Letter to a church following a suicide

By Dr Richard Morrison

This letter reflects some of the key pastoral care messages which would be useful following a suicide in a Christian community. These are just some of the key messages. Other information such as identifying details would depend on, and need to be worked out in, the individual situation.

This week we have been dramatically confronted with the reality of human suffering, the loss of hope, and ultimately, the loss of life.

We have also been confronted with the fact that such things can and do happen among us, among God’s people.

It is natural and appropriate that we experience strong, even overwhelming emotions about this.

Our emotions are part of how God made us and, among other purposes, allow us to express things which we do not fully understand and for which we cannot find words.

At times like this it is not helpful to try to figure everything out, have an answer for every question, or know all the details. We rest (or try to rest) in our God who does know everything and in the knowledge that God cares about everything that has happened here in ways that are more profound than we can possibly know or speculate.

At times like this the family need our love and support. It may be hard to express but every token of support is valuable. They may also need space to process what they have experienced so please do not intrude or be pushy. If you are in doubt, ask them.

All of us may experience emotional volatility at times like this. We may at one moment feel appropriately positive emotions such as peace and trust, while shortly afterwards feel quite withdrawn, depressed, uncertain or angry. Please don’t judge your own reactions (or those of others) – there is no one right way to navigate these events. Try to notice what you (or others) are experiencing with empathy and understanding.  

These events may raise painful memories of events in your own life or in the lives of those you love. Seeking professional help and talking about your own experiences with people you trust is a healthy thing.

No one should feel judged, shunned or shamed in circumstances such as these. We know that our world is not currently as God intends it to be. We look forward to the time when Jesus will make all things new and remove all that is worthy of condemnation. In the meantime we work to combat evil, to overcome injustice, to fight hate with love, and to bind up the wounds of those who have suffered so much.

Richard has also offered some practical ideas for pastorally caring for those touched by suicide here.

Click here for more ideas and information on suicide prevention, put together by the Mental Health and Pastoral Care Institute.

Richard was a Baptist minister for over 20 years, is a counsellor in private practice and an independent supervisor of pastors and clergy. His work experience has also included cross-cultural work, community development, suicide prevention, disability service assurance and government funding in the not-for-profit sector. His PhD is in the mental health of men who retire early.

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