Episode #14 Grieving with Hope after Suicide. Wende Gaikema

Quick Links
From Today's Episode

Wende Gaikema shares the story of her remarkable son, Matt, an honor student at Texas A and M, who died by suicide just months before he would have graduated. Wende shares the stunning ways God met her in those first hours and years following Matt’s passing.  As a leadership coach and trained in asking questions, she shares the questions that propel us forward and questions that keep us stuck. Out of her heartbreak, Wende helps us understand the best and not so great ways to respond to those who have lost loved ones.

Key Takeaways:

Matt’s hope had a name and that name is Jesus.


Today's Verses
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13
  • Psalm 40
  • Deuteronomy 31:6
  • Lamentations 3:22-23
  • Psalm 27:13-14
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
  • 2 Corinthians 4:17-18


Additional Resources

Imagine Heaven by John Burke

  1. Grieving with Hope after Suicide. Wende Gaikema

[00:00:00] Welcome to the Unshakable Hope Podcast, where real life intersects redeeming love. I’m Kelly Hall and this is where we wrestle through faith questions such as, how do I trust God’s heart when his ways and delays are breaking mine? How can I believe God is good when life doesn’t seem good? My prayer is that God would renew our hope in these conversations and that each of us would experience the very real power of his presence and love.

I’m looking forward to having you meet a new friend of mine, Wendy Gaikema. She and I were introduced via email by two separate people at two separate times. It took us about seven months to connect, but we finally did, and I’m so thankful

Some questions Wendy is gonna be addressing today out of her experience. What are ways to navigate grief that bring healing? What’s the best way to respond to someone who’s lost a loved one? What types of questions [00:01:00] propel us forward in our grief? And what kind of questions keep us stuck?

I know you’re gonna be blessed by our conversation today. Wendy, why don’t you start by just telling us a little bit about yourself.

Wende: Yeah, thank you Kelly. And I wanna say how excited I am to be with you and your listeners today. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’ve recently moved here from Houston, Texas. My husband Jeff and I have been married. 32 years. Had to think about that. And we have three boys, one in heaven and two on earth. When our boys were younger, I stayed at home and as they grew up I went back to work and I’m now a leadership coach and I work with corporate clients and with universities.

I work with people both individually and with teams and helping leaders have their resilience and presence and impact to get promoted, navigate their promotion into senior leadership and just lead themselves and [00:02:00] others well. Yeah, and my husband and I are excited to enjoy. We just love the outdoors.

We love to hike and bike and kayak and travel. Done a lot of volunteering and church and the community as well.

Kelly: Oh, that’s awesome. We are gonna walk into a really tender story first you’re going to hear about the remarkable life of her son Matt, and I think you’re gonna fall in love with him and wish you could meet him.

We’re also going to hear the very difficult story of how Matt took his own life by suicide in February of 2018. So Wendy, would you first just start by telling us about your beautiful son, Matt?

Wende: Oh, thank you. It’s amazing when you’ve lost a son, just how people don’t ask you about them.

So thank you for asking. He, Always had a very keen mind and a quick wit. Just a quip or observation on life that, he [00:03:00] always would make us laugh and not just us. He actually started a Facebook group around Texas A and M humor that now has over 33,000 members.

Kelly: That is crazy. Yeah.

Wende: We remember, I remember him sitting at the dining room table with us and talking about how he was just starting it and we’re like, wow. He had a lot of intellectual curiosity. He was studying applied math and computer science. He had a full tuition, national Merit Scholarship to Texas A and M. I remember asking him one time what he was doing, and he’s I’m writing a search engine.

Okay. He had a real passion for cybersecurity. And after his graduation from Texas A and M, he was, ’cause he passed in February, he was to graduate in May. He was going to be a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He loved to read, he was a very gifted writer, very analytical. And he also taught, he, he was a teaching assistant in multiple [00:04:00] classes and used to just hang out in the study room, in the math building and just help people with their math problems.

He also loved to run in third grade, he was in a local race or a Y M C A and won it, and it just started him running to clear his head. He was varsity cross country all through high school at our Big Six A high school. And he used to run along the bayou in Houston and just find peace in those long runs.

And he loved dogs. We got our dog Apple because Matt begged us for a dog. And one day he asked me what my doctor’s name was and I was like Dr. Miller. And then shortly after that I get, we get these calls on the home phone. ’cause back then we had a home phone and it was Matthew talking in this little, this British accent.

Hello, this is Dr. Miller. I want you to know it’s very important that Matthew get a dog. And so he just he loved animals and Apple. In fact, we had her at his memorial service at the [00:05:00] church. And also at our church, he Had a heart for special needs kids. He served regularly in that ministry at our church and on mission trips. Just had a heart for them and really related to them as people and they connected with him. And Matt did, he did struggle with anxiety, but it had, seemed like it was under control, yeah,

Kelly: Well, wonder if you could just take us back to that season, maybe the months before this happened.

Wende: Yeah. Yeah, it was like Christmas of 2017. We had gone away for a little bit to the Texas Hill country with our three dogs and three boys.

And we had kayaked and I know, and hiked and played exploding kittens and just had a really sweet time as a family. And then in the beginning of 2018, he was, going back to Texas A and M in mid-January. He wanted us to, he and I to go to church, just the special needs ministry to [00:06:00] serve with Apple, who we had trained to be a therapy dog and and it was such a blessing to be there with him, though I had no idea it was the last time, I think in hindsight, he was saying goodbye to those kids. So we, said goodbye to him the next day. He drove off and I never saw him again. And we really had no idea he was struggling. He had accepted a job offer.

He was gonna be graduating from Texas A and M with honors. He had so much ahead of him. And then on the morning of February 1st, fourth, we had gone. So February 4th we had gone to church. I got a call from his roommate at, right after we got home saying that Matt was unresponsive. And Jeff and I got in the car to drive the hour and 20 minutes to college station where Texas A and M is.

And we had no idea what was in store for us. It was really so hard. [00:07:00] And then on the way I got a phone call. It was the Texas A and M Police, and they asked that we come to the police station and I just knew. They wouldn’t tell me anything. But I knew if he was alive, we’d be going to the hospital or we’d be going to his apartment. We wouldn’t be going to the police station.

And oh, it was, that was. All in a moment. I had, I just had a picture from the Lord and this sense, it wasn’t audible, but it was just this still voice in my head. You’re picking up a very heavy load. I’m with you and I want my glory to flow through you. And I had this picture in that moment of this large white conduit pipe like you might run water through or something. And that the more of me and my flesh that was in it, [00:08:00] the less there was that the Lord and his spirit and his glory would be able to flow through. And I also had the sense that I was supposed to speak at Matt’s service, and this was all like in a moment.

And so that was a lot to take in. Yeah. And then, we got to College Station and we heard the news that Matt was gone and that it appeared he had taken his life. And, Kelly, this is the, this is like truly the worst day of our lives. We were able to call friends to be there and we’re grateful they came.

We started to piece the story together. His girlfriend was breaking up with him, which we didn’t know. He seemed to have become despondent and took his life. And so obviously we’re just devastated and it’s surreal. Yeah. And his girlfriend did come to the police station. She was very upset oh, this is my fault.

And I just knew in [00:09:00] that moment I had a choice I could forgive or I could really make the rest of her life miserable. And I felt the Lord saying, you just need, you need to forgive. And I did. And I just said, people break up with each other all the time, and those people don’t go off and die by suicide. I shared the gospel. I prayed with her, I spoke forgiveness over her because I just didn’t want this to define the rest of her life.

And then we had to tell our other children, we had to tell our parents, our siblings absolutely horrible. Just I, there are no words. And then, the worst day in your life becomes the worst week in your life ’cause you’re planning your child’s funeral, you’re making decisions that no parent ever wants to make. Like I see my child’s name on the death certificate. I have to write his [00:10:00] obituary plan, the service, coordinate plans with family and friends. People are, bringing food by, which is great. You’re not sleeping well and you just keep thinking this is a bad dream. I’m gonna wake up and this, and Matt’s gonna be here, but it just keeps going on and he’s not there. It’s just, it just was so hard. And yet even in that the Lord ministered, just did sweet things of care because the next day after, so Matt passed on a Sunday. The next day was Monday.

Our former pastor called and prayed with us, and he prayed this verse out of 1st Thessalonians 4:13. Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind who have no hope. And I just had this [00:11:00] sense that was what I was supposed to talk about, grieve with hope.

And I had never thought about that before. It just totally came from the Lord. And so that was a gift from the Lord. This idea of grieving with hope. Then later that night someone who had lost their adult son in the last year or so visited us and brought a book called Imagine Heaven, and it just had interviews with people who had near death experiences of heaven and that book was brought me comfort. ’cause there are two places in scripture where near death experiences are described. Paul talks about it in 2 Corinthians 12;2, and then John does again in Revelation. And so just to think about Matt being in heaven, it was comforting. It really helped.

Kelly: I love that book, imagine Heaven and have found a lot of comfort in it as well.

Wende: It’s so interesting because the author [00:12:00] he’s interviewed countless people from a variety of cultures, ages, stages of life, and that yet what they describe, and it’s not like they all got together and talked to each other, but what they describe about heaven is remarkably consistent.  That was just powerful and it helped me anchor in that hope, that certain hope, and then as I spoke at the service about grieving with hope and I just talked about the depth, the grief, that it was raw, it’s unimaginable, and yet that hope is certain and that Matt’s hope has a name, and that name is Jesus. And because Matt confessed Jesus as his Savior, I had the certain hope of seeing him again for eternity.

And that. Is what I just began to cling to. I was like, grieving, hoping, grieving, hoping. I also felt the Lord [00:13:00] wanting us to be very open about mental illness at the service. Not to be quiet about how this had happened, but to be like, this was a suicide and let’s talk about mental illness.

And that opened up just so many more conversations. With parents, with young adults. And so I’m really grateful that we were just honest about that. And and then finally that spring, that was part of our journey. There were special ceremonies at Texas a and m that honored alumni and students that had passed and.

It was powerful. They ended up dedicating the undergraduate math student study lounge to math, that place that he used to like to hang out. And now when I go to Texas a and m, it says it’s the Matthew Gaikema Undergraduate Study Lounge. And that is powerful. And and we went to that dedication and it was just humbling to hear other people talk about, say, wow. He was one of the funniest people we knew. What a gifted mathematician he was. So that was very [00:14:00] honoring. Hard in the moment, but very sweet to have that as a place that we can go to, to remember him.

Kelly: I love that. That’s so meaningful. What a gift.

Wende: Yes, it is. It’s still hard to go there, but I love it when I go there and I see students studying in it. I’m like, aww, that feels like Matt’s legacy is continuing.

Kelly: Yeah. I love that they did that for Matt. It’s obvious that he impacted a lot of people. So many people loved him and cared about him, and were touched by his life and his love.

Wende: Yeah, I’d like to think so. Thank you.

Kelly: I talk a lot about loss on this podcast but the loss of a child, of course, that’s in a whole different category and the loss of a child by suicide is surely different in certain ways. Can you talk about the unique ways that lands differently on a parent?

Wende: Yes. That’s such an [00:15:00] insightful comment, Kelly. Because yes, there’s the gut wrenching experience of losing a child, but then there’s the emotions around the fact that this was something they didn’t just happen. And so there’s a lot of emotions that just complicate the grieving.

There’s guilt. Is there something I could have done that would’ve prevented this? And I’ve asked the Lord to forgive me for mistakes I made as a parent, and I know he has, but I don’t believe that I caused this, and I had no idea Matt was considering it. But when those thoughts would come to me, I really had to take them captive and remind myself of the truth.

God is not a God of condemnation. He doesn’t accuse those accusing voices are not from him. But that’s one piece is the guilt. There’s also the shame ‘ cause you get judgment from people. People are, how did you not know this and how could this happen? And [00:16:00] there’s a podcast called The Place We Find Ourselves with Adam Young. He’s a Christian therapist and I heard him use the term “good enough parent”, so no one is a perfect parent. And so I could say we were good enough parents. Matt knew he was deeply loved. And so I’m just, I’m not gonna stand in shame that my child made this choice in his last moments.

There’s also anger, that he chose this ’cause I’ve had to come to a place of forgiveness and forgive him because I don’t believe Matt meant to cause his family and friends, the immense amount of pain that he did. Suicide is like a, an, it’s like a bomb goes off in your family and it’s all this emotional shrapnel that just shows up in all sorts of places over a long period of time.

And it’s really hard. And I don’t think he knew , that, that would [00:17:00] happen. And you also just have this why did they do this? And so you have to wrestle with that. And that’s hard. And I have wrestled and I just come up with my own sense, which is we live in a fallen world.

Things aren’t the way God meant them to be. There are complex mental health issues. Matt was an adult. He had free will. I think he was under spiritual attack and these things all come together. I just felt like I’m not gonna keep digging at this anymore than that. That it’s not figureoutable.

And you and I as more neurotypical. People sitting here today, we can’t really understand the mind of someone struggling with a mental illness and contemplating suicide. Yeah. And so just choosing to let go of why has been really helpful for me.

And certainly for me, I’ve had to go to counseling and my family has as well, and that has been [00:18:00] incredibly helpful with all these complicated pieces of grief because it’s just hard to work through on your own.

Kelly: Absolutely. Thanks for sharing all of that. I know you love God’s word. So I’m wondering if you could tell us some of the ways that God’s word became a lifeline for you, maybe some specific verses that you would clinging to in the middle of the night when your heart was breaking.

Wende: Yeah. Oh, his word had was just sustained me. It protected me. Psalm 40 mentions that his love and truth protect us, and I really did feel like he would bring verses either something that I had memorized that might be in the middle of the night. I would just hear a verse and I was like, ahhhh

and that might be Be strong and courageous. Deuteronomy 31, 6, be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them. For the Lord your God goes with you. He will never leave you or forsake [00:19:00] you. And so it’s okay, alright, Lord, you’re not gonna leave me or forsake me.

Sometimes those verse would come through a friend . Somebody would text me or they might call me, so I just get that word at just the time that I really needed and sometimes five people would text me the same verse that day and you’re like, okay.

I remember this, that day it was Lamentations 3; 22 and 23 because of the lord’s great love. We are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great. Is your faithfulness. Amen. And just to have that coming from multiple people in the same day, you’re like,

all right. Lord thank you. I’m gonna take that as coming from you. Another one, psalm 27; 13 and 14 says, I would’ve despaired unless I believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take [00:20:00] courage.

Yes. Wait for the Lord. , that idea of this, like I would’ve despaired unless I believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. And I’m like, okay, I can either despair or I can choose to believe that there’s some goodness that God is good. And then another one was two out of second Corinthians actually.

So second Corinthians 1: three, and four. That’s just talking about how God comforts us, but then that we can in turn be a comfort to others. Yeah. And that’s praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Even as I minister to other families who sadly find themselves in similar situations. God has brought me comfort. He brought me comfort in those early days. He still does. Yeah. And finally, another one is second [00:21:00] Corinthians four, 17 to 18 for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. Since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. And so I just would remind myself like, okay, I, these do not feel light and momentary troubles. Lord, I’m just be honest, but I’m gonna fix my eyes on you. I’m gonna fix my eyes on. This hope, this certain hope I have on being with Matt for eternity because that is truly what’s eternal.

I would literally just speak the verse over me and preach it to myself. And I would say these verses out loud yes Lord, I am choosing to believe that. You are gonna bring me comfort. I am choosing to believe that your compassion [00:22:00] never fail, and I just say them to myself and out loud.

Kelly: That is so powerful. I know as a leadership coach, you talk a lot about how to transform your mind with what you think, and it sounds like that’s what you were doing with God’s word. You were declaring it out loud and you were hanging on. By faith to every word that God had spoken to you.

I love the psalm, I love them all. But Psalm 27 is one. I have stood up in my living room and declared out loud. I would’ve despaired if I hadn’t known I was gonna see your goodness. So God, I’m gonna wait right here and I know I will see your goodness somehow right now in this place of darkness and pain. I know I will.

Wende: I love that. And I think that, I also think we ward off the enemy. I am choosing to believe you. Lord, I’m choosing to believe your word. I’m choosing to believe you are good. I’m gonna be grateful. And that doesn’t give a place of [00:23:00] spiritual weakness for the enemy to go sow seed of doubt in us. It’s no I’m believing in the Lord.

Kelly: Yeah. Yeah. What about your other kids? How did they walk through this season and how did y’all as a family walk through this?

