Finding Hope While Grieving Suicide [Video & Transcript]
Special Guest: Darla Isackson, Author of Finding Hope While Grieving Suicide
Welcome to today’s episode of I Believe Podcast! I’m your host, Karen Trifiletti. I have with me today a special guest, Darla Isackson, who has been a professional writer and editor for four decades. Darla is currently managing editor of a publication for seniors and a regular columnist for a prominent online magazine. I’m so glad to have her here today to discuss her latest book, titled Finding Hope While Grieving Suicide.
We invite each of you, our listeners, to engage with us through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or our website, ibelievepodcast.com as questions or comments surface. Also, please know that scriptures and resources shared here will be made available on the site.
Darla, we welcome you and thank you for your sacrifice in being here and for having invested so much in desiring to help others face this kind of tragedy and appreciate your willingness to spend this time on I Believe Podcast discussing a few of the questions and struggles you faced in the wake of the death of your son, Brian, through suicide, in 2004—and your journey to hope and healing.
Darla: Thanks, Karen, for giving me the opportunity to share some things I’ve learned in the aftermath of this hard experience and documented in my book. My intent is especially to share important ways to increase hope and gain deeper faith in God.
Karen: Before we dive into this cast, we want to say that we are keenly aware of the magnitude of suicide: We realize that as many as 1 million teens attempt suicide in the US each year. That’s staggering. It seems that with each successive wave of media coverage, we become more aware of its pervasiveness and the need for efforts towards prevention and efforts to help families already so affected by it.
Our goal today is for Darla to offer hope in the wake of dealing with loss of one who has taken their life. So right now, in particular, we would like to address any of you right now listening who may have stumbled across this cast who are presently in prolonged depression or are feeling at all inclined to inflict any kind of self-hurt. If you are or know someone in such a state, we plead with you to please pick up the phone now and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL): they are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week at 1-800-273-TALK.
Okay, with that strong invitation, let’s move forward to the subject at hand for those suffering loss of a loved one through suicide.
The Earthquake of Suicide
As Darla says in the forward of her book, “No one is ever remotely prepared to have their life flattened by the earthquake of suicide; the aftershocks go on and on” (xvii).
I think we’d all agree that there are tough questions and mangled feelings at critical spiritual points in our lives—in times of loss of a loved one through suicide, or in parallel times of extremity of any kind. Darla faced those very questions and labyrinth of emotions at the time of the loss of her own son through suicide. Unsurprisingly, Darla found answers to her questions—questions like:
“Why did a loving God allow this?”
“Is there hope for those who have taken their lives once they leave this life?”
“Will I ever feel joy again?”
“Where is my son now?”
…And more which Darla has poignantly chronicled in her book, Finding Hope While Grieving Suicide, which we’ll now jump in and discuss.
Darla, to begin, can you describe for our audience the discovery of Brian’s death and the wake of that discovery; and, later in the cast, we’ll move to where you are now, a place of continued healing and joyful living. But first, can you please tell us briefly what happened to you that started you on this journey?
Darla: Yes, Karen. This book came about because on September 27, 2004, three plainclothes members of the local Police Department appeared at my door to bring me the news that my son Brian, age thirty-three, was dead—by his own hand.
It’s hard to describe the impact, the shock, numbness, grief, and confusion I felt. In an instant, my worldview changed drastically and I became one of the walking wounded. I often felt like my heart was literally bleeding. However, like so many who have faced such a crisis, the Lord gave me strength to do what needed to be done with the arrangements, the viewing, the services, and the burial even when I thought it was impossible to do so. Because I am a writer, I immediately began pouring my heart out in writing, especially in preparing what I wanted to say, had to say, at Brian’s memorial services. Praying, writing, talking, crying, and being real in the situation was all I could do.
Karen: I can’t imagine confronting that kind of event or that type of pain. And it brings me to think sometimes we tend to see the wounds of others that are more visible—the cancers, the illnesses, the expectant new mom, but we can miss those in our midst whose wounds are deep—like those suffering a loss of any kind—including the loss of loved one through suicide. I hope we can be more sensitive to those whose wounds are less visible.
