By Andy Briggs
“Andy, you need to wake up and come to Molly’s room.” My eyes opened slowly and looked at the bedside clock. The time read 6:03 a.m. It was Saturday morning and I had gotten to bed late the night before after a long day of skiing with my two sisters. Immediately annoyed that my dad was waking me so early, it took a moment to catch the urgency in his voice. As his tone began to register, my annoyance turned to concern. I threw the covers off and headed quickly down the hallway to my sister’s room, fighting a sense of dread. Had something happened to one of my grandparents? Maybe a stroke or a heart attack?
“This is not good,” I said to myself as I got to my sister’s room and saw my mom crying. Then my dad uttered a sentence that I will never forget, one that would start me on a journey for which no sixteen-year-old is ever prepared: “Danny died last night.” My body’s entire blood supply seemed to flow out of my feet, and my head pounded out the echo of my dad’s words.
Danny was my 17-year-old cousin and my best friend. He was the brother I never had. He was the one with whom I shared my struggles, who knew my sin issues, and who prayed with me about them. We had plans. Plans to live near to each other so our families would be close. Our wives and children would be best friends. We would have a business together and would maybe even one day pastor a church together. He was the best of friends.
In the seconds that followed, I steadied myself on a dresser and choked out, “How?” My dad’s voice was low and steady, “He hung himself.” Processing this information was impossible in the moment. To myself I said, “This is absurd. He would have told me something was wrong!”
We quickly packed and got in the car for the five-and-a-half-hour drive to Watertown, Wisconsin where Danny and his family lived. It was on the drive to Watertown that I recalled a late-night conversation I had with Danny just the weekend before when our families were together to celebrate the new year. He asked me what I thought about people who committed suicide. I told him I thought they were cowards and that they were despicable people for not thinking about those who loved them. He wholeheartedly agreed with me and we moved on to another topic. As I recalled that conversation, extreme guilt overcame me. If I had said something else, would he still have done this? If I had told someone about the conversation, could they have prevented it? In the moment it seemed like an innocent conversation, but in light of what happened, I understood Danny was clearly seeking help. He was searching for a way out of where he was going, and I was convinced I had let him down.
We buried Danny on a crisp, sunny Monday morning in January and started the process of tending to shattered hearts. I was angry, sad, and hurt. I felt guilty. It was unfair that time kept moving. I wanted time to stand still, yet the sun continued to rise and set while my heart remained in a thousand pieces.
It was during this awful time that God, in his grace and kindness, made Himself real to me. He let me know He loved me and that He was where comfort was found. He wrapped his loving arms around me by giving me conversations with other believers, hugs from people I didn’t even know well, and a pastor who loved and shepherded me by listening to me instead of trying to give advice on how to move on. I will always cherish the memory of arriving at church the Sunday after Danny’s funeral and, upon seeing me walk in, having our pastor excuse himself from a conversation he was having and come over and embrace me. As I fought back tears, he told me he was there to listen if I needed to talk and he followed through on that promise. What a picture of a genuinely loving shepherd! God in his grace showered me with love from people, even people I didn’t know well, who helped heal the wound of losing a best friend.
Suicide is an ugly and terrible thing and yet it happens to Christian families in the church.
My prayer in this article is for you to see that God is sovereign over even the ugly and terrible things. God did not despair when Danny took his life and His call to me was to not despair as well. Romans 8:28 also applies to suicide. I may not see it in this lifetime, but I trust that God will and has worked out Danny’s death for my good, for Danny’s family’s good, and for Danny’s good—even despite the way his death was carried out. I believe that Danny loved the Lord and that I will see him again one day. I believe that Romans 8:35-39 applies to Danny as well for nothing can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. It was these verses along with Corinthians 4:8-10 and several others that God showed me to encourage me through the healing process.
I am who I am today because of what God brought me through in Danny’s death. God faithfully loved me and comforted me and shined a beacon of hope in the darkness of hopelessness. It is by God’s grace that I look back on those dark days and am able to say, “It is well with my soul!”