On January 27th, 2014 I remember vacuuming around our kitchen table when my phone rang. I answered my husband’s call and the voice on the other end was not what I expected. He was struggling to get the words out between sobs; and finally managed to tell me that his father had committed suicide.
In that one moment, everything about our lives changed.
We immediately booked the next flight home, from Iowa to Utah. After several hours of flying and a four hour drive up from SLC to Idaho, we arrived at my father-in-law’s house. No one said much. We mostly sat together in the dark, all alone with our thoughts, feelings, and questions, not sure how to comfort each other. Trying to find some solid ground in a room that kept spinning and adjust to what had just happened.
Suicide is different from other kinds of loss; because of the way loved ones feel after it happens. You’re angry and confused and often sad. You question what you could have done different, why it happened, why they left you, and worst of all–if you could’ve done something to stop it. You feel completely blindsided.
Something I learned is, you can’t ask yourself those types of questions. You won’t get the answers.
There are a lot of things I could say about my father-in-law. The way he said “Hey, Chels” in his incredibly deep voice, the way he loved holding my son, his first grandchild, and walking around the room. The kind things he did for people he barely knew, and his many years of church service among the young men in his ward.
When people ask me how my father-in-law died, I never really know how to answer. I’m not ashamed of what happened, but I worry that people will judge him for what he did. I still don’t know everything that happened, but one thing I know for sure is that the man I knew wouldn’t have do that to himself.
And, that’s just it. When people feel like suicide is their only option to make things better, they aren’t themselves anymore. The mental state of a person having suicidal thoughts is not normal, and it’s difficult to make them see reason.
One of the biggest concerns my husband and I had was about where my father-in-law went after he died. We were so worried that because my father-in-law took his own life, that we wouldn’t get to see him again. As members of the Church, this fear can be the worst one to deal with after a loved one commits suicide.
Prophets have stressed the serious nature of suicide, but they have also provided hope to those who have lost loved ones in this way.
Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; He knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and He in His infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course. -Elder Bruce R. McConkie (source)
Similarly, Elder Russell M. Ballard stated “Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and He it is who will judge our actions here on earth….The Lord will look at that person’s circumstances and the degree of his accountability at the time of the act” (source).
Heavenly Father knows all the facts, and he will judge in his perfect wisdom the hearts of our loved ones. Not us, not other people, not even our church leaders. Only Heavenly Father knows.
And that gives me hope. Hope because I believe what prophets and apostles have said in the past and what they tell us today about suicide. Hope because I know that I do not have all the answers to my questions, but that Heavenly Father has them all. Hope because I know that my father-in-law was not himself when he took his own life on the morning of January 27th, 2014.
We read in Doctrine and Covenants 138:58-59 “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.”
I am grateful for the Plan of Salvation, for a loving Heavenly Father who knows us, and for the Atonement that make repentance and eternal life possible. I am grateful that if we come to Him with our burdens, He will help us bear them up, and even make them seem light.
For some it may take longer than two years, but I feel like I have healed from the unexpected death of my father-in-law. I feel comfort and peace knowing that I will see him again and my children will get to know their grandpa again. I still think of him all the time, but I know he is no longer suffering from the mental illness that took over his life in mortality.
I still do not know why my family was given this trial in mortality, and there are still many days when I wonder how things are going to work out. But I have been blessed with the gift of faith, and I know the Lord loves us all equally, no matter what we have done, and He will judge us all with perfect fairness.