The world as I knew it ended on July 19, 2015. It was a day that shook my faith and my sanity. I walked into the basement suite in my home. My son was renting the suite from us and I needed to talk to him. I found him lying on his side, in the fetal position. He had a rifle between his legs. He was lying in a puddle. The puddle was black, and it took me a split second for it to sink in that it was blood.
I turned on my heels and ran back upstairs, screaming and sobbing for my husband to call 911. The next few hours were a blur of police, emergency personnel, and the coroner’s van. I was in shock. I remember asking my husband “is it true, is he for sure…” when he came up from the basement to talk to me. Part of me still held on to the hope that he was just injured; that he had miraculously survived.
We spent that night at my brother’s house, while the forensic cleaners took care of the suite. People don’t prepare you for that part. The part where you wonder how you will pay someone to come and clean up the blood, pull down drywall, and lift up flooring. They came in wearing hazmat type suites. As they started their work, the smell of gunpowder drifted up the stairs, mixed with the acrid smell of blood.
I don’t tell you all these grim details in order to shock or disgust you, but to share with you the depth of why I struggle.
My Son’s Suicide Rocked My Faith
I became a Christian when I was 34 years old. I was a born-again, sold out Christian who went on mission trips and worked for my church in a leadership position. After my son died, I wondered if there was even a God at all.
In the cold light of grief, all the clichés I had tossed around before were hollow and empty.
I stopped going to church because all I did was cry. Or get angry. My husband prayed for me and I stared at the wall. My mother offered suggestions of Bible verses that might help. I patted her hand and gave her a small smile, knowing I wouldn’t look them up. Words were empty and meaningless to me.
As the months went by, I threw myself into my work, saw a psychologist, joined online groups for grieving parents and paid my bills.
My psychologist said I was grieving appropriately. The stories in the online groups assured me I was doing just fine. I wasn’t a blubbering mess and I could function. Many of the mothers couldn’t say the same, even years after they lost their child. These parents reinforced the idea that this was it. I was now part of a group that would never again be whole. I would grieve forever and things would never be okay.
And I believed them. I bought into that story because frankly, it was easy. It was easier to accept that the worst thing in the world had happened to me and I had a “pass” on life going forward. After all, don’t people say that losing a child is something they could never imagine or get over? That they wouldn’t be able to cope? And here I was, coping.
I Seemed to Be Coping, But I Was Sinking
But in truth, I was sinking. To the outside world I may have been grieving appropriately, managing life and moving on; inside, I was dying bit by bit. I had lost my faith in God and in life. I now knew that bad things could happen and that prayer doesn’t help. I had prayed so hard for my son and I had called on prayer warriors to pray. But he still died. So, what was the point?
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I hadn’t lost my faith. I still prayed and called out to God to speak to me, to give me comfort. I just didn’t hear anything back. I kept hearing the phrase in my head over and over again “dark night of the soul.” I listened to our local Christian radio and sang along with the songs. I was continuing as though my faith was strong, even though I didn’t think it was.
Then one day, it hit me. Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see. I don’t know where I saw that verse from Hebrews, but it hit me in the heart. I couldn’t see God’s hand in my son’s death because I hadn’t been looking for it. Deep down, I knew it was there.
What I have concluded though, is that what you search for you will find, and this is true for both Christians and non-Christians alike. If I look for reasons that my son’s death means God is either non-existent or uncaring, then that is what I will discover. If I look for comfort in God’s love and reassurance that there is some unknowable reason for all this, then that is probably what I will find.
My son was in incredible pain. He struggled for years, was on medication, and sought help through talk therapy and rehab. He was diagnosed with the type of mental illness that is notoriously hard to treat. I choose to believe that he is at rest and at peace now.
How My Faith Sustains Me Through the Grief
Does that mean that God “put him out of his misery?” No, I don’t believe that. But I do believe that God could have stopped it. For some reason which I don’t have the answer to, he chose not to. My faith tells me that there must be a reason—a certainty of what we do not see. A reason I will never understand this side of death.
You see, that is what faith means to me—I choose to believe, even in the face of incredible anguish and struggling. I choose to believe that God loves me and wants what is best for me, even when I think he is wrong.
I have made some changes in the last few years in the way I grieve. I think my grieving is healthier and more honest because it is now in alignment with my beliefs.
The online groups and other parents told me I would never be the same and it was okay. My faith tells me otherwise.
I will always grieve the loss of my son and I will always miss him. I was changed irrevocably that hot summer evening. But, I will no longer let his death define me. He intended to kill himself but I know he didn’t intend to kill me.
I will go forward, choosing to believe that God has a plan for me and that his way is the best. I will look for ways to make my son’s life count. Because of his death, there is now a scholarship in his name, I speak on mental health, talk to other parents, and wrote a book. I have chosen to be God’s partner in making as much good as possible come out of what was intended to take me down.
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