I pleaded with him.
To no avail, as it turned out.
Ronnie * (not his real name) and I were on the patio behind my house. He was a 31-year-old divorcee with two young girls who adored him. Chronically depressed, he had tried a couple times to take his own life.
“Next time you think of suicide,” I said, “consider the consequences. Think of your girls and how your death would cause them grief. Don’t just think of how to end your own pain and despair. If you love them—and I know you do—don’t take the easy way out, for their sake.”
I wasn’t glib in telling him that. Though I’ve never tried to take my own life, I’ve yearned for death many times during episodes of depression. I’ve even prayed for God to take my life while I slept.
What keeps me from following through on suicidal thoughts, I told Ronnie—other than the grace of God—is not only the pain I would cause my loved ones, but what I would be modeling for them about how to handle despair. You see, I explained, when my grown sons or only grandchild face future difficulty—a tragic loss, career setback, or severance of a special relationship—I don’t want my past suicide to increase the likelihood that they will choose that alternative. I don’t want them to think, “Dad (or “Papaw”) avoided more pain by killing himself. Maybe that’s a good option for me.”
“I’ll go through hell inside instead of making that tragic choice easier for them,” I assured Ronnie.
If only he had listened.
Two years later, his next attempt succeeded. I can’t begin to grasp the depth of his angst. But oh, how I’ve lamented his rash decision to take those pills after an argument with a girlfriend. Though I’ve shed my share of tears over Ronnie, my primary memory of the funeral is seeing the tears of his daughters, ages 14 and 11.
May God give those girls grace if they are ever tempted to handle their pain the same way.
This life isn’t about me or what would comfort me or end my pain. It’s about God, and His call for me to serve Him. Since I’m His property, He, not me, must decide when my life should end. And this life is also about those brave few who really love me.
But following this counsel is easier said than done, even for myself.
*Originally published, February, 2015
Dr. Powell is a ministry partner who shares his personal struggles with depression and suicide. How Can You Tell When Someone is Suicidal is a thoughtful post. Additionally, in his chapel talk What I’ve Seen in the Dark he openly shares about the blessings that those who live with depression may find.
Dr. Terry Powell
Terry is on the faculty of Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina, and is author of Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement To Sustain God’s Servants. His website penetratingthedarkness.com is an excellent resource on depression.