care of himself.” “She should’ve told me what was going on!” “Those people brought it on themselves.” Whether a person dies of sickness, old age, an accident, or even when they take their own life, sometimes we want to blame them.
Years ago, I had a friend take his own life. I was so angry. I wanted to say to him, “Don’t you know how much your decision hurt us and broke our hearts?” Shortly after that, I had an opportunity to meet with several people who had survived attempts on their own lives. I started to realize that I wanted them to realize how their death would hurt people and break their hearts. But these people thought they were already hurting people, and they really believed ending their own lives would help people, not hurt them more.
Of course, this just shows that when we are depressed, lonely, or struggling with mental wellness, it’s possible to have “upside-down logic.” And we all have it at times. When we think or feel something is right, only to get a new piece of information that suddenly causes us to see things completely different. A friend of mine told me about a documentary about a man who attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He survived and said that as soon as he jumped, he immediately regretted it. People who are drawn to suicide need our support, not our judgment.
Let me just take a moment and say that if you are in a dark place or maybe a sad place, if you feel all alone and are thinking things might be better without you, it’s “upside-down” thinking. In a moment, things can change. Reach out to someone. Call a friend, a loved one, or a suicide hotline.There’s no shame in saying, “I’m hurting and I want to be safe.” There will be times when our thinking is upside down and God wants to give us a new way of seeing things and a new way of living. God is actually in the business of turning darkness into light!
So, Jesus showed up to his friend’s house. Lazarus died. The family and friends were sad, confused, angry, and blaming Jesus. Those feelings are all normal and natural. They don’t go away right away. They don’t just end with comforting words or Bible verses. The unanswered questions don’t suddenly disappear. That’s why we shouldn’t say things like: “Let’s just focus on the positive things!” or “He’s in heaven now so we shouldn’t be sad.” Jesus’ response to this grief-filled moment is the shortest verse in the Bible. It simply says, “Jesus wept.”
He cried. When we are sad, confused, angry, numb, or blaming, Jesus invites us to express what we are feeling and cry. Now for some of us the tears come right away, for others they may come later. Finding ways to express our feelings and say goodbye in different ways, that’s called “mourning” and mourning helps us grieve. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” So we have memorial services, send flowers, share memories, look at photos, visit special places, pray, cry, shout at heaven, sit quietly and hug each other.
There are unhealthy ways to grieve and mourn as well. Staying in our anger, isolating for a long time, drinking or using substances to numb or ignore our feelings. These things don’t just delay our grief, they redirect it and make it pop up later in other areas of our life. Ungrieved losses can also lead to us having “upside-down logic,” which can send us in directions we never thought we’d go.
And that’s why we are here. We are looking for comfort and hope and to share some strong feelings with others.
Now, when Jesus was there with Lazarus and family, their grief wasn’t the end of the story. The story tells us that Jesus spoke a miraculous word and Lazarus came back to life and rose from the dead. I think this teaches us a very simple truth: The closer you get to Jesus, the more you realize that death is not the end. With Jesus death is only a small part of life. There is so much more. And that means we can have hope! That means we can believe in forgiveness, hope, and life after death. It means all my upside-down feelings and thoughts and outlooks on life can be turned right-side up. That means where there is darkness, Jesus can bring light.
And again, if you find yourself in a dark place, Jesus wants to bring you light and life. I find it interesting that Jesus planned to raise Lazarus from the dead, but that didn’t stop Him from crying first. Even if we believe that there is life after death, that death is not the end, that there is always hope, Jesus says “It’s still okay to cry when you’re sad.”
So we can be sad, and confused, and angry, and numb, and Jesus is saying “I am right there with you.” He’s saying, “Take my hand and let’s walk through this tough time together. Let me take you from the darkness to the light.” He’s saying, “You are grieving now, but soon, we’ll have joy again.” And there are other people out there who are struggling, and Jesus is inviting us to reach out so we can walk with each other through our tough times.