Daughter and I went to the funeral of the woman who committed suicide today. The funeral home was packed. I don't know what instructions the family gave my colleague. Maybe they didn't want him to address what had happened. I know I came away frustrated. He didn't address the pain. He talked about God's love and grace and our need for salvation. He talked about how God always answers our prayers.
I sat there arguing with his words in my mind. N was a woman of faith. She lived a life immersed in prayer and Scripture. If God always answers our prayers, why was she dead? Why hadn't God brought healing for her husband? Why hadn't God given her the strength to keep going? As he read Scripture and quoted hymns, what had happened made them all seem like empty words with no connection with the reality of N's life and death. At the beginning, he said that if N had been here today, he knew she'd be smiling. If she would have been smiling, why did she write a note, pull her car into the garage, and close the door?
An occupational hazard of being a minister is that when I sit in a service led by someone else, I often find myself considering how I would have handled the situation. I would have used the story of Lazarus, in which both Mary and Martha greet Jesus following their brother's death with the words, "If you had been here...." When Jesus sees their grief, he weeps, even though he knows that in a few minutes he will raise Lazarus from the dead. I would have talked about how after a death we often find ourselves thinking of the "If only's." If only I had told her this. If only I hadn't said this. If only.... I would have talked about how God shares our sorrow and grief.
I would have assured them of God's love for N and for each of them. I would have told them that N loved them, and how there was no way they could have known or stopped this. I would have told them that if she had been in her right mind or had stopped to think of the pain this would cause them, she wouldn't have done it. I would have assured them that it is okay to be angry, and that God can handle our anger. I would have reminded them that in Romans, Paul assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
I hope the family found some comfort in the service. I hope I was just being overly critical because I resented not being asked to do the funeral. I ran into another colleague after the service, and I said, "I wish he'd addressed the pain." She said, "Yes, because it has to be addressed." Maybe both of us were just being overly critical, and he did give the family and friends exactly what they needed. I hope so. I know I will continue to pray for them.