A Letter To The Families For Whom Suicide Prevention Failed


National suicide prevention awareness month is now behind us.

I haven’t engaged it at all on any social media outlets, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t effect me.

Any time suicide becomes a popular discussion item in the news, I struggle. I struggle not only because it brings back painful memories, but because I feel like something as traumatic as suicide is hard to discuss in a tweet or Facebook post.

This does not mean that we should remain silent and I hope with all my heart that this month of awareness prevents suicide. That the hotlines help and that the resources made available pull drowning people out of the sea of depression and into vivid life.

I wish that had been the case for our family. And from my family to yours, here is what I would like to share about suicide.

For those of you who don’t know my story, my mother took her life nearly five years ago after a very long struggle with depression. She had experienced a hard road after my sister’s damaging car accident and my father’s sudden death from a heart attack.

She was tired after fighting depression for a long, long time and she had become a shell of the person God created her to be. In fact I often wonder if I ever met the person God created her to be, my memories of her are more her illness than the person underneath it.

And then suddenly she was gone through a gruesome and bold death of her own choosing. Now it’s a part of our story, her story, my story, my family’s story and a really hard story I will someday have to tell my children.

The problem I have had with this month of suicide talk on social media is that, as I said above, it is really hard to have a real, gritty discussion about something so complex as suicide in a Facebook status. So, for better or for worse, here are a few thoughts I had, but didn’t share this September and I am going to share them as an open letter to the families for whom prevention did not work.

(These are just MY thoughts on suicide, my own personal reflections, if you are considering suicide, call a professional or reach out to a friend. I never, ever endorse suicide as a good idea. If you have no one to call, please call the suicide hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255)

Dear friend,

I am so sorry that your best efforts to save your loved one didn’t work, mine failed as well. Likewise I am sorry that the word suicide now carries such dreadful weight in your story, it always seemed to me like a distant thing that happened “out there” and not in my own family. Yet here we are, sitting with the massive darkness, trying to make sense of it all.

I’d like to hear your story, to listen as one who understands and who will nod without gasping, I know how hard it can be to tell new friends about your loss. It happens to me too. Does the memory of what happened flash in your mind at odd moments? Like suddenly you’re in the pickup line of your kids school or brushing your teeth and you imagine it happening in vivid detail?

I have that, I hate it. It’s an awful image to shake.

Can I confess something to you? When my mom died I felt 98% sad and shocked and 2% relieved, because so much of my life revolved around worrying about her, trying to take care of her and then feeling unspeakably frustrated and angry when my interventions failed. I couldn’t help her, she was in this unreachable place that couldn’t be touched by counseling, meds or even joyful moments of life.

I don’t understand how she could leave me, and my kids. She left with one grandchild on the way, in the middle of planning her son’s wedding. I will never understand why we weren’t enough joy for her to stick around. I know this is because I don’t understand the darkness of her illness, it’s really hard for those of us left behind to understand how our loved ones were feeling.

Does it help you to talk about what really happened with people or do you prefer to keep it buried?

They tell me that my Mom wasn’t the one who acted that night, the night she killed herself, they tell me it was the depression who did it, not her. I think I believe that, usually I do.

Either way I start to hyperventilate around trains, and I can’t really bring myself to drive over the train tracks where she took her life without panicking and going into a dark space in my mind. I hate that, I just want to feel normal. I want a normal story and I hate that suicide gets to play such a huge role in how both of our stories get told.

I don’t know exactly how you are feeling, but in the broader sense I get it. I hope that you are able to find friends who will sit with you as your spend a lifetime sifting through the aftershock of what happened.

I hope that you can forgive your loved one, or whatever it looks like for you to find freedom from it, I pray that you can find a space where you can admit it happened in your life but that it doesn’t become you.

I don’t understand why our prayers didn’t work, I don’t understand why God intervenes sometimes and other times he doesn’t. I admit that suicide has to do with depression and sickness and that God grieves it too.

And I don’t think that suicide keeps you out of heaven, I have a lot of thoughts on this that I don’t really dare share on the internet.

There are a lot of things I don’t understand about suicide, far more than I do understand. But I believe that talking about it helps, that sharing our stories brings us a power to overcome them. So here I am, feel free to share your story with me in this space or on facebook, I will respond in love,


Leanne Penny.


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Praying Songs and Fighting On

my hand's wet on the wheel

I walked out of the grocery store discouraged, pushing my half empty cart to our dusty mini van with one hand as I grasped my daughter, Noelle’s hand with the other.