No More Surfacey-Skimming of Jesus’ Teachings
Certainly this took you and may take others to a place where, as you stated beautifully, there would be “no more surface-y skimming of the teachings of Jesus. No more floating along with only casual attention to spiritual things.” Can you please speak to that?
Darla: And yes, “no more surface-y skimming.” I felt it was time to get deep into the gospel of Christ. It was like my rope of faith, which had always been coiled at my feet, was suddenly all I had to hold onto, and that I was hanging by that rope over a precipice. Anyone who has experienced the reality of the suicide of a loved one is familiar with that precipice and with wondering if the rope of our faith is strong enough to hold us when we have nothing else to rely on.
In the aftermath of Brian’s suicide, I’ve felt that my life depended on gaining understanding and a more solid faith. Never did I have greater motivation spiritually.
In the months and years that followed, I found myself on a spiritual journey, the depths of which I have just never before experienced. It has been the most difficult time of my life, yet in some ways, the most beneficial.
Turning To God Rather Than Away from Him
One of the things you say you’ve learned, Darla, is to turn to God and not away from Him. What would you say to encourage those listening who might want to duck, bail out, and turn from God—or even faith or religion—right now, before finding the peace, understanding you’ve found? They may be listening. Or maybe they don’t even know God.
Darla: Karen, I have to say that the most important thing I’ve learned from this hard experience is to turn toward God and not away from Him. I’ve done that—hundreds and hundreds of times, even when I didn’t feel like it. Surprisingly enough, I’ve learned that it’s not so much a matter of feelings; and sometimes I haven’t been feeling much of anything but grief. Getting help and comfort from God is more a matter of choosing to hang onto an internal knowing of the truth of His love. One of the “jobs” of the Holy Spirit is to help us know the truth. One of His names is “Spirit of truth.” (See John 15:26.) And through that Spirit I REALLY know, as surely as I know anything, that God is real, and God is Love. And I lock arms with a veritable army of people who have experienced hurt, doubt, confusion, and profound despair, but through faithful seeking and turning to the Lord, have received an ultimate confirmation of God’s reality and God’s love. One of the hardest parts of finalizing my book was choosing which of hundreds of stories of others bearing witness of God to include. I found so many!
Here’s an example of one of the powerful experiences of others that I share in my book: Maurice Rawlins, M.D., quoted the following near-death account,
At this point in the act of dying, I had what I call the answer to a question I had never verbalized to anyone or even faced: ‘Is there really a God’? I can’t describe it, but the totality and reality of the living God exploded within my being and He filled every atom of my body with His glory. [Quoted by Maurice Rawlins, M.D., in his book Beyond Death’s Door, 64.]
Karen: And as you said, while these NDE’s corroborate what we know, we simply need to go ask God if He lives, seek Him sincerely in His word, and we will find that knowledge and assurance. If you need prayerful support as you seek Him, please let us know.
Why Did God Allow This to Happen?
Darla, let’s discuss some of the questions that surface and coalesce in the griever’s mind and then talk about the rays of light that opened up resolutions that dispelled some of that darkness, sometimes in a moment, sometimes over time.
The first question many ask not only in this excruciating trial but in many others, is Why Didn’t God Prevent This? Can you speak to that please?
God Allows Us Freedom of Choice
Darla: The Lord rightly exerts influence, not control over His children. He leaves each person free to choose, and accountable for those choices. Accountability means “to bear responsibility for.” In Romans, Paul taught that every one of us shall give account of himself to God before the judgment seat of Christ. (Romans 14:10-12).
Karen: Darla, may I interject here just to underscore how pivotal this point is in moving forward and understanding God’s love and plan? Without allowing us to have freedom of choice, we become spiritual automatons, unable to grow spiritually. That said, God made provision for our use and misuse of this fundamental gift of choice. We’ll get to that in a moment. So please continue, Darla.
Darla: The main point I want to make, Karen, is that none of us had any control over the final act of suicide of a loved one. And where a person has no control, he has no accountability (which means he bears no part of the responsibility for it) and the grace of Christ will cover it. They alone—and I’m speaking of the loved one who chose suicide—will ‘give account’ of themselves to God.
