When I was a child, my parents were close friends with another couple, Harold and Margaret. I think the friendship began with the two men working together at the large factory in our town. The wives enjoyed each other’s company, too, and it helped that the two couples each had a son and a daughter who were of similar ages.
Harold and Margaret eventually bought 20 acres, near a small town close to the larger city where we had all lived until that point, and built their house themselves. My dad, having grown up on a farm, loved Harold’s and Margaret’s new place, so much so that it bordered on envy.
I have memories of being at that house, while the four adults gathered around the kitchen table, playing the card games of Canasta or Pinochle, talking and laughing, while drinking beer and smoking cigarettes until there was a smoky haze filling the house.
Time passed. My dad and Harold both developed health issues related to alcoholism. Harold was hospitalized, I believe more than once, in a unit specializing in the treatment of alcoholism. During one of those hospitalizations, Harold, apparently in a despair-induced depression, found a way to take his own life.
His children were young adults by then, and moving out on their own. Margaret, overwhelmed by Harold’s death, didn’t think she wanted to stay on their farm. Knowing how much my dad had always loved the place, she offered to sell it to him. Dad jumped at the chance, and that’s how my folks came to own the farm where I was able to realize my dream of having horses.
Nineteen years later, I met Doug, my husband-to-be. Doug was from a neighboring state, and we met through mutual friends. (You can read about that here.) Very early in our relationship...it may have been the first time we had gone anywhere together without being joined by another couple...Doug took me to a Christian concert in his home state. We found our seats, and then I went to use the restroom before the concert started. When I came out of the restroom, Doug had moved to sit with some friends that he had spotted in the audience. (For a moment, I wondered if he was trying to hide from me.)
Doug stood to let me into the row of seats, then introduced me to his friends, Max and Janie, who lived in Doug's hometown and attended the same church that he attended. Doug sat to my left, Max to my right, and Janie on the other side of Max. We chatted for a little while before the concert started. Then, during the intermission, we resumed the conversation. I learned that Max was originally from another small town, not far from my home area. I told him the name of the small town where I had lived until recently, on the 20-acre farm owned by my parents. His face showed surprise, and he told me that Janie was from that same town.
I leaned past Max to take another look at Janie, who had looked familiar to me when we were first introduced; and I suddenly realized that this was Harold's and Margaret's daughter whom I had not seen in years. After the concert, Max and Janie invited us to their home for ice cream before Doug drove me back to my own home. It was a wonderful evening, not only because of Doug's company, but because of renewed acquaintance and shared memories with Janie.
Another 25 years passed. We maintained a relationship with Max and Janie, although they continued to live in Doug's hometown; and Doug moved to mine. Then, last week, a mutual friend gave us the tragic news that Max had committed suicide.
We went to the evening visitation at the funeral home and to the funeral service at the church the next morning. Over 1,100 people had gone through the line to express their condolences during the funeral home visitation, and there were probably close to 500 at the funeral. Those who worked with Max on the Friday before his death said everything had seemed normal that day. Those who "played" with him that Saturday said the same. His family had no clue. And Max left no explanation.
Two pastors shared the podium during the funeral service. The first pastor to speak was a young man who had grown up in the church and is its current pastor. He is the same age as one of Max's own sons and shared memories and stories, both humorous and poignant, from his long association with the family, extending comfort and encouragement to them.
The second pastor to speak had been the pastor at the church several years ago. He tackled some of the hard issues that survivors whose loved ones have committed suicide must face. He reminded us that we are each responsible for our choices; we cannot take responsibility for the choices that others make. Max, for whatever reason and in whatever state of mind, chose suicide. Those left behind should not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by a sense of guilt, thinking that something they could have done or said or seen might have prevented Max from making the choice he made.
The pastor also cautioned against harboring feelings of anger or bitterness toward Max, urging us to forgive. He reminded us of the futility of speculating about Max's reasons and of the sin of gossiping about the event.
It's hard to imagine how dark things must look to a person who can convince himself that suicide is the only good solution. My husband, before he became a Christian, had attempted suicide once and was preparing to "do it right" the next time. He "just happened" to be driving past the fairgrounds in his hometown one night, a couple of weeks before he would have had enough money saved to purchase a gun for the deed, when he saw a sign advertising a Christian crusade at the fairgrounds that night. He decided to go in, and that's the night that he heard that Christ had died for his sins and that, by trusting Christ, he could be born into God's family and assured of eternal life in heaven.
When Doug prayed that night and asked Christ to come into his heart and forgive his sins, that darkness that he had lived with for years was instantly lifted. Anyone who knows Doug knows that he's not the overly emotional type. He didn't see signs and wonders in the sky or hear violins playing or bells ringing. But the terrible darkness was gone. The Spirit of God had come to take up residence in his heart, and He brought the light of God with Him.
I know this has been a lengthy and heavy post, but Max's death and the grief of his family have weighed heavily on my heart; and I just felt the need to share this. I know that there are some of you whose circumstances are difficult or whose hearts are heavy with cares that you may feel couldn't possibly be understood by anyone else. But there is One Who does understand. And He urges you to be "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." (I Peter 5:7)
I pray that you will accept His invitation to "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)