By Dr. Ken Dignan
My heart goes out to Pastor Rick Warren and his family at the loss of his 27 year old son to death by suicide. I can relate to the Warrens in that my family and I lost our son Ryan, at 20 years of age 10 years ago. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us to comfort others with whom we can empathize with “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Losing a loved one to suicide is a most difficult kind of grief. Losing any child or young person is hard and tragic for anyone. No parent envisions losing a child in death before them. And if it happens there really isn’t any kind of true closure. One bears the hurt and loss the rest of their life. Yes we trust God to help us go on but we do so as a survivor must cope each day, one at a time. We depend on God’s grace and strength to remember the good times we had with our loved one and thank God for whatever time we did have them.
Add to that, losing a loved one to suicide complicates the grief in that you must fight through all the stigmas associated with it. Suicide is often misunderstood and has a history of shame around it. For many years the church taught and believed if anyone committed suicide they were condemned to hell. It was understood that they, “killed themselves as if to murder someone else thus breaking the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not kill.” (some versions, use the word “murder”)
The Hebrew word for “Kill” in the sixth commandment, meant not to murder or pre-meditate or plot to kill an innocent person who was not attacking one or physically engaging to kill anyone. God did tell the Jews to kill and eliminate evil nations who plotted and carried out attacks to kill the Jews. God helped deliver the Jews from Egypt. God knocked down the walls of Jericho and helped David kill Goliath, etc.
God created us to have a will to live. I’ve seen people fight for their lives through chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplants, open heart surgery, and all kinds of treatments. But others can suffer from a chemical imbalance or mood disorder or any type of psychological problem that can be as hard if not harder to overcome than a serious physical disease. 34,000 die from suicide every year in the U.S. 90% of them have a diagnosed or undiagnosed psychiatric disorder.
The majority of suicide victims have such psychological pain and darkness beyond what anyone can imagine. My son suffered tremendously from the kind of depression that clouds one’s ability to see past their pain. I do not believe many of those who die from suicide did so because they wanted to hurt their loved ones, or get even with someone or got angry enough to give up. The majority of those who die by suicide do so to kill their pain, to break out of their darkness. Some may suffer from a psychosis, schizophrenia or advanced bipolar disorder.
In any event this can be a complex subject with much more to consider than blaming others, or judging others or coming to wrong conclusions without adequate information. It’s important to show love, compassion and understanding to families who are left as survivors of suicide. If someone suffers a death by suicide doesn’t they do not go to Heaven. God will always do what’s right and we leave our loved ones in His hands.
My wife and I have led a support group for survivors of suicide for a number of years helping over 55 families deal with the grief of losing a loved one to suicide. We’ve held an annual Suicide Awareness Concert for 8 years with well known Christian artist’s like Matthew West, Sanctus Real, Seventh Day Slumber, Tenth Avenue North, Jimmy Needham and Josh Wilson, to name a few. If you are interested in examining this most important subject you can order my book “Ryan’s Story” that shares our story and how we’ve received God’s grace and help to deal with our loss. We have the assurance that our son Ryan knew the Lord as his savior and friend. We believe God allowed him to go home to Heaven where there’s no more pain.
Dr. Ken Dignan is founder of Til Healing Comes Ministries and is author of the books Til Healing Comes and Ryan's Story. Dr. Dignan frequently speaks on the topic of suicide awareness. Before becoming a full-time counselor, Dr. Dignan served as pastor at Eagle Rock Community Church in Homer Glen, IL.