Like most good parents, spouses, or friends, you and I likely did everything our loved ones would allow us to do to help them and anguished over things they did differently than we would have wished. For example, we had no control if they chose to abuse drugs or refuse psychiatric help, and we shouldn’t have had control, because God gave them the right to choose for themselves, just as He gave that right to us. If they did go for help and no medication eased their mental illness, we had no control over that either.
We might think that God could have controlled it all, but God wouldn’t be God if He stepped in and stopped those about to make grievous choices. He doesn’t give “selective” freedom of choice; it is absolute. Principles of free choice and natural law, And natural law prevails; most suicide victims don’t get to say the next moment or the next day, “I changed my mind. I want to go back and do it differently.” However, this life is only a moment in eternity and another foundational truth I’ve learned is that God is not the author of our suffering, but of our help, and I believe God does His full work, through Christ Jesus, in the long-term, not just during this earth life. (See Philippians 1:6; 2:13.) He is a God of redemption, with the power to redeem both here and in the temporary place we go prior to the final judgment, known as the “spirit world” hereafter. He won’t give up on us.
Karen: I love what you just said, Darla, that God is not the author of suffering but our help. What a great statement. It reminds me of something else one Christian spoke: “The gospel is not exemption from pain, but a resource in time of pain” (C. Broderick). If we don’t really get that, we tend to come up with other explanations about God that limit Him. I call that false attribution.
Some claim, theists for example, that God doesn’t have the power to change the evil that occurs in the world. That diminishes God and is false. The lynchpin of understanding the permission of suffering here is the need for free choice.
Jesus Christ Is There for Us to Intercede & Succor Us, While Respecting Our Moral Agency
So if we understand that Christ, bound lovingly by the perfect law of freedom of choice as you said to us, it allows us to see something else: While He allows for agency, He was not at all ABSENTEE on that occasion of grief, though He had to allow it to play out. Why do I say that? Because in anticipation of that moment, He hung on a cross 2000 years ago, paying for the pain and sins and sicknesses of His people and taking upon Himself all that occurs for those who suffer as a result of their own and others’ painful choices. He paid in advance for that moment, so He could be there for you IN that moment. So contrary to how it may appear in the moment—because of the playing out of a tragic use of choice, God and Jesus were and are interceding for healing and redemption without violating our ability to choose, as we’ll talk about. The story isn’t over yet.
Cacoons–Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual
Please continue and share the experience, if you will, Darla, of the butterfly moment, which ties in here for our audience.
Darla: One day I was sitting in my backyard thinking about Brian when a butterfly landed on a flower really close to me. I thought about the life cycle of that butterfly and how a person’s whole life can feel like a cocoon to those restricted by physical and mental illnesses. How many people live their entire lives as caterpillars or stay enclosed in cocoons? It seems to me that butterfly people are rare. Brian was gifted in so many ways, but his cocoon kept him from soaring. Yet somehow, just as that developmental stage is essential to the butterfly, so are the limitations of earth-life. God’s plan has purpose!
As that butterfly in my yard flitted among my roses, God impressed upon my heart that death is not the ultimate tragedy, but is instead a birth into a life that offers infinite and unending possibilities. Those who have died and come back to life describe the experience much like breaking out of a cocoon; they soar in so many ways! Ways we cannot begin to comprehend. If death were truly the end, all our questioning and doubt and anger at God would certainly be justified. But it is not the end. It is a new beginning. Bonni Burrows, following her near-death experience, said, “Death is merely the doorway through which we are born into the most wonderful stage of our life” (Qtd. in Grieving, p. 2). A greater-than-butterfly destiny awaits humankind because of Christ’s resurrection.
Entering the Spirit World, Life Immediately After Death
Karen: So let’s talk about the very beautiful, true and hopeful reality that 1) there is a place or spirit world where we go after death prior to the final judgment, and 2) that change is still possible there.
Q: Another question many people have in general and that resurfaces in much more profound way at times like this is “Is the Afterlife Real?” And sub-sets of that question like, “Where is my loved one exactly? Is he still himself?” “What happens next?”
God has answered that question in His word, in the Bible and in modern revelation we learn even more about it, and this piece may be especially important to our listeners looking for hope, peace, understanding of God’s infinite loving provision for us to reach our ultimate potential. Darla, let’s discuss the answers to those questions. How would you speak to that?