Wende: That’s a great question. It’s been really hard. , we think about as a parent losing a child and how difficult that is.

But to lose a sibling to suicide is really hard. And it’s been a struggle. I think they have struggled in different ways how to cope, what does this mean for me? And, sometimes leaned into the Lord and and that’s the path that, they’re, on in different ways.

They’ve gone to grief groups and done counseling, and I think that has helped them as well because again, it’s hard to heal from this kind of trauma just on your own. And so it’s really helpful to have good Christian counseling.

I think now [00:24:00] we’re five years later and I think they’ve made a lot of progress. And my one son has, finally this year, has leaned into radical acceptance I really, have to accept that this happened because if you don’t get to that place of acceptance, it’s hard to move on.

Kelly: You and your husband cultivated An atmosphere of authentic communication. You allowed people to just walk through it at their own pace in honest and authentic ways. You didn’t put timelines on them. Have you talked to parents about timelines someone might place on their grief?

Wende: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of external pressure that comes from the world or people like, oh, I can’t believe you’re still thinking about that. As if you’re just are gonna snap and get over it.

I am healing from this God has done amazing things, but you never fully, you don’t get over it. There’s always scar tissue. And so when I think people try to put something like that on me, [00:25:00] I’m like, they just don’t know. They don’t understand.

There’s no timeline for this. I’m not gonna be ashamed of my grief whenever it is.

Kelly: Yeah. I’m wondering if you could talk about some of the ways that you, wrestled with your grief with the Lord, and I know you love to ask questions, and that’s one of the ways that you deal with life in general and deal with pain specifically.

Wende: Yeah. And I do I’m a coach and so I think in terms of questions and. And I also think about this idea of, is that a helpful question or is that not a helpful question? Because some questions can keep us stuck. They can lead us to ruminate, they can lead us to focus on maybe things that aren’t of the Lord, versus other questions can move us forward or point us to the Lord.

So questions that aren’t helpful. Why did Matt do this? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? Why can’t I get over this?

That isn’t [00:26:00] moving me forward. Some of these are not figureoutable questions versus asking something that’s more, okay, Lord I’m really overcome with grief. I can’t think right now. I’m missing Matt so much. What do you want me to think about?

What do you want me to be aware of right now? And he would answer that. So that’s a what question, not a why question. What do you want me to think about? What could I do right now that would be helpful? And it was amazing when I would ask him like, what do you want me to think on?

I would just get a sense if I just slowed down, it wasn’t audible words, but I just would get a sense of gratitude, give thanks. Or I might give a sense of love, you’re loved, and just things that would ground me in his truth.

And sometimes I get a sense of okay, Wendy, if you trust me what would you be thinking? Are you gonna be worrying about this son [00:27:00] right now? Are you gonna be worrying, worrying and worrying? ’cause you prayed about him,  and you’re now just spinning around this worry about this child.  So alright Lord. Actually if I trusted him, I would give him to you. And then I would say, okay, Lord, I’m trusting you. And then I would go do the next thing you want me to do.

And so that’s where those questions, would help keep me moving forward? Instead of ruminating in my grief.

Kelly: Those are really helpful. Those are questions I ask myself a lot. What do you want me to know in this place and what do you want me to do?

I wonder, as you look back to before and look at yourself now, how would you say that you are different?

Wende: Yeah. There really, there is a difference. I would say it’s really, it’s deep ending and a refining of what was already there. But before I, I felt like I was a mature believer. I was pretty consistent in the word. I had a deep love for the [00:28:00] Lord.

And I think that all those times that I was in the word. Brought me protection because I had deep truth, like really in my bones. Like I knew who God was, I knew what his promises were. I knew who he said I was, and that protected me from the lies that would come. It didn’t mean I didn’t struggle and wrestle believe me like this was incredibly hard.

But I would go back to the scripture and I’d be like, okay. Does this sound like the voice of the Lord? Is this condemning me ’cause he’s not a God of condemnation. Am I making an assumption here? So I would pull out that thought and I’d be curious with it and I’d go back to the scripture and that helped me be able to discern truth from lies.

