Suicide As Mercy: a strange and confusing calling home

(trigger warnings, suicide, depression)


This past Saturday the news broke that Pastor Rick Warren’s 27 year old son Matthew had taken his life after a life-long battle with depression.

Within a few hours I received several messages from friends online to this effect: “thinking of you as I read this news and praying for their family and yours.”

At first I didn’t know how to feel, coming to mind whenever someone encounters suicide.  But then I realized that people think of me because I have a unique perspective on this devastating type of loss.

As for me, every time I hear of someone taking their life I freeze up and a lump the size of a grapefruit forms in my throat.  My mind drifts off to the family receiving the raw news, their souls smacked with the impossibility of it.  The grasping denial leading to utter confusion.

About a month back I was asked to help with childcare for a funeral at a local church, so we loaded the car with diapers and Gluten Free snacks and headed off to help.  I was chatting lightly with a friend when she was told that we were working a suicide funeral.

I spent the rest of the morning in a shroud of memories and heartache, reliving the moment where I curled up on the bathroom counter, unable to speak or cry after my brother called to deliver the news of my own Mother’s suicide.

My mind flashed back to her funeral, slowly dragging my weary body down the aisle behind my mother’s casket.  Turning around a seeing hundreds of familiar faces, all in shock that she took her life.

We hung on every word the pastor said, hoping he’d give us something to make sense of it all.

I haven’t known all forms of grief, but I think suicide grieving is a rare bird, a hard road, a lifetime of thoughts to be sorted through.

How could they do this?
Why couldn’t life be enough for them?
Didn’t the love we shared matter?
What could we have done differently?
And the hardest one for me:  Why didn’t God send healing?

Scriptures like John 14:14 still make me a little angry.

“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Inwardly I ask God what fault he found in my prayers for my Mom?  What spiritual blockage was stopping Him from breaking through the crust of her pain and depression?

Why didn’t He send healing and deliverance?  Why didn’t He hear our prayers and set her free, deliver her from that evil pain?

Those who lose loved ones to Mental Illness have an especially cruel burden to carry because many people question the faith of the deceased.  They wonder if their journey with Christ was phony and negated by the manner of their death.

I get it, even I went through a season of questioning my Mother’s faith, it’s hard to figure out what happens to the soul while the mind languishes in pain.

Yet in the end I will tell you that my Mother died from depression, that her mental illness finally ended her life.  Just as breast cancer or heart disease may have stolen someone you love, depression stole my Mother.

Some days, good days, I see her as brave and long suffering.  She fought against her depression for over 30 years, for my entire life and longer.

My mother placed her daughter in a group home and buried her husband on a cold March afternoon and still she fought on.

She lived in her own private, painful world and got up every morning to fight another day for years, until one evening she couldn’t anymore.  On that evening, tragically, depression won the battle.

On the days when I see her as brave, I view her death as the most confusing kind of mercy I’ve ever come across.

Sometimes I wonder if God’s timing was right and he called her home in a way that we on earth cannot mentally process.  It seems like the most heretical thing in the world, suggesting that God uses suicide to call a child home, yet Cancer ends in death and no one questions it.

I’m not sure, even I don’t know what to do with this idea, suicide as mercy.  

But can you imagine going years without feeling joy?  I’m not sure I want to even try.

I found a lot of connection in the letter that Pastor Warren wrote: “Kay and I often Marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain.  I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said: “Dad I know I’m going to heaven, why can’t I just die and end this pain?”

The Warrens view their son as a courageous man who fought on for years and not as a quitter who took the easy road out.  And I get it, really I do.

There’s no easy answer or black and white perspective when it comes to suicide. But, for those who have seen the long suffering of our loved one, a beatitude that describes depression perfectly, sometimes we wonder if it is a mercy.

A strange and confusing calling home.

Join me in praying for the Warren family as they burry their beloved son this week.  Pray also that we as a church give grace and love and that harsh words and judgement be minimal if not non-existant.  

(If you are considering suicide, please seek help immediately, please don’t this as an encouragement to take your life.  Call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255)

  • Michelle Woodman

    Wow, just . . . wow.

  • Caris Adel

    This is painfully good, Leanne. So graceful. ♥

    • Beth In the City

      Caris you said it so well, I just wanted to add my agreement. Thank you, Leanne, for wading into this painful subject.

      • leannepenny

        Thank you both so much, I’m glad you’re in there with me and that what I’m putting into words isn’t confusing or too macabre for everyone.

  • HopefulLeigh

    It is a confusing mercy but when I think of the depths of emotional pain and the way we can go in circles and the sheer absence of Light in the darkest hours, I get it. Suicide will never make complete sense to us. But there is a small relief in knowing their pain is over and they fought it for as long as they could. It doesn’t make up for what we’ve lost, certainly, but it is, as you say, a confusing mercy.

    • Kel

      In my experience, there is never anything to make up for what we’ve lost when a loved one dies. Death becomes such a stark contrast to life during these times and we get a glimpse into why death was not in the original plan of creation and why God was/is willing to die to save us. If you truly love someone you would want to keep them from death.

      • HopefulLeigh

        Oh, I absolutely agree. I’m sorry I didn’t make that more clear.