Darla: I have come to believe absolutely that death is simply a portal to eternal life.
Robert Millett, author of Life After Death, said
Strictly speaking, there is no death and there are no dead. When things die they do not cease to be; they merely cease to be in this world. Life goes on. Death is a transition (Millett, Robert. L. Life After Death, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT. 1999).
Do We Keep Our Identity & Personality After Death?
In terms of what happens after death, the question of personal identity often persists. In every near-death experience I have read, and through the scriptures which attest to this, I’ve come to know that the person maintains his or her own identity; they note instant recognition of loved ones they meet in the place of spirits, and they are instantly recognized.
Karen: Matthew 8:11 is another verse that infers the eternal nature of gender and identity, isn’t it, Darla. Can you share that?
Darla: Yes, it is. That scripture clearly says that many shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, indicating that after thousands of years those men will still be Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses appeared. (See Matthew 16:13-18.) He had been gone from the earth 1,500 years but was still Moses. Identity is that strong! Matthew 27:52-53 tells that after Christ’s resurrection, people recognized him and that many Saints also rose from the dead and went into the city and appeared to many (and the inference is that they were recognized). It seems reasonable that if Christ Jesus and the Saints were recognized by others, so will each of us be known to others in a personal way after death. We don’t lose our identity!
Pantheistic and Eastern Beliefs About Identity Are Constructs
Karen:This is such an important point, Darla, especially in light of all of the confusing tenets of pantheism, and some Eastern religions, which espouse that we either need to transcend ourselves by extreme practices; that we morph into something or someone else after death; and/or that we continue to pay for wrongdoings by returning to life in a lower caste, with changing identities and circumstances. We affirm to our listeners that identity is eternal, and reincarnation is a construct and invite you inquire for as Jesus affirms in the gospel of John: He will send the Spirit “even the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, and “He shall testify of me” (John 15:26).
And the good news is, as we accept and follow Christ, we don’t have to or continually have to pay for errors; there comes an end to our probation and every opportunity is given for us to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So let’s talk about the next question then related to this place of waiting after this life? What’s it like and can change still happen after death, Darla? What truths were confirmed to you and what truths did you learn from modern revelation about the spirit world being an extension of mortality?
Darla: As my yearning to know how Brian was doing and what was happening to him continued, I directed more questions to him in my journal such as, “Oh Brian, where are you now? Are you far away or are you close to us? What kind of progress are you making there? Have you been relieved of the torment in your mind?”
You know, Karen, it’s hard for me to imagine anything closer to hell than the condition of mind that prompts suicide. The last thing anyone would want for a loved one is for them to go from one hellish condition to another. How relieved I have been to find nothing in the Bible to verify the idea that our loved ones can’t repent of the sin of suicide—or other sins they may have been caught up in at the time of their death.
Repentance Possible Prior to the Judgment, in the “Spirit World”
I’ve found so many evidences that the grace of Christ, which makes repentance and forgiveness possible, continues in the world of spirits. And so does free choice. I believe it is possible to choose to do what it takes to repent and accept Christ, even after death, in the world of spirits. Where else could the billions of God’s children who died never having heard of Jesus or understanding why they should follow His laws, get the chance to choose Him and repent?
In Ezekiel 34:12, 16, the Lord tells us how He feels about His lost sheep:
As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.”
I have the absolute conviction that our Shepherd continues that work in the hereafter. Evidence of that is found in 1 Peter:
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.
(1 Peter 3:18- 20)
Karen: Darla, so when you thought about how long Brian would have to suffer, what were you led to discover?
Darla: I believe that our loving Lord does not want anyone to suffer one minute longer than he or she needs to in order to turn to Him and repent. Repentance means, more than anything, a change of mind and heart, not long years of torment. Suicidal people have already suffered so much! Surely their torment lasts only long enough to motivate them to reach out to Jesus for relief, and could be prolonged only by their refusal to do so. I know the Lord is a merciful God and desires that each one of His children accept His atoning blood as quickly and fully as they are willing.
