When a person dies, the loved ones left behind are called survivors. Well, that’s me. I’m a survivor. I was left behind when a good friend committed suicide.
He was not only my friend, but also my boss and my pastor. I was a youth director, and he was the senior pastor. I was fresh out of college; he was nearing retirement. I was enthusiastic and ready to learn; he was encouraging, but a bit jaded. I was naïve about the deep pain in the world; he knew the jagged loneliness of clinical depression. A year after I started my job, my pastor made a choice that broke the hearts of all who loved him. He left his house early one morning and never came back.
The Loneliness of Grief
Survivors have a tough job: They have to face their grief and keep on living. Eventually, they go back to work or school, make normal conversation, eat regular meals, take showers, laugh at jokes, shovel snow, and wake up morning after morning. Grief can be isolating. Other people don’t know what to say. Sometimes, survivors feel as if they are the only people in the world who can’t smile.
Unique to my loss was the fact that everyone in my congregation was grieving too. We were in this together. But we didn’t always know how to handle our sorrow. Some people wouldn’t talk about it. Others brushed it off as an isolated act that didn’t matter. Some simply wanted to move on. Unable to address our grief in healthy ways, many of us felt even more cut off from the world.
In This Together
I have since learned that we can help one another weather a loss such as suicide. Individuals sought personal counseling, and our church hired a consultant to help us through the healing process. He taught us many strategies for honest, loving, patient communication. These were the most important for me:
- Hold one another. People who commit suicide do such damage to their bodies that they leave survivors feeling physically sick and traumatized. Loving touch—hugging, holding a hand, rubbing a shoulder—reminds us that our own bodies are whole and worth caring for, that the human body is a gift from God. Touch is a way to heal.
- Sit in silence with one another. When Job experienced horrible losses, his friends sat with him in silence for seven days and seven nights (Job 2:13). People don’t know what to say, so they avoid the grieving person altogether or say something stupid or hurtful. The Bible shows us that simply being there is OK.
- Practice resurrection. One of the ancient creeds of the church proclaims, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” As Christians, we don’t believe that we become ghosts, bodiless souls, or angels when we die. We remain ourselves. We believe that our physical bodies will one day be resurrected, as Jesus is resurrected. We practice resurrection by claiming the life of the resurrected Christ—in worship, sacraments, prayer, and caring for one another. Death does not have the last word.
Write down the names of people you know who are grieving. Say a prayer, asking God to give them comfort. Consider ways you can grieve with them by affirming life and practicing resurrection. Maybe you could send a card, provide a meal, give a hug, or offer to help with chores. Ask God to give you insight into what they need.
—from devozine (January/February 2015). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.