Suicide and Sustaining Love (It’s Real or It’s Not)

73320660_595813497894505_6486648047261450240_nIt is crazy that I would even think about blogging again, that I would return to my laptop and try to make sense of this latest tragedy, attempt to put it to good use. But, if you read this blog regularly, that’s what it is about, in a sense: putting sorrow to use. Putting pain to work, for good. Because, to me, good must come from hurt.

And so, in the face of my father’s death by suicide, hidden in the neat “died suddenly in his office,” the mask of words that the media offers the bereaved, I will struggle here, again, in words, just as I did with the death of my granddaughter, sweet Stephanie Grace. 

And today, driving home from work and its busy solace, I thought of her and that and all we went through, and I was just so grateful because it taught me so much. That little baby who never took a breath on earth, well, she helped me survive this.

I just thought what it would have been like, had I not lost her–had I not endured so much else. Had things been easier, had I not struggled for days and weeks and years to gain purchase and find my footing, had I not learned to measure my breaths and seek glimpses of good, how, how, how would I have survived this??? Where would I have been?

Today, a week after my father’s death, I stood in my classroom and taught. I have been there all week, grading papers and making copies and hugging kids in the hall, and I have been there because God taught me to stand.


Our losses hang around us like torn wallpaper–things we tried to create are now gone. 74465171_419648325366611_6010560414377574400_nThere are so many losses–even beyond those awful and known. Children, babies, promised adoptions, health, finances, a normal marriage, a home, friendships–all have been stripped away, food for locusts.

But what remains is bedrock. Beneath the gloom is this: I now know that God is for me, I know now the power of despite.

Despite the death of my granddaughter. Despite the health battles. Despite the debt and the unending bills. Despite the lack of joy in my home. Despite the 1,000 miles between my daughters and me. Despite these things, God is still here, trusted and real.

He knows I am broken.

I know I may not be restored.

There is, somewhere, a blog about the day that I gave up. I had been clinging to the idea of better. That things could become better: my husband cheered and physically well, our finances restored to normalcy, a life of stable predictability could still be ours. And then, with the crashes of this summer–the lying doctor and the heartbreak of another mortal health crisis–I just gave up.

We think of surrender as something that involves soft music, altar calls, and weeping–or anger and rage at the unfairness of our fate. But there is also another kind of surrender–a quiet relinquishment, a realization of the futility of fighting, a final letting go. That’s what I did on that summer day: I realized that this may well be my lot, that my ministry may be one of suffering and surviving, of going on.

My testimony may just be getting out of bed. That may be what in me speaks most of God.


I understand, very much, the weight of the pain of this life. There are blogs I do not write because they are “too much”–public school teachers shouldn’t speak too freely of despair. A month ago, I told a friend I was going to write a blog entitled “25 ways to stay alive one more day” (among them: looking at bumblebees on lantana; listening to the Rolling Stones; driving down the highway until you can really see the stars), and we shared a laugh–too grim for South Georgia.


Then, two weeks ago, a former student from my favorite class died. It was unbearable–having already lost my favorite student from that class, I had no other place to put that pain. I cried for days–not only at Carl’s death but at the cost of it all, the cost of this life, the price of our pain. I cried aloud, for the first time in my life, for mercy. I clung to the foot of my bed and cried out for mercy.

The mercy I received is not the mercy I sought.


My father died by suicide the next Wednesday. In his office. Alone.

When I found out, I was in my classroom–with eighteen teenagers. I got a text. (God knew that was what I needed.) And I can’t say I heard a voice or felt a presence, but there was a definite impression: It’s either real, or it’s not.

My faith is either real or it’s not. God is either real or He’s not. My father is with God in heaven or he is not.

And in all my pain, I have seen the constancy of God–every loss has again revealed His presence.

And there has been so much pain that there has also been so much Presence.

So, on that day in my classroom, all I could feel was that truth, filling the room: It’s either real, or it’s not.

And I am assured of this: it is real.


Years ago, on a happy summer night, God told me that everything was about to go,  and I did not run. I knew even then that there was no sense in it, that the voice was firm.

And even now, there are some who say God would not have told me that, would not have said that things were going to be laid waste, that our table would be empty and unhappy–but isn’t there so much mercy in saying so, in His proclaiming loss?

He said I wouldn’t have that again–He didn’t say I would have nothing.

He took. He gave.

And if He continues to take, He will continue to give.

In that assurance, I am sustained.

In that assurance, I take my rest.

It is real.

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Photos by Dalton Gillis

 

10 thoughts on “Suicide and Sustaining Love (It’s Real or It’s Not)

  1. Dear, sweet Rachel. Again, I have no words of wisdom nor of comfort but I stand amazed at your insight and your strength. Somewhere, somehow in the great scheme of things that are, you have been given a power that few possess. It’s not comfortable and it’s not something that you, or we, would have chosen but God is REAL and your life has a purpose beyond anything I can even imagine. At the end of your life (and I hope that it is eons away) I know that God will say to you, “Rest my Good and Faithful servant; you have served me well.” I send you my warmest hugs. Love, Emily

  2. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your heart. Although our circumstances are different, I can identify with the emotions and sentiments you expressed. Some time ago, like you, I reached a point of surrender—of letting go my perception of what my life should be like, and began to accept that for my husband and me, our “ministry may be one of suffering and surviving.” That’s not to say that I haven’t been able to find joy, but it seems that there is always a struggle in the offing. But always, God sustains me.

  3. Rachel, tough, strong, loving, giving, suffering Rachel – It’s got to be your incredible, deep faith that’s keeping you afloat. When I first heard (read) your father “died suddenly in his office”, I thought maybe heart attack. I felt loss with you, but had no idea really what happened. Until today. I’d been involved in my own crazy drama at home and didn’t pay attention to life … and death … around me. Rachel, I have learned so much from you, and still, I wish I’d learned less and you suffered less. Even saying “I wish” is so far away from how you experience your faith. Please accept embraces from us here on this earth. Much love, Margaret

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