Robin Williams has passed away. That news alone was shocking enough while standing at the pool yesterday…and then the details came out. Suicide has claimed another life.
My friend stood across from me and gave me the news as she read from the alert on her phone, our eyes locking. She’s in the club too. Those who have survived the loss of a loved one in this manner know. They know.
This club is bigger than we think, and every time another member joins, there is heartbreak and the scar deepens. I remember the first time I heard about this club. I was sitting across from this same friend, sharing a beer over lunch and opening up for the first time about some of the emotions I had been dealing with after my world had been ripped to pieces months before. She shared details about losing her dad, identifying and recognizing the part of the journey I was in. After a long pause, she looked me deep in the eyes and said, “Weird little club we’re in, isn’t it?” Stunned, I stared blankly at her. She was right.
It’s a club no one talks about and no one wants to ever join. Unfortunately, it’s an irrevocable forced membership. Every 15 minutes, someone in the United States takes his or her own life. That’s 35,000 suicides every year in this country—and likely more, since many suicides are disguised as accidents. Statistically, only 10% of suicides leave a note. Sadly, suicide occurs among Christians at essentially the same rate as non-Christians. Each suicide leaves behind on average six to ten survivors – husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, other close friends or family members. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people, including many of our church members, will grieve the loss of a loved one to suicide.
I am one of those people.
Though all deaths are tragic, suicide affects us differently than when someone dies in a car accident or from a terminal illness. Counselors call death by suicide a “complicated grief” or “complicated bereavement,” like death by murder, violence, or terrorist attack. Not only do family members grieve the loss of the loved one, they must also face the trauma of the suicide.
More than other deaths, suicides raise the question of Why? Why did he do it? Why didn’t we see this coming? Why did this happen? Why her? Why him? Why me? In other situations, we can often clearly identify the cause, a drunk driver or a disease, for example. But with a suicide, the victim is responsible for the death, not some outside force. That person is gone now. He can’t tell us why he did it or the reasons he had for leaving us.
More than anything, the biggest question that lingers in the air and haunts our thoughts is, Could I have done anything to prevent it? Scenarios, conversations, last words, and hidden signs flood the thoughts of those in the club. If only we had come home in time. If only we had talked to him that evening. If only I could have “seen the signs.” If only there were signs at all.
Asking why is not so much a search for answers as it is a search for comfort. We assume that having these answers will ease our grief and pain. But the questions are often unanswerable, and we must come to grips with the possibility—the likelihood—that we will never know why it happened. Even without knowing why someone chose to take his own life, survivors can experience God’s comfort and healing. God is a God of the broken.
While grieving, another question comes up, particularly among people of faith: Why didn’t God prevent this? There aren’t any easy answers to this. In short, God honors our human choices, even if they’re bad ones. If we choose to smoke, we might get the consequence of lung cancer. And if someone we love chooses to kill himself, God honors that choice as well. He is the God who makes all things right and can bring good out of any circumstance. This is one of the many mysteries of an infinite all-knowing God that does not make sense to our finite human hearts.
But this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about us or our loved one. The Bible tells us that God grieves with us in our loss. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and he stands with us and weeps over our loved one’s death. Throughout Scripture, God comforts the grieving and brokenhearted, and he understands the suffering of grief and loss. He experienced ultimate pain, suffering, and grief on the cross. Where is God when it hurts? He stands with us, grieving beside us. He’s not only in the club, He’s the president and He leads it.
God loves the broken. He is a God of the shattered. Only He can put the pieces back together in a way that is even more magnificent than the original version. Our job is to trust Him to do so. When the journey makes no sense, when the pain is overwhelming, and when the process doesn’t seem to have an end in sight—keep trusting. He’s not done yet.
So as the memories flood back and the tears well up with the discovery of Mr. Williams and his tragic loss, I am reminded yet again that there are now more in the club than just me. We are never alone.
Quotable Quotes From People Much Smarter Than Myself:
“Oh, great and just God, no man among us knows what the sleeper knows, nor is it for us to judge what lies between him and Thee.” – novelist Willa Cather, My Ántonia
“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” – Albert Pike
“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero