The silence Dad left behind when he took his life was agonizing, crippling and frightening. In a matter of minutes his breath ceased and my nightmare began. There was no negotiating, no discussion, no cry for help. His world became silent and mine screamed for one last chance. Surely, I could have stopped it, had I known... or could I? What would become of me and what had become of him?
I laid awake many nights in a puddle of tears wondering what had become of him. We went to church, we showed up on Sunday, we dressed the part and gave back, wasn’t that enough? Wasn’t that enough for God to reach down and halt my father’s self-destructive plans? Apparently it wasn’t, or so I concluded in my heart. In my mind I believed that whatever God seemed to be doing at the time, it must have been far more important than taking notice of the cries of a fifty-something year old man in his backyard under a blanket of black.
I had no capacity to process God much less what had happened to my father once he died. This was excruciating. Suicide seemed to have the last word.
As I turned to the outside for answers of what had become of him, society and the church as a whole was at a loss. Many concluded suicide was a sin and was selfish. I didn’t care how suicide was labeled I just wanted my dad back, and if God wasn’t willing to negotiate his return, then I needed to know he was alright. This became a desperate, relentless cry in my heart and the answer alluded me.
After Dad’s passing many concerned friends and acquaintances wrote thoughtful, caring letters. Opening each letter was like a small nugget of comfort that I began to rely on, thankful we weren’t completely forgotten. But one letter in particular left a searing gash that I still remember to this day. It started off just like all the rest with a heartfelt condolence on our loss and a sincere sentiment about my father. However, it ended with a quick thrust of a deadly dagger. The last words simply stated ‘they were so sorry my father was in hell because he had committed suicide.’
Truly....these were their words.
I was reeling, was that who God was? Did God put my dad in hell because his pain was too much? What kind of God did that? And if that is who God is, then I didn’t want anything to do with him. I walked away. Those few words sealed my decision that God wasn’t for me, He wasn’t for my dad and I would find the God of love....wherever He was.
And for years, I searched.
As mad as I was at God, He was not deterred by the grievances I held against Him. He was determined to reach me. And He did just that by starting at my stopping point. He answered my question about my father in the most unlikely, shocking way. When the bible says He can do so much more than we can ever ask or imagine (Eph 3:20), those words are truth. Here is how I know:
Eleven years after my father’s death, my three year old daughter awoke one morning with bright eyes and a chipper voice. She knew nothing about my father’s death other than he was no longer living, but his death was exactly what was on her heart in those early hours.
She turned to look at me and spoke. “Mama, when you were a girl, your daddy shot himself and the angels came and took him to a hospital in heaven and your daddy is happy now, Mama, he is happy.”
I felt my heart stop and my knees grew weak. I knelt down close to her face and asked, “How do you know that? Who told you that?” She pointed to the doorway, “An angel, an angel stood there and told me to tell you. He shot himself outside and the angels cleaned him up and took him to a hospital in heaven. He is happy now, Mama. They want you to know he is happy.”
I crumpled at her words and wept. I wept with tears I had buried and years of bitterness melted from my heart. God had used my child to reach me and tell me all I needed to know. He had my dad in His arms, my father wasn’t banished to hell, he was wrapped in love and joy and one day we would see each other again.
The curse of bad theology and words of careless pain were erased from my conscious and God looked different to me, maybe He was closer than I thought? Maybe He cared more than I could imagine? Maybe He was right there with my dad on his last night of desperation?
Suicide wouldn’t have the last word after all...God would, and He was only getting started, and I was just beginning to listen with my heart instead of my hurt.
(to be continued....)