Saturday, July 09, 2011

Connections and Disconnections

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 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)


  1. It is sad he knew nobody to talk to before ending his life. I still see it as a bit selfish since they don't worry how it will affect others. I hope you are doing well after this terrible lose.

  2. Oh my Linda, I'm glad you shared this, it is so very sad. It's time like these when it makes us thankful for all we do have, sending much love your way x

  3. Steve - There WERE people he could have talked to, but he chose not to, for reasons known only to himself. Having heard Doug talk about that overwhelming darkness, I know that it can't be understood by those of us who have never experienced it.

    Deborah - It was tough to watch Janie go through this, knowing that her dad's suicide years before, had left its mark. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. How sad, Linda. I think suicide is that hardest of all on the family/friends--especially the guilt that they feel thinking they could have done something to prevent it...

    Sounds like the minister had a great message at the funeral. Things happen. We can't take on the guilt. We just need to forgive and remember the good times.

    My husband's younger brother committed suicide as a teen --over a girl (we think)... It was SO hard on that close, Christian family. Apparently, there were several teens at that time who either did it or thought about doing it.

    My prayers and love are with you--and the family/friends who loved him so much.

  5. Linda, my friend. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend, Max and the pain that everyone is feeling as a result. Particularly Janie who has got to be questioning how the men she loves can chose to depart this way.

    It's a tough topic, and of course not everyone's beliefs are the same or as deep as yours and Doug's. It's just such a sad, unfathomable and final decision.

  6. I am at a loss for words,only to say that this must be one of the hardest things anyone can face.

  7. Betsy - I appreciate your understanding comment. So sorry to hear that your husband's family had to deal with a suicide. As you said, it's probably the hardest of all deaths for the survivors to get through.

    Hilary - It IS a tough topic. And there are no easy answers. Thanks for your kind comment, my friend.

    Ruth - I think you're right. Losing a loved one to suicide brings so much pain beyond the normal pain of loss.

  8. Linda, I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. Depression/suicide is such a serious and relevant topic, it's real and happens to 'normal' people and families. Doug's story is absolutely amazing. He really has a powerful testimony and I'm so glad you shared it. Praying for the family and friend's of Max.

  9. What a difficult loss for all; we never know how others internalize situations and deal with life. This is such a good reminder to be aware of others difficulties and try to view from their perspective.

  10. Oh, Linda, I am so sorry. Death affects all those who have known the deceased, but suicide cuts to the bone. The unanswered questions, the doubts, the what-if's. Sounds like that minister was a good one.

    Several years ago, I attended the funeral of the son of a coworker. The son, a man of about 30, had taken his own life because he was dying of AIDS. The minister performed the service as if he were speaking of someone he'd never known...and he hadn't really. But before the service, I overheard that same minister talking with some people near us...spouting his personal views on those who commit suicide AND "have perverted ways," as he said. I normally speak quietly with a minister after a funeral, but this guy...I couldn't even look him in the eye. Talk about perverted.

  11. Thank you for your prayers, Elizabeth. It's what the family needs most right now.

    So true, Deb. We'd probably be overwhelmed if we knew the burdens that the folks around us are dealing with.

    Ethelmae - I can't imagine what that man was doing in the ministry. He certainly had no compassion. You can disagree with a person's actions or his world view without speaking so callously about them, especially when you've been called to conduct a funeral and offer comfort to the bereaved. I'm not sure I would have been able to hold my tongue.

  12. This is such a touching post, Linda. When you told me about Max's death, I didn't realize that his wife's father had also committed suicide. Wow. I hope she has strong faith that sustains her.

  13. Sandra - Thanks for the kind comment. I'm sure it's been tough for Janie, but she does have faith; and she has some good support from family and friends.


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