When I finally got it loaded up I plunked my head onto the steering wheel inadvertently causing the horn to blare and startle a passing shopper while my four year old burst into laughter in the back seat.

As I put the van into reverse and pulled out of the parking lot I started to chastise myself for overspending as I reviewed the receipt in my head.  “Where did I go wrong? Am I ever going to go out grocery shopping without leaving the store feeling so guilty?”

Thought trains like this can quickly escalate to a session of beating the crap out of myself so I began to look for footholds that would help me stop the downward spiral.

“One grocery trip doesn’t define your life, neither does one morning of writing work.  You are more than this snapshot.”

Suddenly Noelle called out: “Hey mom!  How ’bout some music?”

Yes music!  Something grounding, foundational.  I made my request to Siri and miraculously she understood and cued up the appropriate track, Come to Me by Bethel Loft.

“I am the Lord your God.  I go before you now.  I stand beside you, I’m all around you.  Though you feel I’m far away, I am closer than your breath.  I am with you, more than you know.”

I started to sing these words, belt them out like a prayer my life depended on.  Suddenly, instantly, I was transported back in time to my mother’s car, myself a little girl in the back seat.

I was years away watching her sing along to powerful music, dancing with her hands and drumming on the steering wheel with a passion that spoke to the depth of her need to cling, to hold on tight.

I didn’t know it at the time, but she was praying through music, unintentionally teaching me to lean into the power of lyrics when my own prayers weren’t flowing.  When I was losing my way again.

She was teaching me that when you feel too weak to speak truth into your own life, find a song that will do it for you and sing. Sing loud and squeaky and off key.  Sing like your life depends on it, because right now, it does.  

For all the times I saw my mother give up, there were twice as many times that I saw her fight on.

Through her depression, her fear, her crippling anxiety.

Whatever people may think about those who take their own lives, there is depth beneath that one choice that goes unknown to those on the outside.  There is more to a life than that final choice.  Yes, it speaks to sickness, weariness and defeat but it doesn’t tell the story of all the other times when they prayed a song and fought on.  

It started with a shopping trip, it almost turned into session of despair, but instead it became a prayer through song.

A moment to remember the good practices that my mother left behind.

Ultimately it ended in passing this practice onto my own daughter, who stepped out of the van singing…  “Come to me, I’m all you need.”

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Day 13: Here lives hope

Three years ago today, my mom took her life after years of struggling with something that I sometimes struggle with myself, depression.

There is nothing easy in this truth. Nothing.

This day, October 13 falls heavy on the calendar and then sits, like a lump in my throat

As much as I try to avoid it, my mind moves through her last day to her final decision with an inward groaning.

But, we don’t grieve like those who have no hope, and this?  This is goodness.  This is something to grasp onto with white knuckled hands when every other thing seems shaky and unstable.

This is the reason I pump like a child on a swing, that I gather the freedom and life and love that I still have and fully intend on having for another 50+ years.

I am here. I am alive. I will not, will not surrender the fight.

I don’t not grieve, proceed or live like one who has no hope.

I tell this story because I know I am not alone in this weary remembering, we all have our days of the year that seem heavier than we can conceivably bear on our own.

I have hope, so when I take my children to the park, I grab a swing and I fly, I remember who I am, whose I am.

I hang on, press on, free, hopeful and loved.

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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)

Kid Questions, Suicide & railing against a WalMart Christmas

courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

Our family is experimenting with Paleo eating these days, mostly for medical and health related reasons, but also because we’re just plain sick of the American diet.

So earlier this week, Noelle and I set out to WalMart to hunt and gather what we would need to get by for the week.  I didn’t get to bring a caveman club to the store, although I sort of felt like it.  It’s probably good I don’t go into WalMart armed with a club, I get a little crazy in there.

If you’ve been in any retail store in America during November or December you’ll know that it’s rigged to persuade you to buy holiday M&Ms and vinyl snowman tablecloths.

Noelle was delighted with the whole business, the banners, the elves and the wreathes hanging over every checkout lane light.

She looked up at me from her perch on the front of the cart as asked “Is it Christmas mom?”

Uhhh… yes… no.. sort of? Continue reading

31 Letters to My Mother {Day 15} A gracious horrible thing

 Dear Mom,

I have no doubt that made it to heaven.  No one at your funeral had a single doubt where your soul had found its’ rest.  Your journey was bathed in God’s fingerprints and your heart was tender for the hurting.

