I haven’t written about Matt in almost twenty years. My charming, gifted older cousin committed suicide when I was 22 and he was a young lawyer on the brink of his successful life.
When the phone rang, I picked it up at my parents’ house.
“Matt’s killed himself!” my aunt frantically yelled into the phone. I didn’t know what to say except that I would let my parents know. It was my dad’s birthday, but I would have to pop that balloon as we all dealt with the awful news.
I was asked to read scripture at the funeral, a passage the priest had picked for me. While reading about our being here a short while, I felt awkward, like this verse wasn’t right, wasn’t comforting. Why did I have to read about our insignificance? This death was not insignificant. God loved Matt more than we did. He knew every hair on his head. He did not think this was insignificant.
Our huge family rallied to the little town for the funeral, but how different this one was from our gathering for my grandfather six months before. We weren’t saying good-bye after a long life. We were reeling from confusion. How could this happen?
My cousin, Matt’s sister, asked me how this could happen. She knew I had written some Bible studies; so I felt like she wanted me to have an answer from God. I had no idea how to answer this question. I don’t know what I said. Maybe nothing.
Returning back to my sterile young adult apartment with its white rental walls and slats of window shades, I started spending a lot of time on the couch. I cried and cried.
Part of my sorrow and grieving was wanting to know where Matt was. Was he a believer? Was he in heaven? At that young age, I really didn’t have any experience with suicide, and I had some faint memory of someone telling me it was the one unforgiveable sin—taking your own life. I really struggled with that.
Matt didn’t seem like he was rebelling against God. He seemed sick. The last three times I saw him, he sunk further and further away from us. Where he used to have a twinkle in his eye and a firm handshake, he could no longer look us in the eye. By the last time I saw him, he could not participate in our conversations. He seemed to have fallen into his own sad world and couldn’t get out.
As I wrestled with this loss, a friend gave me a book called The Fierce Goodbye on dealing with suicide (which I have since passed on to someone who lost their sister in this way). It helped me so much to think of Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and offer of hope to all people, to think of Judas, who betrayed Jesus and then was so distraught that he hung himself on a tree. This book talked about God’s sadness for Judas and that the author thought Judas was in heaven, restored and forgiven.
I have not read this book in ages and don’t know if I’m even referencing it correctly. But I do know that I learned through this experience more about God’s magnanimous goodness and generosity. He is so good, and we can’t do anything to change His character of goodness and mercy. His compassion for hurting souls is so huge that He sent his son to die for our sins. He loves those who feel lost and in despair.
Though all deaths are hard to endure, I think suicide is one of the hardest. The confusion, the misguided stigma, the tragedy of a life lost too soon—as in all things, we can only come to the throne and ask for peace from our Savior. We may not have answers, but we can have assurance that we are heard, and that God’s goodness overshadows all our questions and grief.
“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).