Ali, a beautiful four-year-old brunette, sat on the bathroom counter, watching me apply my make-up. Her older brother, Chase, lay sleeping on the living-room couch. Ali refused to go back to sleep even though she had arrived at 5 a.m. From the moment her grandma dropped her off, Ali stuck close by my side. That particular morning she was holding her tummy, looking very uncomfortable.
“Does your stomach hurt?” I asked.
She quietly replied, “My stomach is suicide.”
Ali didn’t know what suicide was, but she had heard the word before and figured out it wasn’t good. She’d heard it in hushed tones when relatives were talking about her mother. Two years before, when Ali was just two years old, her mother had taken her own life. Now I was her replacement; their summer babysitter, watching them so their dad could go to work.
Having never met Chase and Ali’s mom, I developed one emotion toward her: anger. The more time I spent with Chase and Ali—two smart, active, strong kids—the more I loved them. The idea that their own mother had taken herself out of their lives forever infuriated me. She should be enjoying time with her children. Since this woman had no way of apologizing, my bitterness toward her festered like an untreated infection.
But it wouldn’t stay that way. A plan was underway to help me better understand this tragedy.
Drawn Together by Rules
I was in love.
His name was Richard, and I had met him at a small Bible college in the Midwest. Richard was a tall skater from Topeka, Kansas. With good looks and wearing glasses, he seemed both confident and smart. He knew his Bible better than I knew mine.
We were drawn together by a mutual disdain for our school’s many ridiculous rules. Among them were: no dancing, no handholding and no wearing pajamas to class or off campus. Just before the school year ended, we started dating. Then Richard impulsively decided to come to Seattle, Washington with me to attend Seattle Pacific University.
While in Seattle, Richard and I worked in the school cafeteria, studied and frequently wandered around downtown. He talked about Kansas and his family—a family he loved and dearly missed. We spent plenty of time together, but when we weren’t together, he was secretly drinking and smoking pot. He stopped reading his Bible altogether. Then, one day, he didn’t go to church with me.
That was the day I broke up with him.
It broke my heart. Even so, I thought he was going through a phase. I assumed he would turn his life around, and we would get back together. A few months later, a phone call from my mom destroyed that hope.
Not Just a Rumor
This was in the era before cell phones, and my dorm room phone wasn’t working, so I took the call in my friend’s room. First, my mom made me promise to come home for Easter in two weeks. Then she told me why she was calling.
“I heard that Richard committed suicide,” she said, trying to make it sound like a rumor so I wouldn’t get too upset.
With my friend’s help I was able to call Richard’s mom.
“It’s true,” she said. “We found him last Sunday.”
Then she sobbed into the phone. It was a sound I still cannot wrench from my memory.
My friend stayed with me the rest of the day. She drove me all over Seattle until I told her, “Everything in Seattle reminds me of Richard.” After that, she drove me an hour and a half out of Seattle to her parents’ home. Her mom made me a toasted cheese sandwich. I ate it, and I cried.
Back to Chase and Ali’s mom. How I hated her for abandoning her children. And yet I knew Richard loved his family, and he wouldn’t do anything to hurt them unless he had already lost his mind. I immediately forgave Chase and Ali’s mom because I realized the same thing might be true of her.
God has been so gracious to me. He gave me a wonderful, stable husband and three amazing children. My life is full and happy but not devoid of grief. Richard was the first of six people I’ve known who took their own lives. Among them were a loving uncle, and my favorite pastor.
The Bible tells us, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). I know my own heart is broken, but I cannot say whether or not Richard—or any particular suicide victim—has a broken heart.
When I question God about this He replies, “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21:22 ESV).
But that is so hard. I agonize over the fate of my loved ones. Did they ever really know God? I remember all of the things they said and did. I try to decipher their motives and wonder whether or not they could be held accountable for their actions based on their mental health.
Then I remember, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). I have to trust God with the souls of all the people I have come to love.
That includes those who have passed, and those who yet live.