As I sat down to watch Night At The Museum, I had forgotten that this was Robin Williams’ final project before the darkness overtook him and he took his own life. It was jarring to see him ride in on his horse as President Roosevelt, and my heart sank as I realized once more that we would never be graced with fresh laughter or his caliber of humor or artistry on the silver screen. What’s really sad, however, is the thought that he felt so alone and lived in a such a dark place that he felt the only escape from his pain was to take his life. That’s the true tragedy of losing such a bright star. I lost a dearly close friend 2 1/2 years ago to suicide, and seeing Mr Williams hit a nerve. I miss my friend often, and it’s agonizing to consider that someone I loved was living in such darkness, that he had somehow become detached from the life-giving source of Love that could have saved him. Sitting in that theater today I realized that I learned two monumental life lessons when I lost my friend: (1) Love is paramount to the human experience and (2) Grief is a unique journey for everyone — no one can dictate or predict how grief will affect you.
Humanity was created to thrive on Love, because God is Love and we were created in His image and likeness. Apart from Love, we are just shadows of the fullness we can experience. Why do you think we sing about it, write about it, make movies about it, and daydream about it? Love is at the very heart of the abundant life that God wants for us. It is His trademark, as Dr Tony Evans puts it. His children are known by the love they show one another. Love is life-changing, life-giving, and life-empowering. We must make sure that we are loving one another as Christ loved us. It really is true that being loving is sometimes far more important than being right. No one is going to be open to seeing your side of you are not relating to them in love. And the most tangible way people will experience and embrace God’s love is through their relational experiences with His disciples. People who commit suicide somehow never personally experience that love. They become isolated and convinced that they are either beyond love’s reach or unlovable altogether. But neither could be further from the truth. Mental illness and depression are very real struggles that people face everyday, and it is tragic that the church has not extended compassion to those who struggle with these very real issues. We must learn to be more sensitive to this and come alongside people who deal with mental health challenges.
Grief — it’s something that we all experience at some point in our lifetime, mostly because death is inevitable. But how you lose someone and why you lose someone is often what sets the tone for your grief. How close you were to them, what they meant to you and what impact they had on your life shape your personal response to someone you care about. But each person’s grief journey is different. Yes, they all talk about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But they don’t tell you that the order is fluid. And no two people experience grief in the same order or at the same pace. No one can tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve. But it is important to embrace the grief process. You can’t hide from grief. You can’t run from grief. It’s not something you can avoid or skip over. It’s not easy or pleasant. And it doesn’t really end. Grief is something that you learn to live with. It permanently changes who you are and how you approach the world around you, for better or for worse. Embracing your grief process increases your chances of becoming better and not bitter. Above all, honor your grief process and be honest with yourself about where you are and how you feel.