You never stopped seeking him Mom, your bible was open when you died, you were still after Our Father.

Last night I found myself wondering how you felt about God, did you feel abandoned, pissed, confused?

Do I ascribe you more logical thought than you were capable of at the end?

Can the soul find rest when the mind is so ill?  Were you there, underneath the crust of depression, suffocating to breathe the air of freedom?

I know what it is to seek God come up utterly confused in the most painful seasons.  And you’d experienced the pain of depression for at least 25 years.

Could you even come up for air in the end?  Did you find any joy in the living?

I know how many times you thought about running for the end, and I have no idea why October 13 is the date when it all came together.

Sometimes I wonder if that was the night where God let you come home.  Where he lifted the road blocks because the timing was finally right for you to make your exit.

Something about this thinking feels so merciful and heretical all at the same time.

I think I understand the Progression:
First there was the depression itself, oppressive and lasting.
Then came the financial struggles that you felt powerless to change, that compounded your anxiety.
Then Laura’s accident, seeing your baby in a hospital bed, forever altered.
Then Dad, taken away in the night, his heart had failed him.
Then I yelled at you, tore you down, I think you blamed me too.
Then they told you they were taking your job, the one thing you felt like you could still do to contribute, a small sense of pride.

I think that your death was a messy, awful, all-wrong, gracious, horrible thing.

Not God’s plan, yet I believe he was on the other side of it, welcoming his beautiful baby home.

It was so much easier when faith was black and white, easier but less far beautiful.

There is beauty in the confusion, not in your death, but in the ability to have compassion for the broken in a way I would have never had otherwise.

Oh Mumma, I love you, I miss you

Damn life is confusing, isn’t it?


Dear reader, if you find yourself reading these words and considering suicide as an out for your pain, please seek help.  Suicide is never the best choice, this sort of freedom comes at an awful cost to those left behind.  If you are contemplating or planning suicide please call 911 or The suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Letters to my Mom {Day 8} Muffins & Memories

warm muffins on the rug. beautiful kid memories. (The OU footie pajamas are just gravy)

Dear Mom,

Mornings as a mother are insane, this morning I made the mistake of not beating the kids out of bed and I woke to utter chaos.  A flurry of demands dominated the first moments of my Monday: Milk! coffee! cereal! meow! (feed me) I don’t wanna wear panties!  

I have no idea what I subjected you to as a child, I know I was a very crabby little person in the morning, but I would like to take this moment to apologize.  I’m sorry for all the times that I made your mornings unnecessarily hectic with my self-centered impatience.

Now I’m the mama and it’s truly a terrible thing to do to another person.

I know that as a Toddler I would yell for Cheerios to you over the monitor until you got me up and fed me.  “Ooooooos mumma!  Ooooooos!”

I still called you mumma all they way to the end, you loved it.  Somehow it always brought us back to each other.

You were the queen of muffins and breads, you didn’t like to do a lot in the kitchen, but muffins you seemed to enjoy and have a knack for.

I will never forget the bran muffin mornings on the cold winter days on Sally Drive.

You would keep a huge bowl of muffin batter in the fridge and bake up a fresh batch for us every morning.  Such a brilliant idea.

I remember taking two buttery muffins on a paper towel pand eating them on top to the heating register next to the table.  I would put an cream colored afghan over my head for optimum warmth.

Dad would always tease me: “C’mon Leanne, you’re sucking up all the heat!” 

I would giggle under my afghan at that comment, every time.

I miss that, all of it, the teasing and the muffins and the mornings together.  I know that they would be few and far between these days.  Surely, dominated by grandkids and all their demands.

I know you and Dad would love it, the little hands grabbing for muffins on the counter.  I can see Dad throwing them over his shoulder, blowing zerberts on their tummies.

I can’t tell you what a heartache all those dreamlike moments are to me.  Waves of pain accompany imagining all the moments that will never be.  It stings fiercely watching my children grow without you two.

I think I’ll share your bran muffins with the world and stop here, because as the great Forest Gump once said: “That’s all I have to say about that.”

