My world shook last week.
One morning, I received an email: “I thought you should know that Jack Handy (name changed) committed suicide yesterday.”
Inwardly I groaned. Outwardly I cried – not the kind of tears you shed at a sweet moment in a movie and secretly hope your wife and children did not see you. I wept and sobbed.
Jack was one of my first friends at Presbyterian College my freshman year. Like many students, we had lots of fun. Remembering Jack makes me recall laughter, enthusiasm, silly times, and lots of good food. We also shared meaningful moments, like meeting in his Bailey Dorm room late at night with one or two friends, sharing Bible verses, encouraging each other, and ending the day by getting on our knees and praying for each other by name.
Through the years, I discovered you don’t have a host of people who will get on their knees with you and pray for you by name. The bond you feel with those folks never really ends. It just gets buried sometimes.
One Saturday, I, Jack and another friend decided to go camping in the late fall. Like fools, or freshmen, we took sleeping bags but no tent. That night upstate South Carolina enjoyed her first freeze of the season. After a chilly night, our other friend had burn marks on his sleeping bag from staying so close to the campfire.
Before we left college, Jack began struggling with depression and a mental disorder. This bright, energetic, respected young man started a long journey with internal struggles. His friends prayed for him. Numerous ones spent hours talking with him, listening, and offering encouragement.
Graduation came, and we took different paths. I attended his wedding about fifteen years ago. It was fantastic to see him so happy that day.
Life moved on and so did we, not staying in touch well. He graduated from medical school. I heard through the years that he and his wife had two boys.
The email stated, “He struggled for a long time with depression and a mental disorder, and he finally took his life.”
Suddenly, memories, conversations, and experiences buried under more than twenty years of life unearthed. I remembered the feel of his handshake, the glitter in his eye when he smiled, and the bright, winsome spirit.
Questions plagued me. “When was the last time I prayed for him? What if I had reached out to him?” Then came the reality that the time for such things was over.
At his funeral, the pastor rightly declared, “Jack is now free from his struggle.” Yes indeed. I think that in eternity, free from the shackles of this earth, the best qualities of our lives, personalities, and spirits are free to soar.
Jack knew Christ. He trusted Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of his sins. He invited Christ to be his Lord, indwelling him. I know today nothing – not even suicide – is able to snatch Jack out of Christ’s hand (John 10:27).
I rejoice that Jack is free from his pain. I grieve for the wife, sons, and parents he leaves behind. And I wish I had called him the last several years and told him I loved, missed, and respected him, and asked him, “How can I pray for you, old friend?”
Some opportunities slip through our hands.
Thank God that no one can snatch us out of His.
Author’s Note: A good resource to offer people struggling with the aftermath of suicide is Frank Page’s Melissa:A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide.