Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Funeral

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.


Our Family said...

Amen sister! I do the same thing..a hazard of the calling I guess! I agree with you though. Family needs more comfort than it seems that they got! You may need to be there after the numbness wears off! Peace

Reverend Mom said...

Thank you. I'm glad I'm not alone in judging colleagues, though that still doesn't excuse it. I spoke to the situation in worship this morning. The congregation expressed gratitude, and one man went so far as to say, "I wish that had been said at the funeral."

Mongoose said...

"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."

If I were at a service for a suicide and the speaker said that I'd be really unimpressed. My brother and I are chronically suicidal, some times it's an emergency and most of the times it's just present in the middle distance in our minds. Both of us are completely in our right minds and if we're ever gonna do it, we're gonna do it, regardless of the pain it would cause others. Because it's not about others, it's about us and what WE need. I really doubt there is one suicide out there that would stop if the person would only stop and think how much pain it would cause others. The most we'll do about it is pick a method that's less work for the "others", like say, hypothermia rather than self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Suicide is a personal decision and it's in no way about other people. It's about ourselves. Whenever there is a suicide, I always hear people talking about themselves and what it does to them. Well really, in my opinion as a potential future suicide, it's their problem how they handle it. Not ours. Our problem is to make the right decision for ourselves.

Anyway, I don't suppose you need my ranting on your blog, but yeah, if you do a funeral service for a suicide, I wouldn't recommend second-guessing their decision. If I were doing the service, I'd just tell the people that the suicide made their own decision, and all the rest of us can do is wish them well on their journey and cherish the times we had with them.

Reverend Mom said...


You make some excellent points. However, I don't think they apply in this case.

I've run into a number of suicidal people in the course of my ministry. I pick up on depression, especially in the elderly. There was no sign of depression and no warning signs for suicide.

This woman always had a smile. She was always well dressed, and her house was spotless, even as she spent most of her day with her husband at the hospital or nursing home.

She was making plans for the future.

There is a young woman I know who has been hospitalized twice recently because she was suicidal. If she were to commit suicide, I definitely wouldn't say the same things I'd have said for this woman.

I think you're right though, that her whole goal was to stop her own pain, which at that moment was overwhelming. If she'd thought of her family and the impact on them, I think she'd have kept going, because she was very devoted to her family.

Mongoose said...

Not all depressed and/or suicidal people let themselves go to pieces. If you met me in real life you'd have no idea either. I'm a smily shiny happy well-dressed person with a tidy house and plans for the future, too. I show up to work on time, I never complain, and no one's seen me cry since the last time I was at a funeral. Some people make a show of it, some put a good face on it. Granted you knew her and I don't, but obviously you didn't know her like you thought you did, because you didn't know she was gonna do that. The reality is no one really knows what she was thinking or not thinking and I don't think it's that helpful to make assumptions.