I love you, I miss you,


Sally’s Bran Muffins 

There is nothing like hand written recipe card, crusty with use, to inspire nostalgia and memories

1 Cup Canola Oil (or applesauce to cut on fat)
1 Cup boiling water
4 Large eggs (lightly beaten)
3 Cups Brown Sugar
1 Qt Buttermilk
5 Cups Flour
5 Cups All Bran Buds
1 Cup Raisin Bran Flakes
5 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp salt

1) Combine oil, hot water, eggs
2) Add cereal and sugar, stir.
3) Add buttermilk, baking soda and salt
4) Add flour last (Grandma V recommends 2 cups wheat germ & 3 cups white flour)
5) Add dried cranberries or additional raisins as desired.  (Plump in hot water before adding)

Bake at 400 for 15 – 20 or until toothpick comes out clean.

Batter will stay good in the fridge for two weeks or in the freezer for two months.

Bake a fresh batch each morning for total family bliss.

Letters to my Mother {day 6} Coffee Wars

Dear Mom,

We both know that I’m a coffee snob, the truth is that I haven’t even used my traditional coffee pot in two weeks. I’m using my french press exclusively now.

You were not a coffee snob, AT ALL, in fact I’m not sure that you were snobby about anything.  You were pretty easy going, although you didn’t like avocados or artichokes, this much I know.

I gave you so much sass and drama over your coffee being subpar.

I hassled you about your powdered creamer.

I nagged you about how your coffee pot burned the bottom of the carafe, but I think we can both agree the new coffee pot made for a nicer morning routine, no burnt aroma.  Sigh… there I go again, being all snobby.

I guess you raised a bit of a snob, but I swear mom, I hide it well.

The thing is, I wasn’t just a bit irritated about our java differences, I was nasty about it.  When you visited our house I didn’t graciously dial down the amount of grounds I used, as I would for any other guest, I belittled you, made you feel like a burden, a hassle.

I did this to you a lot.  Sure I had some very real concerns but I gave you so little grace..

I worry now, did you think everyone had written you off?  We were just so concerned, wanted to intervene, to help, to somehow… bring you back.

If you were here right now I’d happily make you a cup of half strength Folgers with powdered Spartan Brand non dairy creamer.

I’d tell you that I was sorry for being so horrible to you.  I’d try to explain that I had no idea how to help you or respond to your depression.  I was so angry because I wanted you to take care of me, mother me, not the other way around.

I honestly believed that you were one counseling session away from breakthrough, from a slow return to us.  This is why I nagged and yelled, and sent encouraging songs, sermons and emails, because I believed you had it in you.

I had a funny way of showing it.

I love you, I miss you,


31 Letters to my Mother {Day 4} Dawn Memories

 Dear Mom,

Mornings around our house were always somewhat predictable, at least when I was in high school.

You were always up first, on the couch in your flannel nightgown with your big brown bible in your lap and a cup of coffee at hand. I always respected you for this, it’s a practice I still struggle with.

It may be because Noelle and Caedmon get up so crazy early that I’d have to get up in the 5AM hour to beat them awake.  PS I really need to write you about him since you were gone before his arrival.

Anyhow, I always thought that your diligence to morning quiet time was something that made you a good Christian woman, that it was some sort of badge you could show off at church.

Then I grew up and realized that you weren’t starting your day like this to be impressive.  You were doing what you needed to do to survive.  You met with God to gain the courage and strength to fuel another day.

Another day of 3 kids, another day with depression, another day at a job that made you so anxious.

I remember a few years back, after dad died, you told me that you didn’t believe in the phrase “God won’t give you more than you could handle.”  You felt that God had given you more than you could handle and you were drowning in it.  It was one of the rare moments that I saw you cry.

I remember being appalled at the time, worrying about your soul and those blasphemous words.

Then I got older still and realized that that phrase isn’t in the bible, anywhere. You were right and I now see those cliche words as dangerous to our faith, I’d like to erase them from global vocabulary and memory.

If only, right?

I will never be able to fully suss out the jumbled mess of what led you to do what you did, to take your life.  The cords of mind, body and soul are tangled with more knots than any of us can unravel.

We were all a little glad for you when you left and in case you were wondering, no one harbors a single doubt that God welcomed you home tenderly.

I wish you were still here though.  I wish we could have slain the monsters inside you. I may always live with these “what if’s” rattling around inside me.

But I will never forget or cease to draw strength from the memory of you in those flowery, flannel nighties, brown bible in lap and coffee at hand.

I inherited that bible you know, it’s on the top shelf of my closet, unopened.  Waiting for the day when I’m ready to unzip the cover and know you deeper through the highlighted words and scribbled notes.

