"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

A Suicide Letter on Behalf of Suicide's Victims

Monday was one of the toughest days for me in over a quarter century of pastoral ministry. A friend--a man respected in our community--took his own life. I know him as a Christian man. Fourteen years ago, while playing a round of golf with him, we paused for a few minutes on the 15th tee box where he prayed to receive Christ as His Lord and Savior, the wonderful culmination of sharing Christ with him over several months. His suicide letter, left for family and friends, articulated the reason for taking his life--enormous personal/business debt. The letter contained a clear expression of his faith in Christ, and a request that people forgive him for what he was doing; but he wrote that he saw no other way out. Last night, after several hours of reflection on the last day's events, I wrote the following letter to my friend who took his own life.

Dear Marty,

As I picked up and read your note from the living room table yesterday afternoon, I had to blink away the tears. I had just come from the back bedroom where your dead body lay. Your mom was weeping quietly on the couch, and the ambulance's siren was wailing and echoing toward the house. The hurt and shock of it all hindered my full comprehension of what you had written in your letter. The police would take your letter with them, but I remember your main points. You wanted your friends' and family's forgiveness for what you were doing, you knew you had God's forgiveness through Christ Jesus, and you were taking your life because you saw no way out of your problems.

Fine. Now it's my turn to write a letter to you.

I can't write for anyone but myself, but after spending the rest of yesterday and several hours this morning with your family and friends, I think my few, brief words reflect what those who love you feel.

You have done the most incredibly selfish thing a human being can ever do. You have believed that your pain and your problems are deeper and more foreboding than the pain and problems you leave behind for others because of your self-inflicted death. The searing throbs in the broken hearts of those you love are almost audible. The tears of your loved ones sting them like hot irons pressed on flesh. Surely you considered the emotional devastation your suicide would create, right? Then, why? Why did you do it? Had you become so self-absorbed the last few months that you lost your way and forgot God's call on your life to only and always love others more than yourself? You and I both know our lives are designed by God for the benefit of others. God's grace in your life turned you into an incredibly selfless and loving person. But where is your graciousness and love in death? You died in an extremely selfish state.

I know, I know... you thought that ending your life would be a way of escape for you--and possibly others--from the pain of having to face your problems. On the contrary, your death and your willful absence from the lives of loved ones brings searing torment that is far deeper than you can imagine. You have family asking, in feelings of guilt, what they could have done to prevent your death. Others, those who often received encouragement and spiritual comfort from you, are now wondering if your spirituality was simply hypocrisy. Some loved ones are even pondering whether Christ really does give meaning to a life, because if He does, what happened to your sense of purpose?

Do I sound angry about what you've done? Truth is, I am.

I'm angry that you thought more of yourself yesterday than you did others. I'm angry that your self-inflicted death has brought so much agony to the people who love you. I am angry that you were so doggone selfish yesterday.

Yet, I refuse to let your life be defined by your death. Your life meant so much more. That's why when I see you in heaven, I'll hug you, then give you a belt to the chin, then hug you all the more. Our relationship will not be--cannot be--ultimately defined by your death. It will be forever defined by our mutual life in Christ.

It's just hard for us right now.

Some people said to me today, "How can he be forgiven of suicide? Is it not the unpardonable sin? He had no time to repent?"

I understand their thinking, but I simply explained to them that one of these days we also will die, and there will be many unconfessed sins in us as well--even unseen sins of the heart such as selfishness, pride, envy, etc ... Thank God our forgiveness of sins is tied to the fidelity of Christ's work at Calvary and the power of His resurrection from the tomb and not our ability to remember, confess and repent of every single sin in our lives. We serve a gracious God who atones for sin through His work, not ours.

I feel better after writing this letter. Day after tomorrow we will remember and celebrate your life at a memorial service. When your family sits in front of me it will be my task to help them see past your death to the goodness of God in your life. It's my belief I can only do that after I help them deal with your suicide through both truth and grace. Your suicide was an incredibly selfish sin; that's the truth. Your sin has caused us to fluctuate between feelings of sadness and anger. But we shall not remain there in our feelings. We've been forgiven by God so totally and completely that we can't help but forgive you; that's grace.

I would like for those who are even remotely considering taking their own life to know that your example in death is not worth following. But your example of life in Christ is.

It is impossible to ignore the pain you have brought us by your sin of suicide, but we shall rejoice in the grace that God brings to all us sinners through His Son Jesus Christ. He is our Balm in Gilead, and to Him we look for our healing.

Always in His Grace,


Wade

38 comments:

David Samples said...

Wade, I'll be praying for you and for Marty's family.

Jeff said...