        • Renee Ronika

          Without risking sounding too blase, I would argue here–while agreeing with you both–that keeping someone from death is exactly what Christ does: even though we have lost people to a temporary death–and this death stings terribly–“Death has lost its sting” from an eternal perspective. In the trenches of grief, I’m sure this isn’t very comforting to everyone, but it helps me sort out the details.

          • leannepenny

            I agree Renee, And I think that when it comes to my grief it’s always provided intense hope because he’s already “laid death in it’s grave” and it does not win. I have no idea why he didn’t deliver my Mom from depression but I know that he’s delivered her from true death.

        • leannepenny

          Kel be nice to Leigh, we like her. 😉

  • Margaret_at_FeliceMiFa

    Beautiful as always. Grace in the pain.

    • leannepenny

      I think that’s one of the nicest things I’ve received in a while, thank you Margaret.

  • fiona lynne

    Thankyou so much for this. I am sitting here learning and trying to understand something that feels beyond me.. You write with grace and openness.

    • leannepenny

      Thank you Fiona for stepping in and trying to understand, not everyone does. Be blessed!

  • Rita Bosico MDiv MA

    You handled this delicate, pain-filled subject with great skill. Distinguishing between someone’s mind/body and soul. As one who has endured anxiety/depression for decades, I applaud you for taking away the stigma and helping people understand that mental illness is not a measure of one’s faith…. nor are any of the results of it. Including suicide. Your candor of bearing the news of your mother was so honest. I am so sorry for your deep grief. God bless you and all of your family. <3

  • Lucie

    Leanne, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. Suicide of any family member is painful enough, but in the case of a parent or child, must be nearly unimaginable. Like Matthew Warren, I have also suffered from depression for most of my life, and frankly do not consider myself so much “cured” as “in remission.” I have a special compassion for all who struggle with it. Only someone who has actually been at the mental point suicides reach can begin to understand their perspective and how blurred it is – judgment is *useless*. Thank you for your gentle approach to this terribly difficult issue.

    • leannepenny

      Thank you Lucie, I pray your remission is forever and I praise God for bringing you to that point.

  • Bethany Suckrow

    My mother died of cancer and I still struggled with the idea of death as a kind of healing and mercy; I can hardly imagine what it must be like in circumstances like yours and the Warren family. I wrestled with many of the same questions you mention here, but yours were surely magnified by the manner in which your mother struggled and died. You write so graciously here, Leanne. Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable with us about your grief. <3

    • leannepenny

      Thank you in return for relating our two stories together, grief is a soul tearing event and I am always so grateful when people come along side me in sharing stories.

  • Renee Ronika

    Leanne, thank you for sharing your personal story so we can view the Warrens’ situation universally, compassionately–as Christ would, and as the Church should. Much love to you.

  • Donna

    I can remember sitting in a Sunday school class many years ago that was being led by the pastor of our Methodist Church. One of the men in our class told us that his mother had committed suicide and that everyone was telling him it was the ultimate sin and that she went to hell. He asked the pastor if this was true. We all awaited the pastor’s answer anxiously. He replied that God has our life and death planned out long before we are ever a passing thought to other humans. Who are we do know for sure that suicide wasn’t God’s plan for their death. It has caused great debate in my soul since that day. But it was definitely a different approach to the way I had always been taught. Please accept my sympathy on the death of your Mother.

    • leannepenny

      Sympathy received and very much appreciated Donna.

  • MarkAllman

    I have struggled with what I wanted to say since I read your post yesterday… I held off; trying to process what I was thinking. I think we tend to accept when a person chooses to stop their cancer treatments or when someone decides they will not do any treatment at all. We try to respect their wish to not suffer through those treatments anymore. My father succeeded the third time he attempted suicide. I still struggle whenever I think about him shooting himself. While we respect those that choose to stop treatments for disease and die as a direct result we do not readily accept when a person chooses the day and hour of their death. Why I do not know. My soul weeps as I think of what suicide does to those it leaves behind. There was carnage in my family that still exist today.
    I do not think we ever should get over someone who dies that we love. We may deal with it different as time goes on but the loss remains forever. Neither do I want to ever get over the loss of someone I love for that ache is a reminder I do not want to lose of the preciousness of the person.

  • karen moseley

    Dear Leanne ~ I read this on the day you wrote it, but I didn’t comment. He brought me back today. I’m glad. I have no words of wisdom. Only that I have been there. I attempted suicide. Several times. I was anorexic. Tried to starve myself. I was a cutter. I carry many scars, inside and out. But, I am here. Oh, I struggle. Almost daily. Jesus knew before I was born, the moment I would take my last breath. That time obviously has not come. I Cling to Him!
    I have been on the side of surviving the suicide of a loved one. My beautiful, kind 32 year old BIL made that choice almost 20 years ago. And, I know, I know that he is with Jesus. My Father in Heaven Loves His Children. And, like an earthly father would rescue his hurting child, our God does the same.
    I am sorry that you live with the loss of your sweet Mom. But, know that you will be with her again. And, know that you are loved. I love you. <3

    • leannepenny

      Karen, Thank you so much for this, I am so behind on responding to comments as I am in the middle of a busy busy move. Yet your words and story meant so much to me. Keep clinging to Christ and so will I. I appreciate your brave honest “going on.”