A little over a month ago my former brother-in-law killed himself. He made multiple attempts over the past few years by overdosing on pills. This time he changed the method. This time he succeeded. I am saddened that he felt death was the only solution to his problems. Danny, a high school drama teacher, was a highly creative individual who was like by many. He was involved in his church and he always had a smile for others. However, underneath his cheerful facade was a conflicted and depressed individual whose health had declined. His death left behind two young surviving sons.
Suicide is a taboo subject among Christians. It makes us squirm and ask the question, "Can someone who professes to follow the teachings of Christ, which are supposed to bring hope to a dark and hopeless world, really be a true follower if they kill themselves?"
I believe the answer is, "yes." Even strong leaders in the Bible provide a testament to this. Remember the story of Elijah the bold prophet who became deeply despondent and ran away from evil Queen Jezebel when she threatened to kill him and then sat down under a broom bush and said, "I have had enough." He was ready to give up. David in his lowest moments longed to die.
Sometimes life can become too much. Sometimes people choose to end their suffering without any hope that things might improve. All they can see is the darkness. They fail to think about the pain they may cause others by taking their life. Suicide is a selfish act of desperation meant to terminate their own suffering.
Not long ago during a women's gathering some friends and I were sharing hurts from our deep places. One woman told about how she had not been back to church since she had found her brother dead, a victim of apparent suicide. She was mad at herself, for not recognizing the signs. She was angry at God for not preventing his death. Slowly, she had come to grips with it and was beginning to reconnect with God, but that didn't make the pain any less.
How can we minister to those who may be suicidal?
How can we give comfort to those who have lost someone to suicide?
First, if someone seems really depressed, take their despondency seriously. If they talk about killing themselves, don't dismiss it. Try to get them to seek medical attention. Be a listening ear. If you fear for their immediate safety call for assistance. When I worked at a women's rescue mission I remember an alarming call from a women who was going through difficult financial circumstances and she told she me felt she would be better off dead. I listened and sympathized with her and tried to use my most soothing voice. I prayed with her over the phone. I asked her for her address. Then I called the police and told them I was concerned for her life. They sent someone to check on her.
Another option when someone seems at risk is to refer them to a suicide hotline where folks are expertly trained in how to handle crises.
Don't dismiss threats of suicide. If someone talks about killing themselves they may take action. Suicide attempts are often a cry for help and there is a tendency to think that if they failed in a previous attempt, then they really aren't serious about taking their own life. The truth, however is that they may very well do it again, and succeed at a later date.
If you know someone who has experienced a loss of someone due to suicide, it can be awkward knowing whether you should talk about it or not. The tendency is to want to know all the knitty gritty details...If they want to talk about it they will when they are ready. Let the person know you are deeply sorry for their loss, that you are there if they want to talk, and most importantly that you are praying for them. Don't offer any judgments on the spiritual standing of the departed, doing so may bring more despair. Romans 12:15 says "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."
The most important thing is just to be there for them.