I love you, I miss you, 


The longest journey- the week I lost my mom

 I’m positively in love with my home state and try to make it back as often as I can, especially in the summer when I long to escape the Oklahoma heat. The summer before my mother died was no different, Kel was unable to get away from work so it was just Noelle and I who boarded that early morning flight. Braving the trip without Kel would turn out to be a mistake, I needed his strength to survive a two week stay with my Mother. It was beyond painful to stay in that house which died the same day my father did. Every second spent there was a reminder of how much we’d lost and continued to hemorrhage with the passing of time.

Our visit wasn’t going well, the depression was absolutely consuming her, but I was too close to see the disease. All I could see was shell of the woman who raised me, yet no longer knew me. All of my confusion and anger shot out like steam from a kettle and I spewed out dozens of unfair questions and accusations. As I went through the transformation into motherhood I had to decide what kind mother I would be in light of the example I’d been given. I longed to have a relationship with the woman who’d given me life, bathed me in the sink and read me a thousand books. Yet, I knew in my heart she was no longer available to me, even though she was sitting right across the room. If I’d known this was the last time we’d ever speak face to face, I would have done everything different, hindsight is a clear, cruel gift at times.

The next morning I boarded a plane and flew home, happy to leave that house behind once again, determined never to stay there again. A few days later, on Father’s Day my brother called and told me that Mom had attempted suicide by overdose. When I talked to her later that day she blamed it all on me, on my words, my lack of support. We cancelled our Father’s Day Dinner and spent the evening at a low end rib joint here in town. I poked at my smoked turkey and canned beans, trying to muster up the energy to celebrate Kel in spite of the nauseating emotions of grief, fear and anger.

As my pregnancy progressed, so did her depression and in spite of the events of Father’s Day I continued to hope, begging God to break through her crust and heal her. One night in October my husband twisted my arm to stay up late and watch a movie. We laid on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and against all pregnancy odds I stayed awake until the closing credits. Just before we climbed into bed I heard phone from the other room. I mumbled at Kel to grab it, and just before he did he called out “It’s your brother!”
I glanced at the clock, it was too late for a routine phone call, my throat tightened, something, someone wasn’t right. I saw Kel lean against the dresser for his brief exchange with my brother. When he hung up, he looked at me with a heavy gaze. I couldn’t tell you his exact words, but it went something like this: “Your mom died, she killed herself, she walked out in front of a train… at the same tracks as your sister’s accident.”

I climbed onto the bathroom counter and curled into a ball, no small feat in my third trimester. I didn’t cry and I didn’t scream, I just stared at Kel as we looked at each other with a mutual, “Oh God, Now what?” We knew that we needed prayer and so we called our friends Jenni and Tiffany, who cried before I was able to. They started prayer chains and helped us through travel plans. Plane tickets were astronomical and bereavement discounts were a joke. The most practical choice would be to load up our mini van and drive through the night. We ran laundry and drifted around the house in shocked trances. Around 1 AM there was a soft knock at the door and it was friends from church delivering a travel basket with healthy snacks and gift cards. I remember being so strangely calm that I gave them a few grocery bags of fresh food, so it wouldn’t go to waste in our absence. I know that I couldn’t rest until a thousand things were set in motion and so instead of crumble, I focused on meaningless minutia.


When I allowed me mind to feel all I would think was: “How could she do that?” I had no

Her rocking chair, in her empty bedroom

idea she was that determined, that ballsy. I was terrified they would make me identify her remains and that my mind would never recover from it. Finally at 3 AM we carried our 1 year old Noelle to the van and started down the longest and darkest journey of my life. Our baby girl bounced in her car seat for the first 5 hours, thrilled about the surprise late night car party.

Our phones constantly lit up with blessings, assurance and text messages, bringing a steady stream of light to our darkness. So many people stayed awake that night simply to remind us that they were on this journey with us. That road trip lasted a grueling 21 hours and I can’t say I’ve ever been as tired as I was when we finally arrived at my Aunt and Uncle’s House.

We awoke, still in our nightmare and headed to the funeral home to arrange all the details that accompany death. We were greeted with the aroma of chocolate chip cookies instead of the usual lilly and chemical smell funeral homes typically provide. My family waited for me in the parlor and parking lot. I melted into the arms of all those who I’d longed to embrace from the moment the phone call had arrived.

