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What to do when you are suddenly confronted with news of death?

Jen T.

As someone with a bipolar diagnosis, I do feel very deeply and I used to wonder if that was the problem. I realize that it's okay to feel deeply and even to show the emotions (I mean, Jesus knew he was going to call Lazarus out from the tomb, but He still let Himself feel the sadness of his friend's death and the Bible records that "Jesus wept"). The important thing is not to let the emotions get me down for a prolonged period...and I realize that writing out my thoughts and getting people to pray for me really helps me to work through my emotions and not let them dictate me. Anyway, here's something I wrote when I was suddenly confronted with news that two of my friends had died. It was first written sometime last year but has been modified for this blog.

The first friend was Peter, a newsmaker I had interviewed for a story about locating his family after losing contact for 40 years. After his story got published in the paper, he was reunited with his family and we became friends. He came with me to church a couple times and was present at my farewell party before I left for my studies in Australia. Sadly, he died from heart disease about two months later. I didn¹t know about this until I got a letter from his stepbrother telling me that Peter had fallen while taking a smoke break during breakfast, and just like that, he was gone. I had been printing out my updates every month or so to mail to Peter, as he does not have email ­ that is how his stepbrother got my address.

One of the last times I spoke face to face with Peter was when I prayed for him in church. I had sensed that his Heavenly Father God wanted to welcome him home, if he would invite Jesus into his heart. But Peter felt that he wanted to see if science could answer the questions of life and my pastor encouraged him to attend Alpha course, which explains the Christian faith to non-believers. Peter declined, saying that he needed to sort out some stuff in his life first, and I left it at that, thinking there would be a next time. Tragically, there wasn¹t. I wish I could have told him that science can explain the hows of life (how do we get oxygen to keep us alive?) but it can¹t explain the whys of life (Why are we alive?).

Sad as I was about Peter¹s death ­ I knew that God was comforting me, even through the other thing that came in the mail ­ which was the birthday package from my Singapore church cellgroup. My birthday was in May, so it was very belated, but with Gods timing it was just perfect because the gifts and thoughts on the card cheered me up. I also got a sister from my Brisbane lifegroup to pray for me, as well as my blood sister Jean.

But that was only the first death I was to learn about. After I spoke to my sister on Skype, I decided to look up some friends on Facebook or Google. Maybe I was nostalgic because I suddenly realized that friends can sometimes leave you very suddenly. That¹s how I came across an online article that talked about how a very good friend in university, Sky, had taken his own life in 2007.

I was reeling as I read of how he had been doing really well in his Ph.D (getting published in prestigious journals even before he completed his studies etc.), how he was admired for his humor and compassion, how he would hesitate to kill a fly but yet he killed himself, how no-one realized how low he was feeling, how he had a great relationship with his girlfriend and had talked about marriage. What happened? What went wrong?

The article said he had always been hard on himself, for not postponing school to take care of his mother when she was diagnosed with cancer just before he went to university. A year later, she died and those close to him said he always lived in regret. This could have contributed to his depressed state but in reality, only God knows.

Sky's death hit me hard.

Maybe because we are the same age (Peter was in his 60s) and we worked close together in the environmental activist group where he was elected president and I was vice-president. Maybe because I once liked him and he was the first guy I ever told my feelings to (he didn’t feel the same way but he was so mature about the whole thing that our friendship grew stronger after that). Maybe because I felt guilty that I had not kept in touch and I had not told him about Jesus (during my university days, I had backslided and I hardly talked about faith matters) ­ maybe that could have helped, maybe I will never know.

I asked a few more people to pray for me online because I felt this could potentially cause me to become depressed. They told me to let myself grieve, that Jesus would comfort me. One of them asked me to read Psalm 23. Even as I cried, I sensed Jesus¹ understanding ­ because he who did everything, he can to give us life has his heart utterly broken each time someone chooses death. Also, he didn¹t blame me for failing to tell Sky about him.

It took me a few days to be able to talk about and read more about Sky without crying. The university he was at (Caltech) set up a memorial fund in his name, there is a blog for his friends to share photos and memories of him. Maybe one day I will write an entry, about the times we had spent gathering petitions for environmental causes, about the salmon fish costume we painted and put on to send a message out on the importance of clean water. I remember little things like how his long black trench coat would flap in the wind when he cycled, the way he would dismount even before his bike came to a stop. But I also wish I had more to hold onto, like a recording of his voice, which had a slight raspy quality or a photo of his clunky rain boots, or a video of the way he would pinch his little goatee when he was making a point.

For now, I pray that I will cherish the life that God has given me and the people that he has brought into my life.

To all of you reading this, if you ever, ever, feel like life is not worth living and you want to end it, please, please, give Jesus a chance to come into your heart.

He loves you so much that he went through death on the cross for you even though he lived a perfect sinless life, so that you can be in right standing with God without having to pay the penalty for your sins. This is Grace, the unmerited favor that God has freely given to us, at Jesus¹ expense.

As someone who has gone through several rounds of depression, being diagnosed with having bipolar, I have felt suicidal more than once. By the grace of God, I am still here and I know that His love continues to heal and restore me. He has also placed me within caring communities who play a critical role in my well-being. God has no favorites what he did for me, He wants to do for you too.

Amen.

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