I was 16 when my brother – Hardy, who was 20 years old and the eldest in our family, killed himself with an overdose of Chloroquine. He took 37 of those tablets and washed them down with coke at our house in Glen View, Harare. Efforts to save his life were fruitless for he initially resisted any help. “Waste not your time, I will not make it” he stammered. When he was finally taken to Harare Hospital, he could not make it. Right at the entrance, he died.
We later (before his burial on the 7th of Dec 2003) found a letter Hardy had written. It was wrapped together with Chloroquine tablets wrappings. “My future is bleak…” he said in one of the lines. “Let those who don’t love me be happy because I’m gone”, he continued in another line. The letter left many unanswered questions. I remembered how Hardy had worried about a neighbor who killed herself in a marital dispute. How he remarked that the lady should have solved the problem amicably and saved her loved ones all the pain, fear and worry that comes with suicide. What had changed? Where had that understanding gone? Hardy was a believer. A struggling one just like many of us. About two weeks before his death, Hardy had preached in our cell group from Luke 8:4-15 and encouraged the congregation to hear and obey God’s word. As my world crumbled, I reconstructed all these events that made my memories. Unfortunately, I could not undo the mess, neither could my parents. Hardy was gone, leaving me in a state I wouldn’t wish for anyone. With unanswered questions came guilt, second guessing, blame shifting, strained relationships, anger, fear and frustration. Anger at my brother, and at God. “God, if you are all loving and powerful why didn’t you stop this?”. I would ask myself this time and again. I wished myself out of this pain. Who was to draw me out of this? Guilt because our family, including me as his closest sibling, had failed to notice Hardy moving through all the suicide stages from thinking about suicide(low level suicide danger) to crisis level suicide danger to emergency level suicide danger and finally killing himself/committing suicide. I felt stupid. Maybe I did not show my love enough.
My painful realization was that many gospel workers (pastors), let alone people in general, do not know how to walk with suicidal people as well as walk and comfort families of suicide victims. Traditional views and cultures (Shona in Zimbabwe) do not allow decent burial and grieving as we know it. Looking back, I think the church and para-church organizations should develop an informed membership and staff; work towards redeeming and meaningful fellowship; establish identification and referral services. Why do I say so? Another pastor told us that my brother’s death was a non issue since he had chosen to die. Yet another relative insisted that my brother’s death was taking their budgets off-track. I thought our family deserved comfort and not exhortations and whining (I’m thankful for the love shown by others-who just loved, hugged us and met funeral expenses without complaining, at least in our hearing). We have relatives and friends who did their best. Ours was a family, already overwhelmed, battered down and defeated by Hardy’s death. We could not make sense of any lecture. Suicide was not less than a nightmare for our family, especially for me. I got no answers. I got no counseling. I went into depression, sleepless nights on no ends full of nightmares. Suicide became my option. I was suicidal for about 2 years (that is all way through my Advanced Level studies).
What followed is a story of grace. God reached his hand and drew me to himself for love, hope and comfort. One day just like too many other days, I woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare. I was screaming and sweating, in the dream I was choking. Though a nominal Christian all that time, God put it on my heart to call upon him for comfort, strength and guidance. I knelt beside my bed and mumbled an agonized prayer that I could only finish with tears. More strength to pray, and hope continued by each day. It was not late until joy started welling up in my heart. There I was, with hope restored and appreciation of a future beyond an unimaginable mess.
Since my experience and struggle with suicide and walking the path to healing, God has been sending my way, people struggling with suicide. Basic to what I normally say is that (1) life is sacred Gen 1:26-27 & Acts 17:25 (2) “you are not your own” 1 Corinthians 6:20 (3) in the confusion, frustration and pain, meet God, hear his voice and respond with thanks that comes from faith 1 Thessalonians 5:8 (4) let your eyes penetrate dark moments to see His love all around you Lamentations 3:22-23 (5) Let not worry drown you “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7. These are some of the things God would remind me in my renewed walk with him from the drowning in the sea of suicide to the safety of the shore of his grace.
Is there anything you can do about suicide problems? Please be your brother and sister’s keeper: (1) Take suicide threats seriously. (2) When you cannot help, kindly report to concerned people. (3) When you suspect someone might kill himself/herself don’t ignore or delay, notify someone able and concerned. (4) Show some love 1 John 4:11 says “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” and says 1 John 3:18 “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but indeed and in truth.” (5) Do not laugh, scold, mock, joke or downplay their worries. (6) Pray for the person-especially in your private or family prayers. Arguing with victims urges them down the cliff, while empathizing with victims brings them close.
Do you feel stuck, anxious and better dead? (1) Remember God loves you. For we read “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” John 15:9 (2) Remember you can tell God your worries, pains, anxieties in prayer .1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”. (3) Read the Bible, accept Jesus as savior, hope in God and trust him with your life. For Paul says in Romans 15:4 “For whatever things were written before, were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (4) Find a godly, able friend or elder or counselor for help. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”(5) Keep hope alive and hope in nothing else but God. You can say with David “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” Psalm 42:11. (6) Pray, James 5:13 “Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” Most of these I learned during the crisis. My friend, you need not walk alone. No student, graduate, parent or child should have to walk alone. Don’t kill yourself, your life is precious.