One More Day
Table of Contents
The harsh reality of church and suicide
I was 22 when Mike died.
I'd been through my first serious breakup. I'd discovered the woman I was dating was pregnant to someone who wasn't me. I knew it wasn't me because she was Christian, I wasn't but I wanted to respect her beliefs. When that Jeremy Kyle level of relationship drama happens, it messes with your head. You kind of retreat into your own bubble.
The problem was, I was so wrapped up in my own mess, I missed Mike's.
He'd been struggling for weeks, I knew some stuff had gone off in his past that came around every few months. It was like his life was this cycle of ups and downs, with extreme highs and brutal lows. But this low, it was bad. Stupidly bad. He seemed to be on the mend, and that's why I didn't answer my phone the new years eve when he rang.
New Year's Day 2006 I got a call, Mike was on the phone, telling me he was going to cut his wrists. I ran over there, as quick as I could.
I found Mike on his bathroom floor, covered in blood, clinging to life.
I was minutes too late.
Mike bled out in front of me, I tried to hold his wrists together as I waited for the ambulance. But by the time they got to us, he was dead. My best friend died in my arms and I couldn't do anything about it.
The impact this had on me has been, to be blunt, horrific. It's only recently by the grace of God that I'm starting to open up about it more. But there isn't a day where I don't think about him, where somehow I wish I could change God's mind. This world is a darker and colder place without him, and if I had the chance I'd swap places with him in an instant. It's the reason I believe that I don't deserve love, it's the reason I think I have this mentality where I'm perpetually scared of everyone leaving me. It's the reason I self-sabotage everything, so those around me don't get hurt. It's why I struggle to find the basics in life that everyone else has.
The emotional impact of Mike's death messed me up.
Over the years, I've lost another 8 friends to suicide. I wish I could say it gets easier, but it doesn't. A part of my heart is gone, and I cry myself to sleep some nights because of the friends I've lost. This stuff got into me way too early, and way too much of it got in. I'm working on it, a very wise person once told me "you can transmit the hurt, or you can transform it," which is why I'm starting to talk about it a bit more openly now.
I want to come out swinging.
I'm kind of done being a victim to the trauma of my friends deaths. I deserve better. And, to be honest, this is stopping me from being who God called me to be.
But I don't think Christian culture gets just how much someone taking their own life can mess things up.
Satan is a murderer. Not just of those who take their own lives, but a murderer of the hopes, dreams and joys of those left behind.
The thing is, I don't think Christian culture gets suicide. I genuinely just don't think we do. It's one of those taboo subjects we just don't like talking about.
Did you know that 1 in 5 people will experience suicidal thoughts?
The thing is, suicidal ideation is a huge issue in our society at the moment. UK charity Time to Change indicates 1 in 5 people will experience suicidal thoughts in their life time. Think about that for a second.
1 in 5.
That means someone in your small group has faced this.
Someone among your close friends has faced this.
Someone on your church leadership team has faced this.
20% of your congregations have faced this.
So why aren't we talking about this more?
Why aren't we walking this out more?
Truthfully, some of the Christians you know will end up taking their own lives. Some of you will be massively impacted by this happening. It's important we understand this stuff because, if we don't, we're going to end up with another generation of broken, hollow people, who are traumatised by what comes after.
We need to be able to support those who are left behind.
In the valley...
The immediate impact of suicide, for me at least, was incredible numbness. I just couldn't feel anything. It's like you're listening to things at a distance, the things you try and focus on get a bit blurry. It feels like that bit in Big Trouble in Little China where the guy's heart is ripped out, but without the 80s reference.
Life, following the suicide of someone close, is an absolute mess.
For me, I spent a lot of time asking the "what if" questions.
● What if I'd been a better friend?
● What if I'd said something different?
● What if I could have done more?
● What if I'd listened?
● What if I'd seen the signs?
● What if I'd signposted to the right places?
It messes you up after a while.
What's left after suicide, for many people, is a toxic mix of guilt, shame and grief. I'm processing it, but even now, 16 years later, I'm still not fully there.
Where the rubber hits the road, is this. How are we, as Christ's pilgrim people, supporting those left behind following suicide?
How we can support those left behind
The first way... Prayer...