I found validation of that belief in the near-death experience of Angie Fenimore. When Angie attempted suicide, she immediately visited the dark realm, which she called her “spiritual time out.” She learned that hell, although a specific dimension, is primarily a state of mind—one she had experienced long before her death. That became obvious to her only when she was put with other spirits who shared that hellish state of mind. Angie didn’t stay in that dark place very long. Her story of opening her mind to light and becoming aware of the presence of God and Christ and ministering angels is riveting! When she asked why she was sensing their light-filled presence while those all around her were still in darkness, she received the answer that only those who close their minds to the light remain in darkness.
The minute she was willing to see, she realized that beings of light had been there all along, wanting to help, wanting to be noticed.
Karen: And that’s consistent, isn’t it, Darla, with the verse in Hebrews: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). That applies in the spirit world for the repentant.
Personal Grace-filled Assurances About Brian’s Healing
So, Darla, can you share some of the deep and grace-filled assurances you received about Brian’s turning his heart to Christ and healing in the spirit world?
Darla: Again, I do think other people’s accounts are meaningful, but personal assurance is even more so, and I’m so grateful for the witnesses I received. In December, about three months after Brian’s death, I was listening to a book on tape that told about what happens after a person dies, and how they are taught about Jesus. I started to cry and the words came to my mind, “Brian knows now. Brian KNOWS.” I was just filled with peace and hope and assurance that he had been taught the reality of the mission of the Savior and how it applies to him in perfect clarity in a way he could understand. I thought that nothing could comfort me more, but something did. A few months later, in June of 2005, in my journal I recorded the moment when the Holy Spirit told me for sure that Brian not only knew of Christ, but had also accepted Him, recognized His love for him personally, and was repenting and making great progress. It was just amazing. That knowledge just swept over me and nothing surpasses this kind of “knowing” in our hearts that comes from the Holy Spirit.
I was so grateful that the Lord was so kind, so gracious to give me assurance of Brian’s change of heart and to teach me all over again that God is a God of mercy; that the Savior offers his grace and forgiveness to the truly repentant, both here and hereafter. I’m sure He takes into consideration every detail, including intentions and circumstances—which He alone knows.
Karen: The spirit realm is real and often, as you have mentioned in your book, Darla, angels come to escort people to the other side. Can you share your experience with your mother in this context, as a helpful side-note and affirmation here?
Darla: Love to… My elderly mother was ill and I had been caring for her in my home for almost four years. Three weeks before she died there, I went into her room (at 7:00 a.m.) and she was wide awake, her face glowing…. Now this was a drastic change because she had been depressed recently and in the habit of sleeping late. She told me there had been two people dressed in white in her room and one said to the other, “Look at Fern. She’s almost ready. We’ll come and get her in three weeks.”
I have to tell you that she was convinced she’d had a visit from angels—and so was I. from that minute our home was filled with light and love. Three weeks later, to the hour, my mother took her last breath and passed peacefully to the Other Side. We gathered around the bed and marveled at what was happening and the beautiful feeling that was in the room.
I’ve never had a sweeter experience than being in the same room where angels had been. As strange as it may seem, I felt that same sense of sweetness and peace (instead of the terror I expected) when I entered the room where Brian died. My heart knew that angels had been there and that Brian is with angels now.
Karen: Thank you for sharing those sacred experiences. (In regard to your angels at passing, and who angels really are, we invite you as well to view a special cast on that, Are Angels Real ? on ibelievepodcast.com.) How poignant to have experienced angelic ministrants in Brian’s room.
And others may have other communications or inspiration regarding their departed loved ones. No one listening needs to feel like they have to compare or duplicate Darla’s experiences but can allow God’s Spirit to teach and comfort as He will tailor it for each person.
Just a few more questions before we end this part of our cast, Darla.
Overcoming Negative Emotions of Blame & Anger
Darla, how did this assurance of a bigger plan help you overcome some of the emotional turmoil and spiritual confusion you felt in the wake of Brian’s passing? Can you describe some of those emotions any insights that enabled you to move towards letting those go, forgiving, moving on in faith towards the future?
Darla: Our natural reaction to tragedy is to try to find reasons for what has happened. And that may lead to casting blame. First I blamed myself. I wondered what part of it was my fault. What could I have done differently that might have helped? And why wasn’t I prompted to rescue him? Was it my fault because the prompting was there and I just didn’t listen?