Sometimes I felt, not that I look like a wonder woman in any way, but I felt like sometimes I had those cuffs on and the lies would come at you. And sometimes [00:29:00] they’d come at you from the enemy, everybody, but come from well-meaning people. And they’d say things and you just had to be like that’s a lie. That’s not true. That’s not true. Because if you didn’t know who God was, I wouldn’t have been able to discern and know that’s actually not, God did not cause this, and that’s not true. Yeah. So I felt like that time I knew knowing him really helped me, but I just felt it deepened my dependence on him.

Psalm 63, 8 says, my soul clings to you. I just early on was like this, he is gonna be my way through this. I don’t know how I’m gonna get through this, but he’s gonna be the way. And so I’m just gonna trust him that he’s gonna heal. And I did not wanna give the enemy the victory by saying, letting this define me.

This is not gonna define me. I’m not gonna be that woman who feels like her life is over because this has happened to her. That would put God in a box and. And God has given me platforms to share [00:30:00] about Matt and God’s goodness. Because now when I talk to someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide or had a major trauma, and when I encourage ’em to turn of the Lord, I can say these are not cheap words like I have been with what I call Christ in the School of pain.

And this is not to my glory because I’m strong. It is not. It’s because I serve a very strong and powerful God.

Kelly: Yes, absolutely no platitudes here. This is deep and it’s meaningful and it’s life transforming. I wish our listeners could have seen what you were doing when you were talking about Wonder Woman.

You were raising your wrist and deflecting the lies with the powerful truth of God. That’s a cool image. I think you’ve answered the question. What do you know about God now that you didn’t know then, but if you wouldn’t mind just repeating a little bit of what you’ve said?

Wende: Yeah, I’ve learned that he is who he says he is.[00:31:00] And that I can trust him. . And he’s good. He’s every bit as good as he was before all this happened. His words have strengthened and encouraged me. I spent a lot of time that spring listening to spirituals written by people and slavery, and those songs just had such depth of pain and suffering, and yet they focused hope on the Lord.

Wow. And I also have learned, and this has been even in this last year, That I can trust him to be with me no matter what happens though, that he will never leave me or forsake me, but that I can’t hold tight onto an outcome like it, it may not look the way I think it’s gonna look, and I have to let go of feeling like God answers my prayers, or He didn’t answer my prayers because of what happened.

I used to pray that Matt would glorify God and and Kelly, I [00:32:00] really wouldn’t have chosen this as a way for Matt to glorify God, God answered that prayer. He just didn’t answer it in a way I wanted. So I have to let go of the outcome looking a certain way and just trust that no matter what happens, he is with me.

Kelly: Yeah, that’s the toughest thing about surrender, about trusting the Lord, but I love the way you described it. He is good and are just her heart breaks and the really difficult, unexplainable things that happen in our life don’t diminish God’s goodness. He remains the same, even when our circumstances are breaking our hearts.

Wende: It’s true. And you have to decide in those times, am I gonna believe who he says he is? Yeah. Or am I gonna trust my feelings? Am I gonna trust my pain? Am I gonna, what am I gonna, my circumstances what’s gonna be my truth here?

Kelly: Yeah. I often ask, what’s the loudest voice in my life? Lord, I want you to be the loudest voice. I want you [00:33:00] to be louder than my circumstances. I want your love to be larger than my fears. And so you do that. You’ve explained what that can look like quite well. So thank you.

I wonder too, just thinking about all that you’ve been through, what is some advice that you might give to somebody who is walking through this type of fresh loss?

Wende: First of all it is horrific. It’s hard and you’re gonna experience hard, difficult emotions and to experience them.

Don’t ignore it. Don’t stuff it, don’t bottle it. Don’t try to pretend it didn’t happen. Because when we stuff our emotions and our grief, things come out later. They come out in ways we can’t expect. They come out worse. It’s not gonna serve you.

If your child knew Jesus, you have hope, you have a certain hope of seeing them in eternity.

Kelly: Can you talk about that for a minute? I know that some people come out of a [00:34:00] faith background where they believe that suicide is the unforgivable sin.

Wende: Yeah. And actually that’s really not in scripture. Our last sin on earth does not determine our eternal destiny. Romans 10, nine says, if you declare with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. And that’s it. It doesn’t matter, like your last thing that you did, your last act on Earth.