Wade, Thanks for showing your heart. Praying for you and Marty's family.

Thy Peace said...

My heartfelt prayers are with Marty and his family and Emmanuel Baptist Church.

I am saddened with this death of Marty. I do not know Marty, but I know intimately the dark places one walks through to attempt a suicide.

In lot of ways modern life with dependence of ones wealth set aside for the future or acquisitions of property and expectations of others makes all this tragic.

A walk with Our Lord Jesus Christ is very simple and at the same very hard, for one has to walk away from the worldly trappings. If one does not have any worldly trappings, it is very easy to walk with Jesus.

I am only surprised that Marty took his life after hearing William Paul Young speak about the problems he endured. And the loss of B.J.Higgins.

But when people go through hell or dark places, they are rarely shared with others. And one can believe any negative thoughts of hopelessness or lostness. And everything looks hopeless. Even God looks so distant.

What I have found is to repeat a simple prayer of St. Francis. My God and My All. This appears to ground me and sustain me, when all else seems to fail. Of course this is different for different people. I am just sharing my thoughts.

I remember Pastor Wade recently mentioning in one of his sermons about Christian who commit suicide, if they are going to heaven. I am sure there are some Christians who will disagree with Pastor Wade on this.

All I know is if God, Our Lord Jesus Christ can take a messed up person like me and is creating new life within me, then God can do anything. Lot of times this new life is not readily seen or even felt within. One still haunts the dark places. But the only hope is Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is my experience.

I grieve for Marty's family and Emmanuel Baptist Church. May God comfort them in their need. May God grace them with an understanding of His presence. And that is ALL that is required of life eternal.

Darby Livingston said...

Thank you for an inspirational post in a difficult time. The measure of a good elder is his stability in trying times. You once again show your allegiance to God while maintaining your love for those in your care. Thanks for the example. Will likewise be praying for you all.

Tim G said...

Wade,
Having been in your position a few times I have written similiar letters-yours was exeptional. I am praying for you and for the family. May God give you the words to lead them beyond. I am also thankful that God is way more forgiving than you and I would be.

May God bless!

Christiane said...

From Psalm 139

"7
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your Presence? "

18 . . . "I come to the end
—I am still with You."


May Christ gather all who mourn to Him, and give them peace, we pray to the Lord.

Chris Ryan said...

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. We know it is true, but it is so hard to see in the midst of such tragedy. At times, we may not even want to be comforted. But even then there is grace and peace. As you said, there is a balm.

And though forgiveness is hard to come by, blessed are the merciful even in these times. May God forgive each of us, also, for every time we failed our communion with Marty and the millions like him.

You, your church, and Marty's family have my prayers.

RRR said...

Wade,

Hope your letter is some how a comfort to the family member that reads it.

When it comes to a person taking their own life who is an obvious follower of Jesus Christ, I wonder if any of us is qualified to assess how God perceives their final action in this world?

In those cases where I have been personally attached to the family in similar situations, I was not sure that the person taking their own life was capable of making a rational decision at that time.

I wonder if sometimes they can’t be compared to a person who is extremely disabled mentally. What if that mentally disabled person saw an 18-wheeler speeding toward them and thought it was a toy and stood in front of it? Would God see them as ending their life in sin?

Even if a person is a devoted Christian, they are susceptible to clinical depression to the degree that they are completely dysfunctional. They cannot control or explain their emotional state and cannot even function to the point of asking for help. Christians are not immune to clinical depression.

If a committed Christian reaches a point where they are so clinically depressed that they cannot reason the impact and consequences of their decision upon those that they love the most, are they in fact seen by God as sinning?

If there is a sin at all related to this disappointing and devastating end, maybe its that they did not seek God’s strength prior to reaching such a degree of depression. But does God perceive the final action in such cases as sin?

I DON’T KNOW.

I don’t believe that anyone knows but God.

I do not envy you in your ministry challenge to this family. I will pray that God’s Spirit is in control of everything you do, say and write so that it adds to the comfort given by His Spirit.

Rex Ray said...

OUR DIANE
Never in seven years, one complaining word.
Never a teardrop splash was heard.
Never a question; why the cancer cell
Had in her precious life chosen to dwell.

With great courage, she walked her independent way,
And bore her burden, faithful ever day.
Gave cheerful inspiration to this world’s strife,
And prayed that God would spare her life!

Oh how many times, did death’s angel fly, so very dark
Only to find the doorpost with Christ’s blood marked!
With radiant spirit and smile, she lifted her face,
And knew her Father had extended his grace!

But now the setting sun turns the harvest aflame.
Dear Jesus, how she loved your name.
Your call, she has answered, no more to roam.
Oh praise be to God, our Diane is home!


