One thing that you should know about me is my husband died by suicide almost four and a half years ago. It is possibly the one event that has changed my life more than any other. If you have been affected by suicide or the death of a spouse, you know that either of these things is traumatic on their own. But to have both happen simultaneously is a heavy load to bear.
Since then, my mom also died and I have done a lot to process through my grief. I’ve gone to psychologists, taken (and still take) medication to help with anxiety and depression, but probably most importantly, I have continued talking about what has happened to me. I still talk about my grieving process. I still talk about suicide and its effects.
It became very apparent to me from the get that we don’t talk about suicide in the church. I’ve been in church my entire life and I can’t ever remember one sermon or even discussion about it. When my husband died, I actually kept the details of his death secret because I was ashamed. Ashamed because I felt like there was something I could have done to prevent it. Ashamed of what people would think of me…maybe that I should have been a better wife.
I have recently discerned a calling to be a pastor and part of my calling is to make sure that we start talking about these things so that we, as the body of Christ, can start to help those left behind when a family member or friend dies by suicide.
The following is something I wrote in 2014, six months after my husband died. I started writing back then as a way to process my grief. If you are grieving, I pray that this somehow helps you navigate through the grieving process. If you have someone in your life that is grieving, I pray that by reading this you will be able to help someone in their time of grief.
In school, I learned about the stages of grief in a psychology class: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I don’t disagree that those are the stages of grief. I have been through each one. However, no one ever tells you that the stages of grief aren’t linear like you’re taught in school. They make it seem like you receive one stage at a time in a nicely wrapped box with a pretty bow and when you’re done with that stage, you get the next box.
To borrow (and modify) a quote from Doctor Who: People assume that grief is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective point of view it is more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, griefy-wiefy…stuff.
There are days in which I traverse through each of these stages, sometimes in order, sometimes not. Sometimes multiple times. And just when I think I’ve got one of the stages conquered, something triggers a memory, which then triggers an emotion, which then brings that stage back and can sideline me anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.
When this happens repeatedly, you start to wonder “Is there something wrong with me?” “Am I grieving properly?” “Am I a bad Christian because I can’t latch on to God and the hope He gives?” If you are asking yourself these questions, please let me reassure you. There’s nothing wrong with you. As long as you’re not hurting yourself or others, whatever way you’re grieving is the correct way to grieve. You’re not a bad Christian, you’re just a Christian going through a difficult time.
But it’s important to do the right things to help you negotiate through the grief minefield. Some of these things will be more obvious than others. You need to find what works for you and not allow anyone to shame you because they feel like you’re not doing what you should be. I tried a grief support group and it ended up making me feel horrible, so I stopped going after a few weeks. And that’s ok.
Here’s what works for me. I’ve been seeing a psychologist once or twice a week since April. The therapists have a Christian worldview so I am free to incorporate my faith into my recovery. Second, I have a very good friend whose first husband died by suicide that has been a godsend from the beginning. Without her, I’m not sure I would be as far along with my grief as I am. Third, I have immersed myself in my relationship with God and stayed active in my church. I have received tremendous comfort from both.
One thing that I do know is that grieving takes time. And time is a cruel mistress. There’s nothing you can do to speed her up or slow her down. I don’t have a crystal ball that will tell me when I will be more stable with my grief. If I did, I would want to fast-forward to that time because, frankly, grief is exhausting and it bleeds into every part of my life. And whether or not I’m ready, life moves on. There are still work tasks that need to be completed. It’s probably the tasks at home that are the most difficult. The leaves are starting to fall and at some point, I’m going to have to take care of that. It is typical for me to have a mound of laundry that needs to be done and for my dining room table to be piled up with stuff. And most weeks I have to make a choice. Am I going to go to work or am I going to get stuff done at home? I haven’t yet found a way to get both done in the same week.
Lamentations 3:23 tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness. Verses like this give me the hope I need to keep trying. To keep fighting. To keep seeking the fresh start I have been yearning for. To find my place in this world. And I’ll eventually get there. Probably not as quickly as I would like to, but it will happen.