The first way we need to support people is with prayer. Ephesians 6:18 tells us "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people." Praying for people isn't just about praying for what's easy, or for what's so nebulous and vague that if God doesn't answer it's not a big deal. It means getting into the mire and the muck of someone's grief and standing in the gap for them.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)
It means we pray and we pray hard for people because that's what Christ taught.
Whilst suicide is absolutely a taboo subject in many churches and Christian cultures, supporting those left behind, getting alongside them and aggressively praying healing and mercy and joy into this absolute crap-fest should be out first response.
People have sometimes said to me they struggle to pray for others in times of grief. Often this is because it isn't comfortable. My reply to them is always the same. "do we think the cross was comfortable? Let's get off our backsides and crack on."
So if someone you know is struggling following the suicide of a close friend, get on with it. Get alongside them and pray with them. And if it feels weird praying with them, then pray for them.
The second way... Be there...
The second thing that's needed is the ministry of presence. Often, what happens when someone in a Christian context has a hard time, is their mates disappear. They are not around much, they reduce their involvement until things are resolved.
It can sometimes be like we put people in a little grief bubble until they are well enough to come out of it.
But there is something to be said for just being around someone. Even if you feel you have absolutely nothing to offer.
As the church, we are often excellent at this, but we can be so much better.
Following Mike's death, at a time when I wasn't a Christian, I got absolutely no support. I was hanging around the Christian Union at university (long story) but I was kind of just left to it. When the grief subsided a few months later, people started getting in touch again.
I was the toxic boy no one wanted to touch.
Contrast that with when a friend of mine took their own life 3 years ago. There were a few friends at my church who were beyond exceptional. They fought for me, they prayed for me and they stood with me in the grief and the hurt.
I think that was a game changer for me.
What meant the most, in a really odd way, was one person from my church that I'd never really spoken to reaching out and offering me his number to talk to. I've never experienced that before, but the fact that someone who barely knew me was willing to offer things so sacrificially made all the difference.
That's the difference Jesus makes.
Matthew 5:4 tells us "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Sometimes the ministry of presence is all that's needed to comfort people.
Truthfully, I don't know if other people's experience of the healing that comes with a Christian community that stands with you in the muck has been like mine. I don't know if they have encountered the encouragement, the hope and the love that I have. But I pray they do, because, if they don't, what they are dealing with can and will mess them up for years.
The road to recovery
My time dealing with the fallout of 9 suicides has not always been a straight forward one. My Christian journey has been marked with far more failures than successes. When this stuff gets in you, it's cancer to the soul, it undermines everything.
There are days, although thankfully far less frequent, where the grief overcomes me and I can barely function. There are days where I find strength in my friend's memories. There are days that the heart is healed but the scars are still there.
What I have been extremely grateful for is purpose.
See, a lot of people, some Christian and some not, have seen what I'm carrying, and they write me off. I've often been seen as too broken, too hurt and too knackered to be of any use. And there was some truth to that, I was a very difficult young Christian, I genuinely feel sorry for the people who had pastoral responsibility for me in those early days of faith. I was all about vomiting the hurt into others whilst trying to find external validation and not about sharing Christ.
It is very easy to write off those who are left behind because the junk is all consuming and it can make them act out. Believe me, I know.
But there have been some incredible Christians who have been able to look past my very obvious flaws, many of which were caused by the trauma I was carrying. And they prayed for me, they stood with me, they have shown me that there is more to me than what I'm carrying.
What this has looked like for me is people encouraging me to explore the gifts God's given me, to have a go and to keep having a go.
It challenged me to look past the trauma and find a way forward that not only helped me deal but also let me have a go for Jesus.
The support that is needed for those left behind from suicide, in a Christian context, isn't just whilst their in the valley, it's walking with them on the road to recovery. It's equipping them to walk the narrow path on their own.
I hope, in time, to be a better me. To be able to help those just starting out on the path to recovery and those in the valley of grief. To help those left behind.
But I have only gotten there because of the dozens of Christians who have prayed and walked me through it.
When we find someone who is experiencing grief and trauma from suicide. What are we doing?
- Are we journeying with them?
- Are we cheering them on?
- Are we giving them grace?
- Are we loving them outrageously?
Only that stuff will get someone out of the valley and onto the road to recovery.