One of these neighbors was a young man named David. He was a regular attendee and several of us at the church decided he would be our honorary greeter because he was so hospitable to churchgoers and guests alike. One night, David, who occasionally told me, “I have problems,” managed to take his life. It was difficult news to receive as a fledgling minister. In the same phone call, the group home asked me to conduct his memorial service. This deeply moved me, because David held a special place in my heart; he was the first person to ever call me “pastor.”
On the day of the memorial service, I arrived at the church early to prepare. Standing at the pulpit, I was looking down, leafing through my notes on the sermon I was going to give. The topic was God’s compassion for all and I was using the scripture, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” I had been taught growing up that people who committed suicide were not assured of their place in heaven. I didn’t believe such a thing anymore and hadn’t for a long time. However, I knew there could be several people attending who might have been taught something similar, and I wanted to offer a different perspective. To my thinking, God understood David better than anyone. Surely, God knew all about the illness that would drive David to desperately seek his own death, and of course God had compassion for David’s struggles and knew intimately of David’s kind and welcoming heart.
However, I wasn’t confident my message would have much of an impact considering the grief and confusion surrounding this death, but it was all I could come up with to say. As I was continuing to look over my sermon notes, I heard one of the old wooden swing doors in the back of the church creak, which they always did when someone opened one of them, and then I heard an old, wooden pew in the back—on the same side as the creaking door—crack, which they always did as well when someone sat down in one of them. So, I looked up from my notes to see who had come in and sat down.
There, on the same spot of the same pew he always sat in every Sunday, was David. He was looking at me with a big smile, and I realized later that this could not have been a memory, because I had never before seen him with even a hint of a smile on his face. His body was translucent and filled with light and I knew, soul-deep and without a doubt, that he was healed and at peace. As I met his eyes, the whole sanctuary filled with a joy that lifted my eyes upward and an energy that coursed through my body telling me “all is well.” It lasted for just a moment and when I returned my gaze to David’s pew, he was gone.
It is the only time I have every seen someone I know on the “other side.” It was also the easiest memorial service I have ever had to conduct, despite the grim circumstances of David’s death. A church member told me afterward, in apparent shock, that it was the most joyful memorial service she had ever been to and she thanked me for talking about God’s compassion for David. I never told her why there was so much joy in that sanctuary that day, nor why I could preach with such conviction that I knew David was in God’s eternal arms of Love and Light. At the time, I didn’t know if she or anyone would believe my story, and it was several more years before I took the risk of telling someone about it.
I offer it now, though, in this public place, in the hope that it might bring some comfort to those grieving the loss of loved ones. May God bring you all the peace your heart needs and continue to hold you strong in those eternal arms of Love and Light.
Previously posted on this website: http://info.sdiworld.org/post/suicide-searching-for-god-with-broken-hearts