Then I started to share the blame: I became angry at Brian’s school friends, church friends, anyone who used to tease him. I was angry at the person who recently stole Brian’s prized electric guitar. I was angry at business associates who took advantage of him and weren’t fair to him, friends who didn’t honor their agreements. Finally, I even felt angry at God for placing Brian in this particular set of circumstances and for knowing what was going to happen and not somehow prompting even one of us who loved Brian to go rescue him, stop him!
Karen:So how did you reframe all of that, Darla?
Darla:That is really the story of my book. And while I go into detail there, let me see if I can summarize here.
While casting blame is a predictable result of the brain’s need to make sense of something as inexplicable as suicide, it is always counter-productive.
In regard to blame, we are so inclined to get a distorted view of the cause and effect in this situation. I learned that what I did or did not do, what anyone else did or did not do did NOT cause Brian’s suicide. For anyone listening who has felt that self-blame, what you did or didn’t do did NOT cause your loved one’s suicide.
Millions of spouses fail to treat a partner well, yet few mistreated or jilted spouses consider suicide. Every parent makes mistakes, but relatively few children kill themselves. My perceived failings didn’t cause the suicide and neither did yours. I have a chapter in my book that explains the many contributing factors, but suffice it to say we shouldn’t blame ourselves. And whatever level of influence we may have had, we certainly had no control—nor should be have had.”
Letting Go, Forgiving, Healing with Christ’s Help
Karen: In your book, you make it clear that the answer to that blame is to let go and forgive ourselves and others, and you recount some of the ideas in regard to how you went about doing that. Can you share some of those?
Darla: Yes, it is a process, not an event, but probably the most important thing to remember is that we simply can’t do it by ourselves. It is one of those things we are really dependent on the Lord’s help to accomplish. My church leader advised, “‘Tell the Lord that you are willing to forgive and let go of the bad feelings, but acknowledge that only He has the power to complete the healing process of forgiveness. Expect that angry feelings and grief feelings will continue to surface now and then. Healing is a long-term process. Give it all to the Lord. Ask the Lord in any moment of pain to apply the healing blood of the Savior, then move on. Ask the Lord to help you forgive and to feel His forgiveness every time bad feelings come up.”
Over time I learned that when I surrender my anger, blame, or unforgiving feelings I open the door for love to flow in. Progress depends on how much of my grief and anger and pain I am willing to surrender to the Lord. He is only one who can help me do all that. That is why I used as the subtitle of my book, “Opening Your Heart to the Healing only God Can Give.”
Karen: It really is true, what C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, and which you quote: “After the first few steps in the Christian life we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God (165-66).” We make our own choices, but God provides the miracle.
Suggestions for Un-Stuffing Your Feelings & Working Through Grief
The grieving process can take time. What are some things that helped you, as you turned to God, to work through grief?
Darla: Some suggestions that have helped me to express rather than stuff feelings are:
1. Cry when you need to cry; venting is vital
2. Find safe places to talk about your grief (such as support groups)
3. Set aside time each day to do grief work (no matter how busy you are)
4. Use writing exercises
Writing is often an effective way to give our feelings to the Lord. You can’t change the past, but you can change how you see it and how it affects you. For example, you can write about losses in life, happy and sad memories with loved ones, anything you feel you need to forgive about your lost loved one, anything you feel you need forgiveness for. It’s even helpful to write undelivered emotional messages you wish you had been able to give, write a letter to departed loved one. As I write I often feel the effects of what Jesus did in my own life and show my faith that His Atoning blood will reach and heal the lives of others as well.
Crying Out to God
Karen: Darla, you made some practical suggestions about prayer; can you share those and your episode crying out one evening?
Darla: Karen, prayer is such an important piece in this puzzle. I’ve learned to pray a lot in my head, in the middle of daily life, especially a surrender prayer. When bad feelings come up, I try to remember to say in my mind no matter where I am: “I love Thee Father, and I am willing to let these bad feelings go, but I need Thy help. I want to give them all up to Thee. Please help me, Father; give me the strength to surrender these feelings to Thee.” Pouring our hearts out to God vocally can also be an important and cleansing practice, such as the experience you asked me to recount, Karen.
