How do we pray for one who has taken their own life? The church does not have a very kind record of dealing with suicide, classifying it as a sin, and burdening bereaved families with an extra layer of pain to go with the typical suffering of grief and the added layer of remorse. Although as many as one in three will have their lives touched by someone with serious mental illness and suicidal tendencies, most of us still have no idea of the deep darkness and despair that leads from contemplation of suicide to the commitment of an act that ends a life.
It would be a wonderful thing if the fate of Robin Williams caused fresh appreciation of the sickness of the soul of mental illness, and resulted in additional help and treatment and resources for those who live with the darkness of despair within their minds. Maybe that will happen; yet humanity has a sad tendency to grieve today and forget by tomorrow, leaving things little changed. Yet resurrection is real, and new life will come from both the pain and the joy of this life.
I have lost two friends to suicide, one when I was a teenager and the other two years ago. The widow of the second wrote words that reflect the anguish of all who survive this loss: “If only I could hold you one more time and somehow make it right.”
On two other occasions, I have been asked to conduct funerals for people who took their own lives. On each occasion I struggled to find ways and words to offer comfort for those left behind. Faced with the prospect of conducting a funeral for each of those two people, I believe that (as far as I can remember) I adapted this prayer from one that I found from the United Church of Canada some time ago. I offer it for those who mourn Robin Williams.
“Gracious God, in your love you have fathomed the depth of human suffering in the cross of Jesus Christ, and in all our afflictions you are afflicted. We commend to your steadfast love and care Robin, who was overcome by the chaos of the world without and the agony of the soul within. Where there may be feelings of wrong having been done or responsibility evaded; where the ties of affection may have been stretched or even broken, we pray that you will help us to rely upon your mercy in judgement, and your love in forgiveness. In our perplexity, help us to trust in you where we cannot understand, and to focus on loving the living, not judging the dead.”