Ron, the most amazing funeral director in the world, guided us through the details. He was young and compassionate and although we were planning a terribly unexpected funeral, the planning flowed from us easily. We chose the white casket, “The Old Rugged Cross” and James 1:12: “Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” The one detail I couldn’t figure out was the flower arrangements. I wanted her funeral to feel like fall, perhaps mums or sunflowers? Fall had been her favorite season, in better days she raved about the vibrant leaves and fresh apples. I couldn’t escape the questions, how could she take her life in her favorite season, with a grandson on the way and a wedding to plan? How could I have missed it? I was wracked with guilt, why was I so hard on her? Always placing healthy mom expectations on a woman who was so clearly sick and hurting.

I coerced myself into a trip the mall to buy something appropriate for all the formalities. Who plans for a funeral dress when buying maternity clothes? I also needed to grab something for my daughter to wear. You have no idea how macabre it is to select a funeral dress for a 1 year old whose grandma just killed herself. There was something about having a perfect plan for our clothes that provided a retail therapy, a false element of control.

The next few days flashed by in a haze, I was soley sustained on adrenaline, a sense of duty and cans of V8 V-Fusion. It took all my strength to honor my mother and get her body into the ground, to tie up details and be strong. I knew there was a house to sell and a lifetime of “stuff” to sort through. I could do anything, and go anywhere but her house, the place she ran from to end it all. I hated that house and had dreams of standing in the front yard in my pajamas while it burned to the ground.

We had planned two visitation shifts at my parents church and I walked through the doors knowing I would be viewing her body for the first time. More than anything I wanted to jump into my car and drive home to the safety of our home. Perhaps this was just an awful dream I would soon wake up from, or more accurately, a nightmare. Maybe I would jolt awake any minute, sweaty and shocked in our bed back home in Oklahoma. Denial is the first stage of grief, and it was all so unbelievable, that denial was a sweet companion.

The woman in the casket looked like my Mother, but only barely. Her body had suffered from impact, and everything was all wrong. It’s a picture I don’t like calling into memory. I didn’t linger there in front of her casket didn’t touch or caress her cold hands more than once. I fingered her wedding ring and then prepared to receive mourners and friends a good length away from the casket. I endured 4 hours of visitation and stood on aching feet to greet visitors and receiving condolences and confusion with all who knew and mourned my mother.

The morning of her funeral arose grey and threatened rain. We gathered at the church to share our common pain, to give an outlet for the mangled mess of our emotions. Just before the service they closed the casket and we said goodbye to her face for the last time. The music started and we followed her body into the church, I wept through her favorite hymns and managed to sing “The old Rugged Cross” through the tears — when I was 9 she made me promise I would sing this hymn at her funeral. Mom’s friend Kathy spoke the perfect words on her behalf: “I love you, forgive me, move on with your lives”. 

Pastor Tom read Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” This brought comfort because we deeply believed God was keeping that promise to my Mother that very moment. He urged us not to feel guilty or responsible, that we couldn’t have prevented her end. He assured my family and I that it was alright to feel a dark sense of relief that her suffering and our worry was over. I’m forever grateful to Pastor Tom for honoring my mother with the perfect balance of wisdom and love. His task that day was not an easy one.

My husband, brother and uncles bore her body to the hearse which would take her to her final resting place, in the earth beside my Father. Family and old friends gathered for lunch and Noelle flitted from table to table bringing fresh life to a hard funeral. My mother’s tiny granddaughter was a sweet reminder, that on the darkest days, God gives new hope.

We drove to Georgetown Cemetery and laid her body into the ground on that cold autumn day which never delivered the forecasted rain. After they lowered her into the ground, I walked away, still shrouded in a fog of shock. I rubbed my cold knees as Kel wound our van through the cemetery maze. Driving away, all formalities behind us, brought a paralyzing fear. I would have to return to my normal life with so much pain to sift through. How on earth would I navigate through this new life, heart and sanity in tact? I was now one of those people children of suicide, this new chapter was forever a part of my story.

I longed to do an “I dream of Jeannie” blink and bring our family instantly back to the safety of our home. Far away from the cold reality of this cemetery plot. It was late in October and the holiday season, normally my favorite, loomed ominously on the calendar. There would be Halloween Costumes and Turkey, Christmas shopping and New Year’s toasts just before our son made his arrival. To be honest I had no idea how I would get through any of it, I just allowed my spirit to groan to God in faith that he would lead me day by painful, grace-filled day.