The above is written on Hez Ray’s 28-year-old daughter’s tombstone in Monument, Colorado.
The last line escaped his pen until the day she died.


Wade,
Your letter touched my heart in sadness and truth, but the bottom line - your friend is home, and when I meet him, I’ll know of the 15th tee box, but not any sin in his life including the last.

We have faith assured by the last words of my 5-year-old cousin who was buried in China before I was born: “Mama, which one is our house?”

Mary Burleson said...

Wade,
Tough stuff. Tough on the family left behind and tough on those hoping to comfort the family.

Just a word: Having lost a sister who took her own life, I was amazed at how many of my church friends avoided me afterwards. I can't know their motives, but I think it's because they didn't know what to say. Actually I prefer that wrong action over those who think they know the answers and come forth with comments less than comforting.

Losing someone to suicide is one of the greatest hurts and struggles a person can face. It's also a time when one most needs the friendship and comfort of others who just love them and are present.

I found comfort in a book entitled Suicide and Its Aftermath. The author said, "Suicide leaves one horror scene after another in its wake. ... The stigma, the awful stigma that is associated with suicide, compounded the excruciating pain we were experiencing."

The author also commented on one's guilt feelings. "I was guilty and I could not prove my innocence to myself. ... When I was not blaming myself, I was blaming others. ... There had to be a reason caused by myself or significant others."

"It took a long time to realize that all of this self-recrimination and searching was a complete exercise in futility. To assume that I–-or any other person or persons--had such complete control over the life and death of another human being was both narcissistic and grandiose. My relative was dead by his own hand, and no reason was going to change that naked, lonely fact."

These words helped me through my year of grief. It was a place I didn't know existed prior to the experience. What's come from that is I know better how to comfort others, be there and say only words like I'm sorry. Being there says a lot!

Your post was a good expression of how I also felt at my sister's death.

I'll be thinking of you as you minister to the family.
Mom

Christiane said...

Excerpt From
the Anglican Burial Service
(from Book of Job, Chapter 19 )

"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another. "

Brent Hobbs said...

Thanks Wade, for posting this letter. I hope that some considering suicide will read it and reconsider.

Christiane said...

A PRAYER FOR MARTY


"May the angels lead you into Paradise.

May the martyrs come to greet you on the way.

May they lead you home to the holy city,

to the new and eternal Jerusalem.



May the choirs of angels come to welcome you.

May they take you to the arms of Abraham,

where Lazarus is poor no longer,

and there may you find rest, rest eternal."



Lux eterna luceat eis. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

[Light eternal shine on him. May he rest in peace. Amen.]

Christiane said...

For Wade, who serves the Lord, a hymn of comforting:

http://www.stnicholasmarin.org/cd_contents/mp3/turn_not_thy_face.mp3

Wade Burleson said...

RRR,

Granted people sometimes snap and act irrationally through depression or for other physiological reasons. It's difficult for family, however, to justify the act, at least in the manner you describe, considering the lucid, rational and contemplative life lived up until a few hours before death. I do agree with you, however, that sometimes the individual is irrational and possibly mentally disabled. It just not true in this situation.

Blessings,

Wade

Wade Burleson said...

Mom,

Good words!

wade

Wade Burleson said...

To All,

Thanks for the comments! Away from the computer all day. Blessings to each of you and thanks for your prayers for the family.

Former FBC Insider said...

Wade, Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I'm sure your words will be a helpful, soothing balm for the open wounds that Marty's family has now. God has gifted you with an amazing gift. You and Marty's family are in our prayers.

Benji Ramsaur said...

Wade,

I remember when--maybe I was going through what my Mom has called "the 8th grade syndrome"--I was eating with my family and I mentioned Ozzy Osbourne's "suicide solution" as if that was something justifiable...

My Dad calmly turned to me and said "I do funerals for families whose loved ones have committed suicide and I never want to hear you say that again".

I was speechless. And for good reason.

I praise the Lord that the family in mourning has a selfless pastor named Wade Burleson.

Grace to you,

Benji

RRR said...

Wade,

Understood, brother.

I'm sure every case is different. Regardless, we'll be praying for you, your church family and all those close to Marty who must be hurting tremendously.

Chuck Andrews said...

Wade

Our prayers are with the family, friends, you as their pastor, and the Emmanuel family.

Chuck

Thy Peace said...

Enid News > Martin 'Marty' Kalow.

Enid News > Hope Outreach director Kalow found dead.

Thy Peace said...

Henninger-Hinson Funeral Home > Obituaries > Martin "Marty" Kalow.

greg.w.h said...

