It has been just over a year since I lost a daughter to suicide. Has it mattered that I am a trinitarian theologian in the days that have followed?
I have learned that suicide is not a simple human act of a human who has come to the end of their rope. It is also involve a person who is on medication that gets off schedule and has a mental breakdown (as is noted on the bottle). Such was the case with Anlya. I have looked with new eyes to see that there are a spectrum of stories as to why this tragic end becomes an actual moment in time with no hope of turning beck. I have seen that the Triune God cares for the full spectrum of tragedies. This God never said that abandonment of persons in their highs, lows, or their breakdowns was a possibility. This God loves unconditionally even where self-love has been sabotaged.
I have experienced a calming sense that I belong to God, the Father, maker of heaven and earth and of this child who He loves. I now see her in His arms. I cannot imagine any response, no “sorry but you failed the test” kind of response to this child whose valley of the shadow of death needs this particular Father to walk with her where no other may go. She was not sure of God’s existence, I do not think that caused any diminished love for her since unconditional love is His nature.
I practice the presence of Jesus. I learn to hear His voice, pray with a listening orientation, and believe that He is there and cares. I have also learned to listen to Anlya, virtually every day. I hear her “hey dad” as I go down the stairs, point out poppies I see alongside the road, and miss her laugh, but somehow still hear it. She is not bodily present, but her personal presence lives on in me. Jesus has created this openness firstly by His own presence. Then He promised that His love is for all, especially the brokenhearted and weary. I believe Jesus holds her because nothing can separate us from His love. Practicing the presence of Jesus creates space for the daughter we love. With His help, she is an ongoing presence in my life. Her body is gone, but she is still a part of me because who we are as persons, as revealed in the Trinity, is in our being in relationship.
The Spirit is the Lord, the Giver of Life. It is this Spirit who gave Anlya her life. When Jesus and Stephen were dying, they gave up their Spirit. It is that Spirit who sustains us as spiritual beings and gives us a spiritual body. This Spirit sustained her spirit while on earth and will sustain her in heaven with a new body. I have her ashes in the field behind my house, a reminder of her earthly presence, I have gardens and reminders of her simple and loving ways, as well as for remembering her heart as a force for change. We are called to remember, not only Jesus in the breaking of the bread, but also to remember our families and those beloved to us—they are still part of who we are.
Anlya died on a hot August Thursday after weeks without rain. On the Sunday that followed, in the depths of wrestling with my loss, the rain came down in torrents. It felt to me like the full heart of the Triune God was weeping with me to know I was not alone in this moment of loss. It was Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and I stood and watched it fall on the garden where Anlya had weeded just weeks before. Back to the garden, the place of loss, communion, and hope. I still meet the family of the Trinity there and I meet my daughter there.
Suicide is a loss that is a plague on our time. It bespeaks the detachment, anxiety, and need for a covering over pain that may include medications or just the darkness of isolation. I have learned grace for those who leave this life “before their time,” whether by accident or on purpose. I have learned that they are held beyond our strained reach. I have learned to let them be with me and to honour what is good and true and loving. That is, I am trying to live within the embrace of the Triune God and to let that release me to both let go and hold on in the same moment. And, I am learning who is with me—always.