In my book I tell about one particular night when I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. I went to the utility room—furthest away from where anyone was sleeping, closed the door, and cried out loud to the Lord. For more than an hour I poured out my laments, my sorrows, my complaints. By the time I was finished I felt relieved, even cleansed. Most importantly, I felt that the Lord listened, cared how I felt and loved me. And I put aside the false idea that if my faith and trust in God are strong I won’t need to grieve. He understands!
Suggestions for Those Who Are Striving to Comfort Someone Who Has Lost a Loved One through Suicide
Karen: Darla shares many guidelines for those grieving and for those who have friends who may be grieving such a loss. We’ll post some of them on our website, and of course, they are all listed in her book. That said, for those of us who are well-intentioned friends or loved ones, here are some suggestions we can abide by when striving to offer comfort or otherwise stand-in as support to one grieving loss of loved one through suicide—from Darla’s suggestions:
· Do give hugs and show genuine love and concern. Every griever needs love and affection and warmth. I can’t begin to tell you how much hugs meant to me.
· Do use the name of my loved one who died. Share good memories about them if you knew them.
· Do let me talk. Be willing to listen without interrupting or making suggestions or trying to fix me. I may have an almost insatiable need to pour out my feelings. I need a sympathetic, mostly silent listener.
· Let the Spirit guide and direct you to know what can be done to help, because while I’m grieving I may not even be aware of my own needs.
“Don’ts” for the One Offering Comfort
Karen: Darla, can you share just two or three of the “don’ts,” shall we say, for those who may interact with the person in grief? We’ll post additional items on our website and you can find those in Darla’s book.
Darla: Please don’t avoid me, or tell me you know how I feel or how I should be responding to this situation. Don’t say “I know how you feel.” No two situations are alike. And please don’t set a timetable for when I should be through grieving.
Experiencing Joy and Healing
Karen: There’s much more to discuss, Darla, and I hope we can have you back on again, but let’s just talk about a point where you were able to experience joy again and move forward in your life. How have you reclaimed joy?
Darla: I include in my book the profound quote “Joy is not the absence of pain, but the presence of God.” In that sense, I have had that kind of joy at intervals along the way, even in the midst of grief because joy accompanies any encounter with the Holy Spirit.
But the biggest encouragement I can give is that I am not only surviving NOW but finding a deeper, more satisfying life and moments when I’m happier than I’ve ever been. For instance, after I thought I had finished this book, I had an experience with reclaiming joy that I knew I had to add.
I took a couple of my granddaughters (ages three and five) to a park I hadn’t been to for years—the one I often took Brian and his brothers to when they were young. This return was full of nostalgia. The gazebo and play equipment were new, but the layout was the same, and the same great trees still spread leafy branches over the river we walked along. The girls giggled and ran down a small hill and picked handfuls of dandelions, then ran onto the bridge and threw them into the river. My heart swelled with the sight of the children, so full of life, so happy. I stood on the bridge with the girls and watched the water, swift from spring runoff, carry the bright yellow baubles out of sight.
I could never have guessed the trials that lay ahead when I stood on this same bridge watching my sons throw rocks into the water more than three decades ago. Suddenly I was struck by the message in this experience—life goes on. Every year the snow melts in the mountains and the rivers run full, and the water goes swirling and gurgling on its way. Every year the dandelions bloom, and now I’m watching a whole new generation of children pick them.
Like the proverbial “water under the bridge,” the past is past, and the only things I can change about the past are the stories I tell myself about it and how I allow it to affect me.
The moment was precious. In spite of all the hard things that have happened, I realized I was feeling joy again. Edwin Markham said, “Only the soul that knows the mighty grief can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.”
Life May Turn Out Different Than We Expect but God Shapes Our Destiny & Character Through Those Experiences
Karen: Darla, I remember a time in my life when I felt one of the strongest impressions I’ve ever had and where I was sitting when it came. It was that the sacrifice I needed to offer was of the expectations for a certain part of my life. I offered it and my life then did take a rapid turn, because of another’s addictive choices, though different than Brian’s, but I am who am I as a result of having worked through that Gethsemane. I know the Savior in a way that means the world to me. Certainly, your life has not taken an expected course but one that has shaped you into who you are as daughter of God, disciple of Christ.
