Suicide sucks. Sorry to for the bluntness and harsh language, but that’s about as ‘soft’ as I am comfortable going on the matter. It just plain sucks. Unfortunately, I would know.
Tonight my wife and kids and I ate a fantabulous dinner of chili dogs, potato chips and root beer, in honor of her late father Neil, who’s death was 7 years ago today. Or at least that’s when we found out about it. Sadly, Neil, who was one of the nicest, most stand up guys you’ll ever meet, was overtaken by grief from his wife Jill’s tragic loss to cancer some 18 months prior – and decided to take his own life sometime after work on March 18th, 2009.
There are no ‘easy’ things about someone dying from suicide. There are only unanswered questions. There is only unrealized potential. There are no ‘they lived a long happy life’ statements, no ‘it was his time’, no getting to say goodbye. There is just the sudden, horrific impact of crashing straight on, into the wall of grief, and the wreckage it leaves behind is unpredictable and unexplainable.
When we hit that wall life changed forever. My wife said more than once that she ‘felt like an orphan.’ I watched her go through the trauma of cleaning out and selling the house she and her parents had shared for so many years, it broke me in places I didn’t know I had.
Me? Well I sort of fell apart. Post traumatic stress is a funny beast, and one I have had the joy of dealing with. There have been many days since that unseasonably warm one in March I have faced the same suicidal thoughts I am sure he battled, and I can tell you firsthand, they are not pretty.
I would not be being honest with you had I not shared all that I have above, and yet, that is not the point of my writing this evening. Sure, suicide sucks, but it does not have to.
To borrow (and add to) a quote one of my favorite organizations (to write love on her arms – www.twloha.com) – ‘Hope is real, Help is real, He is real.’ The life I have lived after the moment we learned of Neil’s death has been filled with pain yes, but much more it has been filled with purpose. My empathy for those who struggle with depression, anxiety and self-harm has never been higher. My ability to mourn with those who have lost someone has increased exponentially. My desire to reach people with the life-giving, life-changing hope that is offered through a relationship with Jesus has grown and with it has come incredible opportunities, not the least of which are HILLCITY church and things like this website. I have a story to share, one that lets people know I understand, and one that shows I have not given up.
I have one of my favorite lyrics of all time tattooed on my left arm, it says ‘life it hasn’t left me yet’, and it accompanied by a semi-colon, a staple of another great organization (project semi-colon – www.projectsemicolon.org). Each day I see it I am reminded that I still have life. Life left in me to live. Life left in me to love. Life left in me to give. To my kids, to my friends, to complete strangers who walk through the door of my church or stumble across this blog. My life might be the hope that helps someone else know there is hope and keep on going, and so I do too.
Neil didn’t get to eat a chili dog tonight – he would’ve liked to. He didn’t get to see his daughter win bridal awards, get published in international magazines or start an Etsy store. He didn’t get to meet his grandson, or teach him to throw a ball or shoot a puck. He never snuggled or gave kisses to his granddaughter and saw that she has his nose. He never got to hear me preach or attend a service at HILLCITY. That was his choice, one that I struggle with, and one that we have to live with. But in some ways, it is one that I understand, because I wish his story was one of hope as well. I believe if Neil were here tonight he would want you all to know that hope and help are real – and would implore those of us who struggle to seek it out. Instead, hope now lives on through us, his family. We loved him, like we know he did us, and so we remember the joy and love-filled parts of him tonight with processed meat, carbonated sugar water and salty deep fried potatoes. Good food, in honor of a good guy – just the way he would’ve wanted it.