Wade:

As I believe I've commented before, our national bankruptcy law echoes the theocratic system of debt forgiveness, return of family land, and freedom of slaves followed in OT Israel by God's direction. As such, I believe it is an early, materially-oriented version of grace. And I believe our churches should work with believers (and non-believers as well) who get in financial trouble to look at bankruptcy precisely as grace and not continue to stigmatize those who suffer financial difficulty whether because of their own behavior or because of events that are at least to some extent beyond their control.

We can still view the lesson of the ant as received wisdom, and just as Paul said "heaven forbid" to the question of whether we should sin that grace should abound, bankruptcy isn't a system to game. While banks sometimes seem to be menacing corporations, they employ people and some of those families attend our churches. A bankruptcy impacts others when you don't pay your debts, but freedom from debt addresses a deep spiritual need: that we value the individual over his/her sins just as the Father does.

I'm personally familiar with the problem of suicide due to people who were close to me either attempting or succeeding to commit suicide. Let me offer one very helpful suggestion for those trying to make sense out of the person's actions. They don't make sense in any meaningful way. There are explanations and many of those realistically could either be real or they could be justifications and rationalizations only. You simply can't talk to the person after the fact and know.

The best thing to do is take suicide for the warning that it is: our Adversary is alive and well and will do anything in his power to cause despair because he believes that destroys our witness and defeats us. In reality, though, our God promises to redeem all things--even deep despair and the actions that seep out of it--for good for those that are "the called" and love the Lord. That promise also should cause us awe because it is made "according to his purposes" which leaves us believing he weaves it into his eternal will almost as if it were always planned even though he is not the author of sin, just its redeemer.

The heartache for the family won't ever go away. They need their church family to sit with them in their agony and just listen and accept it. I know you're trying to voice their anger, but their feelings are far more complex than that in the situation. On one hand, they will feel the desire to blame themselves for their loved one's actions. On the other hand, the sense of abandonment will be at times overwhelming and in a way that doesn't happen when death is due an accident or natural causes.

They will most likely feel an ongoing lack of closure that lasts much longer than would be expected because they desire an explanation that "makes sense." But suicide cannot and does not make sense. It just is. But death isn't stronger than life and in the end, they will see that death's sting is still gone and the grave is still defeated. They should trust Marty's profession of faith and that God--not Marty--will make sense of his action not through explanation but through redemption. Trust that God will do this for them. He will. He's promised to. Now wait patiently for him to show it. And know that others have gone through the circumstances and God saw them through the self-death--or attempt to do that--of their loved ones in this life, too.

Greg Harvey

Bob Cleveland said...

Another thought that should enter the mind of anyone contemplating taking their own life: what makes them think they'll feel better about it after, than they do about before?

We don't know, simply put. Yes, we know about heaven and all that, but I suspect that, when such a one gets there, they're going to be woefully sorry they did it.

Who really knows?

Jack said...

Wade - allow me a brief hiatus from my exile to simply thank you my brother for this post. This is in its sadness and pain the best I have read from you. Praying for you friend during these days. God Bless

Jack Maddox

Tom Kelley said...

Hope Outreach Ministries

Elisabeth said...

As one who has struggled with clinical depression and has spent a week in a behavioral health hospital with a few who have attempted suicide and others who have considered it, I found this post extremely sad.

Also, my pastor's wife's uncle had committed suicide due to having piled up debts a few years ago. This uncle had been suffering from depression too, though. And depression is often silent. The people who suffer from it don't always say they do. Nobody is to blame for another person's suicide. And even though Marty did not "snap" in a classic sense, a person who commits suicide by definition is depressed.

People who are grieving after a loved one commits suicide should be loved on the same way people who are grieving after a loved one dies in a different way. Tragically, they often aren't.

RRR said...

Elisabeth,

Yeah, that's what I think. It's also difficult to assess what's going on inside a person's emotional and mental system. If they have on-going sessions with a trained psychologist, that person may have some insight, but in terms of other outside observers, even family, it might be difficult to ascertain.

Darrell said...

Brother, I pray God will give you peace, comfort, and wisdom.

Darrell

Bob Cleveland said...

From my own experience, I know it is quite possible that Marty was going through Male Andropause (if you don't know what that is, Google it), which hits men in their middle 40's (normally), and is many times "launched" by an increase in unresolved stress.

That's what happened to me, at age 46, and though I never contemplated taking my life, I felt miserable until I learned what was causing it.

I've talked to more men than I can recall about this, and none had ever known of it, or the devastating effect it can have on men.

Knowing what it is disarms it, almost completely. It did, in my case, and has opened a ministry to a number of men I'd have never been able to help, otherwise.