Darla: Yes, precisely. And I feel the need to make this one last point absolutely clear: My joy now does not come from having everything just as I would like it to be. Simply put, I’m finally coming to peace with “what is.” My goal is to quit waging war with the parts of reality I don’t like. So my hope now is not that things will “turn out” as I want, and they often don’t. It is built, instead, on a deeper, firmer trust in God’s reality, of Jesus’ love and grace, of their constant concern for the welfare of all their children.
This more solid hope comes from what I learned from living through tragedy: that, as it says in the Bible “your faith and hope might be in God” (1 Peter 1:21) Focusing on the Savior and all His promises is my formula for peace now. His love is like the light shining from the lighthouse .
It is true that our lives are forever changed by the suicide of someone we love, but the tragedy continues only if our changed lives are void of joy, only if we quit growing and learning and giving.
I look forward to that eternal world of joy I’ll eventually inhabit, but I’m also enjoying today—especially when I’m alive to moments like I experienced with my granddaughters. This path I’ve walked since my son’s death has been thorny, I admit, but the Lord is helping me live a life full of love and forgiveness. And I want to assure everyone out there listening, that the same can be true for you!
Karen: Thank you, Darla for being our guest today, and for your thoughtful searching, honest heart, and prayerful turning to God and then sharing what you learned with others. We hope all listening will be hope-filled as they hear this cast. The Savior stands with arms outstretched to each of you who have had to or who are walking through this valley right now.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline & Facebook Suicidal Content Reporting Link
Once again, in closing, we plead with anyone listening who is experiencing or knows one experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, worthlessness, to text us at 185KnowGod1 or to call directly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: open 24 hours a day 7 days a week at 1-800-273-TALK. Karen’s website, ibelievepodcast.com, will have links to Darla’s book, the Facebook Reporting form, and other resources. If you’re not aware of that, there is a Report Suicidal Content link on Facebook to report any suspect social media messages you see or to find help yourself via a confidential chat session with a crisis worker. Again, we’ll post these items on our I Believe Podcast website and Facebook page, along with this video and transcript. God bless you in your spiritual journey.
Additional Scriptures and Faith Quotes:
“Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.” (Psalm 57:1)
“God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7).
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27).
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4).
Orson F. Whitney: “Thus we see that the Spirit World is not Heaven, except in a relative sense, and then only in part. It is a temporary abode for God’s children, while undergoing processes for purification and development, as a preparation for better things beyond. Heaven, on the other hand–heaven in the highest degree–is the permanent home of the perfected and glorified” (Cowley and Whitney on Doctrine, p. 489).
“I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.: (Modern Revelation: Doctrine and Covenants 84:88).
Neal A. Maxwell: “We tend to overlook the reality that the spirit world and paradise are part, really, of the second estate. The work of the Lord, so far as the second estate is concerned, is completed before the Judgment and the Resurrection. Since those who go to the celestial kingdom include, as revealed, those who ‘overcome by faith’ (D&C 76:53), the same efforts and triumph would need to occur in the spirit world before they receive resurrection and the entitlement to enter the celestial kingdom . . . He gave us our spirit birth, bringing the first estate to all. He gave the gift to us of mortality, or the second estate, where all might be ‘added upon,’ leaving one-third of the host free to be rebels! (Abraham 3:26; Revelation 12:4). He provides in the spirit world a continuum of mortality’s probation, the great opportunity for all” (The Promise of Discipleship, p. 111).
“Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Modern Revelation: Helaman 5:12)
Additional Episodes of I Believe Podcast:
Find us on: Or call: 185KNOWGOD1
 According to the American Association of Suicidology, in 2010 there were a total of 38,364 suicide victims, averaging 105 per day, and comprising 1.6% of all deaths in the United States.
 We tend to overlook the reality that the spirit world and paradise
are part, really, of the second estate. The work of the Lord, so far as the
second estate is concerned, is completed before the Judgment and the
Resurrection . . . He gave us our spirit birth, bringing the first estate to
all. He gave the gift to us of mortality, or the second estate, where all
might be “added upon” . . . He provides in the spirit world a continuum
of mortality’s probation, the great opportunity for all (Maxwell, Neal A. The
Promise of Discipleship, 105).
Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.