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After Suicide: The Long Road to Healing

November 25, 2012. Sunday morning. The slanting sunlight filtered into my bedroom, outlining the shadows of my parents who had the audacity to wake me up even though church didn’t start for hours.

My older sister had passed away in the early hours of the morning, they said. Suicide.

Suicide.

The word tasted dirty—metallic and salty and bitter—in my mouth and made me sick to my stomach.

The week between the death and the funeral was surreal. A storm raged around me and I was unable to react, paralyzed by grief. My body felt the chest-heaving sobs; the draining numbness; the comforting, encompassing hugs. My mind felt hazy.

There was an outpouring of love from my small community, and I will forever be grateful for the meals and tender mercies: the family who brought us breakfast (a nice break from casseroles), the best friend who listened. We all cried together. We all reveled in the realization that somehow, the sun still shines when a casket is lowered into the ground.

Woman praying in a tunnel

A New Reality

But no amount of compassion could change our new reality. My parents lost a daughter, my brother and I lost a sister, and we gained custody of her three-year-old son who was too young to understand. In 2012 suicide was a taboo topic, depression was stigmatized in the public eye even more so than today, and I felt completely alone.

For a long time, I was angry. Not at God, but at my sister. At age 16, that was the only way I knew to cope. Didn’t my sister know how much pain her actions would cause? Couldn’t she hear our mother’s heart breaking and see our father wither under the strain of self-inflicted guilt?

I was angry at myself, too. I had a testimony of the gospel, which is supposed to keep people happy all the time, right? But it’s hard to be happy when a heavy weight crushes your heart, when smiling is superficial and laughter never quite reaches your soul. The voices in my head sounded something like this: The gospel is supposed to help you overcome any trial, but you can’t do it. You’re weak, a failure. And when I did make strides forward, I felt guilty, like I validated her demons, like her absence did indeed make my life better.

I was conflicted and depressed and angry and too proud for counseling, but mostly I was just tired. I can’t remember much of my junior and senior years of high school. I slept through them.

Sometimes “grinning and bearing it” isn’t an option. There are some challenges too large, some wounds too deep. Patience wears thin, then runs out. When I came to this point, my only option was to turn to my Savior, and somehow, He saved me.

Lifelong Healing

Slowly but surely, I found healing in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and that healing began with feeling that He understood me and that I was never alone. He loves me, He loves my sister and my family, and it will all work out. His love inspired me to love better, to find beauty in the ashes. My anger dissipated and was replaced with empathy and understanding towards those who suffer with depression (a group which I myself am a part of) and for families left behind.

I discovered that tears are therapeutic, even five years later. Healing isn’t a one and done experience. Sometimes trials don’t last “but a small moment” (D&C 121:7)—sometimes they last for the rest of our mortal lives. The why questions—why me? why us?—and the will questions—will it ever stop hurting? will we really be reunited?—never quite dissipate. But this seemingly unending struggle has changed me.

Becoming Saints

Elder Neal A. Maxwell described long-term trials in this way:

Among the qualities of a saint is the capacity to develop patience and to cope with the things that life inflicts upon us. That capacity brings together two prime attributes—patience and endurance. . . . Most people would gladly serve mankind if somehow they could get it over with once, preferably with applause and recognition. But, for the sake of righteousness, to endure, to be patient in the midst of affliction, in the midst of being misunderstood, and in the midst of suffering—that is sainthood! [“But for a Small Moment,” 1 September 1974]

Sainthood.

My experience has taught me that sainthood comes at a heavy price. Patience is cultivated through everyday efforts of endurance; it’s an attribute that everyone feels entitled to but no one wants to earn. I’ve found that the heartache of mortality enables us to choose to become patient saints. We should never stop walking simply because we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, for one day “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelations 21:4).

Ashley Stokes

Ashley Stokes is an SEO writer for BYU Speeches. She is passionate about dry jokes and bacon-wrapped food. If you can't find her in the mountains or planning her next big adventure, she's probably binge watching Parks and Rec.

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