How to mourn with the mourners and give living hope to the ones left behind
[NOTE: This first appeared on Medium.com on January 6, 2022, as I was testing a new platform]
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States with over 47,500 deaths in 2019. That is one death every 11 minutes. For kids and adults aged 10–34 years old, it is the second leading cause of death. The most shocking of the statistics are that “12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.4 million attempted suicide.” (source: CDC)
Those are the official results from 2019, pre-COVID19 and the global pandemic. If the early numbers are any indication, the numbers will have a sharp rise due to the last two years as “mental health–related emergency department (ED) visits among adolescents aged 12–17 years increased 31% compared with that during 2019.” (source: CDC)
On a personal note, my family was impacted by suicide 12 months ago. Completely unexpected, my sister’s stepson, Sam (age 17), died by suicide in January 2021. When I say “unexpected,” it truly was. Sam was an excellent student, active in the community, loved nature, and was a very warm and caring young man. There were NO signs that Sam was struggling or dealing with any internal conflicts that made him feel there were no other options than to take his own life.
He was close to his mom and stepdad. Just a few miles down the road, he was equally close to his dad and stepmom. He had two brothers that he cared deeply for and had a great friend’s group. To this day, the immediate family still doesn’t have any closure on the big “Why” question.
It’s been a year since Sam’s passing and the heartache and the grieving still weighs heavy on the immediate and extended family and friends. The family tries to continually honor Sam. Around six months after Sam’s death, Sam’s father and stepmom organized a fundraiser which consisted of a run or walk through the nature trails where Sam and his dad and friends spent a lot of time. It was one of Sam’s most favorite places to go. The money raised went towards a Suicide Prevention organization and towards a school scholarship in Sam’s memory.
Regularly, the family connects with Sam’s friends and parents for an evening out to reminisce and reflect on the good memories of Sam. I also suspect it’s an opportunity to check in on the kids (the friends that were left behind) to get a pulse on their mental health and to let them know that people care for them, love them, and that there is always someone available to discuss any issue.
When you think about suicide, especially if you haven’t been touched by it, you may think it is just one person that is impacted. The reality could not be further from the truth. There are immediate family members, there are extended family members, and there are distant family members. There are close friends, extended friends, co-workers, and whole communities that get impacted. As in the case of Sam, he was a High School Senior. There were hundreds of kids that were also impacted even if they weren’t close to Sam. There is a whole community that cared for Sam and there would be a community that would care for you.
Mourn with the Mourners
At the time of Sam’s passing, my sister and her husband (Sam’s dad, Chris) approached me to ask if I would be willing to do a graveside message and prayer before they buried Sam. I have to be honest and tell you that I was shocked, and my first thoughts were “I’m not equipped to stand in front of a grieving family and friends to be the last person they hear from before they bury this young man.” But I get it. For decades I’ve played the man of the house for my mom and my sister after my mom and dad divorced when I was six. I naturally grew up fast to take on the additional responsibilities and, of course, I am the Spiritual One of the family.
I naturally called a mentor and friend of mine to seek guidance and wisdom. He’s an elder for our church and I just knew he would have all of the answers. But what answers could he give? My main questions were — 1) What do I say, and 2) How do I say it to an audience of potential believers and unbelievers in Jesus Christ. His answer was simple — seek prayer and speak from the heart.
That is exactly what I did. After I spent some time in prayer and reading through Scripture, the words and thoughts came (super)naturally. The hard part was actually delivering it without crying myself. The crowd was a little smaller since it was just family and close friends. My focus was just to speak to them directly from my heart.
I used the time to celebrate Sam’s life and highlighted a few fond memories. For the family and friends that were mourning the loss, I wanted to share with them that God is with them even during the worst of times.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”Psalm 23, ESV
At times like this, when we are struggling the most, many of us tend to feel we need to figure it out on our own. That we need to have all of the answers and to stand tall in the midst of our struggles.
I wanted to share with them that this wasn’t a time for us to be strong. It is a time of remembrance, a time of deep sorrow, a time to outwardly grieve, and a time to bring our burdens to God.
I was reminded of Matthew West’s song, Truth Be Told.
Truth Be Told
I ended up playing this song for the family. It addresses the great lie that we tell ourselves. That we are supposed to have it all together and that we are supposed to fix it. All alone. All by ourselves.
But the truth is that is NOT what we are supposed to do. We are to cry out to our Lord and seek His comfort. We can pour out our grieving hearts and mourn in His presence. We can ask Him to comfort us in our pain and agony. As it is said in scripture
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted.”Psalm 34:18a, ESV
Hope for the Living
For those that are left behind and questioning if there is something better, I wanted to shift my focus towards hope, the hope in Jesus Christ if you put your trust in him and follow him.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28–30, ESV
Jesus gives what no one else can give, rest from the struggles in your life and rest from the burden of sin. Nothing else in this world can give you that inner peace, that assurance that there is meaning and purpose for your life.
But you have to accept the invitation.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16, ESV
Once you take that step of faith, you can have assurance that your hope isn’t uncertain, but you have a living hope that will meet you where you are at, in all of your difficulties and all of your distresses in life. Jesus is that living hope and you can rejoice with joy, even in the midst of significant burdens and life’s uncertainties.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”1 Peter 1: 8–9
You just have to put down your pride and accept his invitation. Your life has meaning. Your life has a purpose. Spending time in prayer and reading through His Word will help bring clarity and purpose to your life.
There are many contributors that lead to suicide — depression, loneliness, stress, health conditions, peer pressure, social risk factors, addiction, financial pressures and the list goes on and on.
If you are facing any of life’s struggles, please talk with someone. Find a friend, a mentor, a trusted adult. Meet with a Pastor or a trusted faith leader. Pray to God. If you feel none of these are an option, at least call the Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1–800–273-TALK (1–800–273–8255).
In Memory of Sam Livers
Sam’s life ended way too early. Hopefully his story will be a reminder that you have a community of people that care for you and that would surround you in your darkest hour.
Hopefully, Sam is also a reminder to check in on your loved ones, especially if you are a parent. Sam showed no signs, and your kid may show no signs. Make today that day you provide a little extra to let them know you love them and that you are there for them. No issue is too complex that you can’t get through it together, especially if you are on bended knee seeking God’s wisdom and comfort.
“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”Psalm 55:22
I love how Matthew Henry explains the broader passage:
“The burden of afflictions is very heavy, especially when attended with the temptations of Satan; there is also the burden of sin and corruption. The only relief under it is, to look to Christ, who bore it… To cast our burden upon God, is to rest upon his providence and promise. And if we do so, he will carry us in the arms of his power, as a nurse carries a child; and will strengthen our spirits by his Spirit, so that they shall sustain the trial.”Matthew Henry Concise Commentary, Psalm 55:16–23