Some communities may feel a need to express their grief by suggesting a permanent memorial, internet social media site or dedication of an event. It is often difficult for loved ones to understand why such public memorials are not a good idea when people who die in other ways are often memorialised. However, constant reminders, glorification, or glamorisation of a suicide death might have the effect of making it seem attractive to others.
Alternatives to permanent memorials include activity-based memorials such as fundraising or volunteering for a suicide prevention or mental support group. You may be asked to lead remembrance services offering hope and support to those who have lost loved ones.
This type of memorial can be helpful as long as affected families are consulted and when the organisers are able to provide support before and after the service. In remembrance services it is better to keep personal expressions of grief (such as letters and poems) private as public performances may create a climate that glorifies the method of death and may increase thoughts of suicide in others.
A suicide within your church will result in you being asked to answer the theological questions raised by the surviving family members and the wider church community.
The perspectives held by many churches have developed over recent years to reflect today’s more complete understanding of the complexities of suicide. Members of the clergy now have an opportunity to bring comfort to people bereaved by suicide by framing informed responses with sensitivity, compassion, grace and love.
The Flourish! Training Pathway includes a module on ‘Faith and Mental Health’ for exploring the relationship between theological understandings of suicide, mental health and pastoral support. This includes considering your church’s theological understanding and approach to suicide, mental health and pastoral support and preparing a church response to a suicide death.
Support and Care for People Bereaved by Suicide
There are a variety of ways in which a church can be a source of love and grace for the grieving by:
Recognising the unique challenges in grieving the loss of a loved one from suicide.
Reaching out to draw people bereaved by suicide into the normal activities of the church.
Supporting people bereaved by suicide with the same gestures of kindness that are extended to others who have deaths in the family (e.g. preparing a meal).
Talking with people bereaved by suicide about the deceased person in the same sensitive way you would about any other person who has recently died.
Encouraging them to seek specialised support in their grieving process, either through support groups for people bereaved by suicide or by seeking professional grief counselling with a therapist experienced with people bereaved by suicide .
The Flourish Initiative is enabling churches to develop and share worship resources which relate to emotional and mental well-being and suicide bereavement.
Here are some Bible passages you may wish to use in services, sermons or prayers to comfort those who are grieving.
Psalm 46:1-3 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
Psalm 57:1 “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.”
Psalm 139: 7-12 “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascent to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
Jeremiah 29:11 “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
Isaiah 40:28-31 “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings of eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 41:10 “…do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
Isaiah 43: 1-2 “Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Luke 6:20-22 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
1 John 4:16b, 18a “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in the. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
Romans 8:38, 39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
1 Corinthians 12:24-26 “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”
Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.”
Colossians 1:11-14 “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Romans 8:24-26 “In hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
Hebrews 13:5 “…God has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Responsive Prayer of Supplication
Here is an example of a prayer that you may wish to use or adapt to use in a service of worship.
Leader: Heavenly Father, we pray for those who are suffering.
People: Give us the wisdom to know what we can do to comfort them and be with us as we attempt to do so.
Leader: Today, we especially ask that you be with those who are in despair, those who feel hopeless and those living with a mental illness. Help them to have faith that you are with them even in their most difficult times.
People: Guide us as we show them love and compassion.
Leader: Grant us the courage and wisdom to help remove the stigma of mental illness from those who suffer.
People: Give us understanding and openness that we might reach out in love to persons who are ill and their families.
Leader: Lord, bless us with Your enabling love. Heal our brokenness that we may be true signs of that love. As you send us, your servants, out from this place, be our constant companion. Guide us in our efforts to better serve our neighbours, those with mental illness and their loved ones. Help us to share the life-giving power of Your love that those in need may experience your steadfast love. In our hearts we silently promise to be true signs of Your love for those with a mental illness among us and their families.
All: Bless, guide and heal us. We pray in the name of Jesus, who has shown us the way. Amen.