It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. It is tragic, but it does not determined where you’re gonna spend eternity. I love John 10 28 too, where Jesus says, I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them out of my father’s hand. Yes. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. And that’s Romans eight at the end. It’s such a comforting truth. [00:35:00] It is. And I think of other things to say when I’m working with families and people that have just lost someone, is to just give yourself grace.

’cause that first year especially, it is hard. There is an excellent book. I don’t know if it’s still in print. It’s called S O s, survivors of Suicide, and there’s a quote in there from the American Psychiatric Association ranks The trauma of losing a loved one to suicide is catastrophic on par with that of a concentration camp experience.

Wow. And so it is significant, but I do offer hope. It does get better. So five years out, I will say the edges have softened. And so the way you feel in those early days, you’re not going to feel that way forever, but it’s also not a given that you will heal. You have to work at it. And I would say that’s time.

For me, that’s been [00:36:00] Jesus. I’ve had to work at where, and you’ve heard me talk, where am I focusing my mind? What am I believing to be true? What questions am I asking myself? But yet at the same time, giving myself grace. It is an emotional rollercoaster. Grief is not linear. You can be doing something at one point and your loved one comes to mind, and then poof, you’re having a grief burst and that’s part of the journey I. Grief brain is also, you forgetting things. It can take our brain a while to recover from the trauma of what we’ve experienced. And so I’ve really also encouraged people to set boundaries. Who’s healthy and helpful to you, and how they support you and who isn’t?

What do you need? It’s okay to ask for help, but it’s also okay to forget things. And there are no rules on how to navigate this. So you’ve gotta figure out what you need in that moment. And speak it. Yes. Thanks for pouring out all that grace.

Give yourself the freedom to [00:37:00] grieve.

Kelly: So maybe you could just talk about a few things that were the most helpful things that people said or did for you, and maybe just mention a tiny bit about what wasn’t so helpful

Wende: I’m in a couple of groups with other moms that have lost children, and this is a topic of conversation. You have a memorial service and then people are back to like business as usual, and people are uncomfortable talking to someone that has lost a child.

And so I’d say the first thing is to just to acknowledge it. Our missions pastor used to say, Jesus moved in the direction of people in need. So we’re called to do that. And so when it comes to grieving people, this is actually more simple than we realize

, I heard about Matt, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry to hear that. I’m praying for you. . I like to ask, how are you today?

Because when people would ask me, how are you? [00:38:00] I’m like, that is so overwhelming. I’m horrible. This has been the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life. But I, if somebody said, how are you today? I could focus on that. So the most helpful things were people that thought through our needs and they just did stuff.

They brought us food, they brought us cases of water. They brought us. Boxes of tissues or toilet paper. A friend grocery shop for me ’cause it was so triggering. I’d go to the store, I’d see Matt’s favorite foods, and then I would, I just couldn’t finish my shopping. They sent scriptures.

They said they were praying, they remembered key dates. They hugged me, listened to me, took me out to lunch. My, my family did this as well. But I would say is if you hold back from saying something because you don’t know what to say or you’re afraid of making me sad, you have missed an opportunity to serve and help someone in need.

When people don’t say anything you’re not ministering to [00:39:00] anyone. This is all, this is about your discomfort at that point, and it is awkward. If I’m talking to you at church and you know I’ve lost a child and you don’t say anything, and it’s like you don’t have the power to make me feel sad, like I’m thinking about my kid anyway.

So it’s not like suddenly you’re gonna say, oh, I’m sorry about and I’m gonna be like, oh wow, I forgot I lost him. It’s not gonna happen. I’m already aware of it. I’d like to talk about him or just to be acknowledged that this has happened. And in terms of what not to do I’d say don’t offer bad theology.

I’ve had well-meaning believers say, oh, God just wanted Matt in heaven. No actually, God allowed this, he didn’t cause it. Oh, Matt’s an angel. Now, seriously, that’s not in scripture that another thing is do not ask questions about how it happened.

Do not ask questions about if we saw [00:40:00] it coming. This is more to satisfy your curiosity, but it’s not a blessing to someone. And if you think I wanna go through and explain to you how this happened and what he did I don’t trust me. And I I love Bne. Brown says, very rarely does the most empathetic statement begin with, at least.

