I was going to see about a puppy, or so I thought. How could I have known that God was taking me on a trip to Amish country to meet another family whose son died the exact same way you did? The puppy owners asked me to write to this family as they were in deep mourning. This letter is the result and it has been edited to apply to anyone whose child has died from mental illness:
Please forgive my typewritten letter. I wish I could send you a handwritten one but strength prevents me from putting pen to paper.
It breaks my heart that I am writing to you simply because our sons ran to heaven the same way. It’s not a group I thought I’d ever be a part of. Never in a million years did I believe my family would be touched by suicide. I still can’t believe it. If you can gain any comfort from my journey I will gladly share what God has taught me since Tristan went to be with Him.
One of the things that has helped me the most are two bible verses. One says, “All the days that were ordained for me were written in your book when as yet there was not one of them.” And, “The Lord sits on His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all.”
This tells me that before Tristan was born God had designed exactly how long he would live and knew in what manner he would die. I don’t think of Tristan as missing out on life, marriage, children, old age, etc. because God did not design him to live that long. This keeps me from grieving over things that were never going to be a part of his life.
A second truth I look to is what a wise preacher once said, “God doesn’t author evil but He ordains it.” — R.C. Sproul
It helps me to look through the bible and find examples of how God allows evil to happen for His purposes. I am not the first one to experience agony of soul over something so evil and seemingly pointless. I can see it in the scripture in the lives of believers that have gone before me.
Genesis 50:20 says, “And as for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good, in order to bring about this present result to preserve many people alive.” Joseph is speaking about the evil committed against him by his very brothers who wanted to kill him but instead sold him to a slave trader. He then languished in prison before becoming second only to the pharaoh of Egypt. God’s providence used these evil things to His own purpose.
What about John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! “ and how did God appoint this great man to die? He was beheaded for party guests because of the pride of Herod.
And what about our own dear Lord? Crucified on a cross, His poor distraught, no doubt traumatized, mother looking on. No, I am not the first to have a son go through something horrific. And in all of these, God brought beauty from ashes because that is His business. He redeems, and restores. I may not see the end of the story for Tristan, but I can see the stories of the saints that have gone before him and none were immune to suffering and untimely and in some instances, horrific deaths.
Along with using bible verses to help me deal with Tristan’s death, I’ve also searched the scriptures to find suffering like Tristan must have felt. I’ve been very surprised by what I’ve found. Many of the verses are in Job. God calls Job “a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil” and this very man felt like my Tristan felt. His complaints sound like what Tristan must have said:
11 “Therefore I will not keep silent;
I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
12 Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep,
that you put me under guard?
13 When I think my bed will comfort me
and my couch will ease my complaint,
14 even then you frighten me with dreams
and terrify me with visions,
15 so that I prefer strangling and death,
rather than this body of mine.
16 I despise my life; I would not live forever.
Let me alone; my days have no meaning.
Can you believe that God preserved in scripture that one of His saints wanted to die by strangling? God recorded in scripture that one of His righteous servants wanted to die the way our boys died and Job also thought that that would be better than living! God understands the frailty of man and that we are but dust. My Tristan was not alone in his suffering. And God felt like it was important to have these words of scripture left for all of us to benefit from.
After Tristan left, I felt an overwhelming desire to learn all I could about Jesus, since He is the One that Tristan is with now. Since He is our high priest and has been tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin, I looked through scripture to find ways that He experienced what I have experienced. One of my favorite vs. is Luke 13:34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Before Tristan died, I could tell he was suffering and I so longed to gather him to myself and comfort him, but he was not willing. He had built up a wall and would not let anyone in. Jesus understands what it’s like to long to reach out to someone to comfort and protect and help them, but be rejected. He gets it and can comfort me in my sorrow.
People who have gone before me have told me it takes a long time to grieve a suicide loss. Some were unable to return to their home church for 2 years, they had to go to another church. Some said the pain got softer after about 4 years. I think the journey is different for everyone. But don’t feel bad for grieving. David grieved his son Amnon for 3 years. Jacob grieved Joseph’s “death” for most of his life and when he heard Joseph was actually alive “his spirit revived”.
Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. The Greek word for “acquainted” means “intimately”. He himself said His “soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He was drowning in sorrow to the point of death in the Garden of Gethsemane. Did you know you can die from sorrow? That’s what burst His capillaries so that He sweat great drops of blood. That’s why the angel came and strengthened Him so that He could make it to the cross. Once He was on the cross He didn’t last long, like the other men whose legs had to be broken to hasten their death. Jesus had already almost died from sorrow in Gethsemane. Matt 26:38. So when you feel alone in your grief know that the Savior went there before you. When I feel like Tristan was alone in his sorrow I can know that Jesus was with him and understood the great depths of his pain because Jesus knew what it was like to feel that depressed.
How do I know God understands when people are so depressed they want to kill themselves? Because He describes them right here:
Psalm 22 is a Messianic Psalm and it talks of a great banquet all believers will have at the end of the age. Verse 9 gives a description of the range of people that will be there:
My boy could not keep himself alive but he will be at that feast. He is in heaven right now. He is perfectly known, and he perfectly knows. He knows how much we loved him. And if love could have kept him here, he would have stayed. It wasn’t for lack of love that he left.
If I can leave you with anything it would be to take heart in the Genesis 50:20 verse:
“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring about this present result, to __________________________.
We don’t know how to fill in that blank for our boys’ lives yet. But we can trust the God who made them and who purposed their lives to be exactly as long as they were.