Finding comfort when suicide has touched your family

My friend, Dr. Natalie Flake Ford, a faculty member in the School of Psychology and Biblical Counseling at Truett McConnell University, has experienced heartache in her life that has led to struggles with self-worth. In this written piece she shares her heart of what she went through when when her Christ-following (missionary at the time) husband committed suicide. 

“Can you imagine what it must have been like to live with her?”

“I can’t imagine how bad things must have been at home to drive him to take his own life.”

“Poor girl. I can’t imagine the guilt she must carry.”

These are just a few of the reoccurring thoughts I had in the wake of my husband’s suicide. I felt like others blamed me for his death. If I had been a better wife then…well, suffice it to say, I definitely played the “if only” and “what if” game.

For months, I dreaded going out in public. I was constantly trying to interpret various glances from others. Did they know about Michael’s death? Was that pity or was that blame I saw in their faces? I’d look away and pray that they wouldn’t come over and speak to me.

Today I know that I am not to blame for my husband’s suicide, but those early years wreaked of guilt, shame, and blame (both self-blame and perceived blame). Whenever someone would hear of Michael’s death, the first question was inevitably, “How did he die?” Man, why do people ask that? Saying he died by suicide was just too painful to say out loud for a long time. I would tell people he struggled with depression and it ultimately killed him…that was true, right?

Stigma can be a beast. It often hinders healing. I had friends who didn’t call after Michael’s death, and I convinced myself that the reason for their silence was because they blamed me for his death. Why would they want to call me? Wasn’t I the reason he was gone?

The lies I believed threatened to consume me. I had a choice to either wallow in self-blame and guilt (even though there was no evidence whatsoever that I was to blame for the suicide) or I could determine to overcome this devastating loss and not let it steal anything else from me. I resolved to chart out a new life, one where my joy would not only be restored, but multiplied.

God heard my cries and answered my prayers. Healing did not occur overnight, but slowly my emotional wounds began to heal and I felt compelled to share my story with others. We don’t have to live as slaves to guilt and shame. Christ offers a life of freedom from these chains. The book of Psalms became a life line for me during this dark season of life. I could relate to the anguish of David, and yet a part of me longed for intimacy with the Father in the midst of my pain.

Psalm 42 became a balm to my dry soul. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” Three things I learned in my despair.

1.    God is a good God.

2.    God is still on the throne.

3.    I can trust Him.

Clinging to these truths gave me hope for tomorrow and helped me to release the stigma of being a widow from suicide and to exchange it for the title “Daughter of the King.” No matter what happens, no one can steal this from me!

Get Natalie’s book Tears to Joy.

Also visit her website Tears to Joy for more encouragement and resources on mental health issues.