“Have you checked Facebook today?” Mom’s voice on the phone was low, almost a whisper.
“I don’t usually get on Facebook this early. We’re trying to get ready for church.”
“So you didn’t see what was posted about your dad?”
“Is something wrong?”
“Look on Facebook.”
“All right.” I squeezed the phone between my ear and shoulder, then started typing on the computer. After keying in my password, I clicked on Dad’s Facebook page.
“RIP Johnny” appeared in red. I sucked in my breath. “Is this for real?”
“Keep reading,” Mom urged.
I scrolled down. “All the posts from his friends say my dad died.”
“He lives all by himself. Have you heard anything from him lately?”
“We spoke over the phone on Father’s Day about a week ago.” Tears formed at the corners of my eyes. “Maybe one of Dad’s sisters will know something. I’ll call you back.”
Phone calls were made to family, but no one knew what the posts on Facebook meant. Later a detective called to confirm my worst fear.
On June 30, 2018, my dad took his own life.
Baffled and in shock, I had no idea he was in that much pain.
Only a week before, I had watched A Brave Lament, a short documentary created by my friend Christy Bauman and her husband, Andrew, counselors in Seattle, Washington.
Christy and Andrew experienced the loss of their infant son, named Brave. Their story showed how they regulated their grief through marking moments, creating rituals, and relying on the care of their community.
My husband held me close as we watched the film. We wept together as we remembered our own infant son, Luke, who died shortly after birth.
Little did I know, this film would give me the tools I needed to deal with my dad’s suicide.
A few days after receiving the phone call from the detective, my sister, brother-in-law, and I agreed to go through his personal belongings at his place. Our two aunts and uncle were there to help and offer moral support.
Years earlier, my aunt told me about a white dove that appeared in her yard after my Nona died. On the first anniversary of Nona’s death, the white dove came back.
As I walked along my dad’s driveway, what appeared in front of his place?
A white dove.
I called to everyone inside. “You guys, come out here.”
Together, we witnessed the dove pecking around on the grass. As I clicked pictures, the friendly little dove stayed close and didn’t fly away.
Peace enveloped me as I remembered my aunt’s story and gazed at the dove. I whispered a prayer of thanks to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who comforted me in my grief.
When we talked to some of Dad’s neighbors, I shared the story of the dove. “Does anyone have a pet dove? It seemed so friendly.” The neighbors shook their heads no.
At that moment, the dove swooped down, perched on a nearby roof, and watched us. Goosebumps formed on my arms. The neighbors gasped in disbelief. One woman covered her face and wept.
After returning back home, creativity became grief therapy. I painted stones with my dad’s initials and a cross to give out to the family. I created a video and eulogy for his memorial service. I found a studded wooden chest to house Dad’s ashes.
These marked my moments of grief and prepared me for the ritual to say goodbye, Dad’s Celebration of Life.
What caused the most stress for me? Not being able to agree on where to bury Dad’s ashes. Nothing seemed to be fitting for my unconventional Dad, a rock singer and guitarist. The traditional burial wouldn’t do.
At last, my brother, sister, and I decided to spread Dad’s ashes on the river. He loved fishing, boating, and living near the water.
Although it had rained all week long, on the day of the memorial service, the sky was a clear, brilliant blue. After Dad’s Celebration of Life at the little church where he had frequented, we convened at the river.
Dad’s grandkids climbed on the rocks and threw flowers into the water.
The wind whipped our hair in all directions. There was no way we were going to be able to safely spread Dad’s ashes on the river.
“I can take the ashes on my boat tomorrow,” my uncle, Dad’s older brother offered. “I’ll find a good place for Johnny.”
And so it was. The beach around an island became my dad’s final resting place.
When I remember the care of my mother, the short film on grief, the support of my extended family, the dove, and everything for the memorial coming together so beautifully, I can’t help but be thankful.
Suicide is a terrible thing. In its abruptness, there are so many unanswered questions. Yet, I have peace. I know I’m not alone in this. Christ is with me.
The grace I’ve found in my dad’s suicide is something I wish for everyone touched by death in this way.
Peace is a grace I didn’t know I needed, but it’s a grace crucial for healing.
Grief comes and goes like the perpetual tide at the river’s edge. And in that constant, the message of peace in Christ appears, carried on dove’s wings through the centuries since His death, burial, and resurrection. Until the sunrise of healing comes, we can rest in His peace.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)