So when you say to me, at least, I had one person say, at least you have two more kids. Oh dear. Oh really? That’s supposed to make me feel better. Now I’m gonna give you grace and say, Hey, you’re trying to say something. You’re trying to, you’re doing the best you can. I didn’t say anything. I was just like, but that didn’t help me.

Kelly: No, it doesn’t help. It just minimizes what you’re going through. I had people use “at least” statements to us when our girls were diagnosed with being profoundly deaf or when they were sick, and it’s not helpful at all. No. But I did exactly what you did. I always offered [00:41:00] grace.

I knew they were well-meaning I’m not gonna hold this against them. They don’t know what to say. It’s okay, I’m gonna forgive them and move on. I’m wondering if there’s anything that you have done or your family has done to honor Matt, and if that’s helped you with the grief.

Wende:  I would say this is another area where you have to give yourself grace. There is no right way to honor someone. And I’ve been in conversations with people and some families have done some big grandiose thing and you can feel very like, Ugh, we didn’t do that, but.

It’s okay. There’s no one right way to do this. And certainly that first year then when you get to what we, I call the heaven date there’s something to be said for just getting through it. Yes, it’s 24 hours. The day passes. You feel some pressure to do something amazing or honoring, and I just let that go.

But what I try to do on heaven dates and birthdays, Is to lean into that grief, [00:42:00] but also gratitude and hope. So I’m gonna feel the grief, but I wanna be grateful that Matt was in our lives and I have certain hope of seeing him again. And so sometimes I’ve done a class or a learning event because Matt loved to learn, or I might buy a book ’cause he loved to read or sometimes let, I’m gonna go eat donuts, ’cause he loved a good donut. And frosted glazed frosted donut. And sometimes we’ve just connected as a family and done something together as a family, depending on what my family wants to do.

We did give a donation to a ministry for special needs children in Nicaragua. ’cause one of my other sons and I had taken a mission trip there and we had served and. We just felt that was honoring to Matt because that was a population that he really had a special connection to. So again, no one right way. I just ask the Lord every year what is it? And sometimes I’ll put a social, a post on social media because [00:43:00] I want to give glory to the fact that God is giving me this hope.

That my life is not defined by what happened to Matt and we’re honoring or remembering him but God is still good.

Kelly: Yeah. Yeah. Those are beautiful ideas. I have a friend who lost her husband to cancer. They’d only been married 25 years, and we both got married out of physical therapy school. But one of the things that they did to honor Rick, and it was beautiful, he was very involved in their church and with the youth group. So they painted his favorite verse on a wall in the youth room

and they made it a prayer wall so people could write their prayer requests. And then if you came along and. You prayed, then you would move the prayer request to the other side of the wall. So that was so special. It’s still there and every time she sees it, it’s just a way to remember that her husband is being honored in the ways he would’ve loved the most.

His favorite verse [00:44:00] was Romans 12, to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Which is exactly what you’ve been talking about as well.

Wende: Yes. I love, oh, I love what they did for him. Yeah. That’s, How honoring and Yes, that is a great verse. I lean into that often.

Kelly: Yeah. I’m wondering if there are any other verses that come to mind that you wanna leave us with or any thoughts?

Wende: This kind of event is the sort of thing that you pray. No parent ever wants to go through it. I even said at the service, this is the club you never wanted to be part of. And yet I would never choose to go through it. But I have gotten to know the Lord at a deeper level, and I have actually experienced more peace.

Because now I [00:45:00] know that I can trust him to be with me no matter what. And again, I wish it hadn’t happened this way, but I just feel like I’ve fallen more in love with him through this journey than I was before.

Thanks for sharing that, Wendy. I so appreciate you being willing to just walk into these deep waters with us. To tell your story, to tell Matt’s story. It’s been a precious time.

Thank you. I just appreciate the conversation and I appreciate what you’re doing for your listeners through this and other conversations like this. So thank you.

Thanks, Wendy. I hope to see you again soon.

Thanks for listening to the Unshakable Hope Podcast.. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please subscribe and leave a review. To continue the conversation and for free resources, be sure to visit me@kellyhall.org. Thanks so much.

Subscribe to the Podcast
  • Apple
  • Spotify
  • Android
  • Email
  • RSS