Personal opinion: churches need to address this more, whether as a organization or as an organism.

Christiane said...

Dear BOB,

For some years, the larger Christian community who are Catholic and Orthodox have understood that the suicide of an individual is likely the act of someone who is, at that moment, severely emotionally disturbed and not in full control of their faculties.

Because of this, Christian prayers and Christian buriel are given to the victim. And all Christians are asked to gather 'round in prayer and in love. to support the family and the community who are in shock and suffering their loss. In the Body of Christ, the suffering of one is shared by all.

Marty died in the faith of Christ.
May he be received into the Arms of His Savior and be given Peace Eternal, we pray to the Lord.

Bob Cleveland said...

Christiane.

I'm not sure why your previous comment was directed to me, but OK.

I would suppose that it would be comforting to believe that loss of control of one's faculties would precede suicide, particularly if suicide were considered an unpardonable sin (owing to the lack of opportunity to confess it afterwards), but I've never considered that as necessary.

When one of my Sunday School Class members committed suicide, several members asked me if that would keep him from heaven. The only answer I had was one that my old mentor and bible teacher .. the best I've ever known .. had said to me 40 years ago (upon the suicide of a mutual friend): for an act to keep you out of heaven, it would have to be true that not committing the act would have to get you into heaven. And that's only true of one thing: refusing (or conversely, accepting) Jesus' offer of salvation through faith.

I've not felt the need to explain how or why those folks get into heaven. They get in the same way I will.

Christiane said...

Bob, thanks for sharing that story about your mentor.

Mike In Enid said...

I spent some time with Marty at the funeral home this morning. I found myself asking him over and over again, "why Marty?" I didn't ask in anger, but out of a sense of loss, the loss of a friend, a brother.

I sat there looking at his peaceful face and then at his smiling face on the video screen and tried to make sense of it all. Memories flooded my mind...of buying flowers for Paula, of helping him with deliveries during special holidays, of sharing the pageant stage and of short visits at Hope Outreach. Each and every time he would greet me with that smile of his.

I hadn't spoken with Marty in a while. That certainly didn't help how I was feeling. We get too busy...I get too busy.

Then something happened that doesn't often happen to me, I found myself at a loss for words, to even voice a prayer. It's a good thing that the Lord is never at a loss for words. He comforted me in the midst of my sadness. He comforted me with the fact that as Marty took his last breath on this side of heaven he enterered into His presence. Even as he "walked through the valley of the shadow of death", the Lord was with Marty.

The Lord reminded me to keep my eyes on Him and to not get so distracted by the things of this world that I lose sight of Him and despair. It can happen...it does happen, it happened to Marty.

I spent one final moment and left with the assurance that I will see Marty's smile again...one of these days.

Steve said...

What may be most saddening in Heaven is the not-rare push toward suicide by Christians coming from other Christian believers, sometimes highly respected leaders in churches or other institutions. So many angry believers never consider the damage their anger produces in the lives of those around them.

Chelle Nicole Velez said...

Dearest Wade,

I am so sorry for the loss that you are all feeling and for the questions that you are left asking.

I want to tell you that you are right. I am not sure that it will bring you any comfort, but in my experience, you are right.

Suicide is the most selfish thing that I have ever chosen to do in my life. There is no excuse. Your accusations toward your friend regarding his being self absorbed is accurate. It will be something that I will wonder about for the rest of my life I think...but I am grateful that I have the rest of my life to contemplate it. It is only by the grace of God that I am here still, in spite of my selfishness.

I am not your friend. I can't speak for him. But, I can tell you that I knew I was being selfish, and it "felt" as if the alternative far outweighed the sin of selfishness. I was wrong. So was your friend. I am sorry that he didn't realize that in time to save you and the family the heartache.

I will pray for you as you go through the grief and loss process. I pray for the grace of God to be incredibly evident to you as you walk through it.

Blessings.
Chelle

linda said...

Prayers for Pastor Wade and for Marty's family and friends.

As to why he did it? Two brief comments:

sadly, our world today defines success with numbers. In business, it is money. In church, it is nickles and noses. In education, it is articles published. Perhaps we can learn from this to define success differently--faithfulness, loyalty, love or striving.

Second is that depression is real. It may have stress triggers or health triggers, but can also have medication issues. By that I mean something that happened once to me: saw my doc about a health problem, was prescribed a simple fix, spent $6 and filled my rx, took it as prescribed, and within 36 hours was suicidal (no attempt, just thoughts.) Fortunately she recognized it as a bad drug reaction, took me off the med, prescribed another simple fix to which I was not reactive, and life went on. My point? It's easy to say this caused it or that caused it, but who knows what "simple fix" may have triggered this.