This book is not an easy one to recommend, but it is an important and beautifully written tool for anyone who is in the process of grief, whether from suicide or not. Al Hsu writes from the persepctive of one of those left behind – his Father took his own life – and with a heart for all affected by this painful reality.
He writes: “death seems to me an intruder. When suicide strikes, death does not feel like a friend. It feels like a terrorist who has cut down an innocent bystander. And a suicide death feels like the worst trickery: death has enticed someone into willingly entering into it. In the case of suicide, death is a deciever, a manipulator, the wrost of adversaries“. Shot through Al’s writing is what I would call a hopeful pain – painful, because in his father’s death he has tasted tragedy, hopeful, because that is not all that this book is about.
Ultimately, though, Grieving a Suicide is a book that engages with that age old question of the problem of suffering: “Where is God when it hurts? He is with us when life seems darkest, when we feel most hopeless, when he seems most distant. At these times God draws closest to us in unexpected and mysterious ways. Our grief journey may be much like that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In our grief and loss, Jesus comes alongside us. He is not intrusive, but he is available to break bread with us and rekindle our hope“.
The book is divided into three parts – broadly equal in length, but quite different in feel. Part 1, where Al recoutns his own story, is about ‘When Suicide Strikes’, which unpacks the reality of grief. Part 2, ‘The Lingering Questions’ engages the difficult questions – including a robust engagement with the question ‘is suicide the unforgiveable sin?’. Short answer? No, it isn’t. The third part, ‘Life After Suicide’ is a powerful section. In particular, Al draws on church history to provide a challenge to the contemporary, Western church in particular:
“For them, suffering was part of living in a fallen, imperfect world. They did not try to understand evil; rather, they opposed it. Pain and suffering come from evil spiritual beings and forces, not some mysterious good purposes of God. Furthermore, modern Christians in the industrialized world tend to assume that ‘normal’ means a life without pain, grief, loss, or suffering. As one commentator observes, ‘Some modern presentations of the gospel leave little room for suffering as an aspect of the Christian life.” Western Christians are conditioned to “regard most suffering as an intrusion on the tranquil life that they feel is their God-given due.” Pain is seen as a probelm to be fixed. When we have a headache, we take a pain reliever. When we are sick, we got to the doctor and get an antibiotic. The relative ease with which we eliminate many physial hurts lulls us into believing that pain is merely a temporary blip until we can find a quick cure. But most people throughout human history would consider this an unheard-of state of affairs. In centuries past and around the globe yet today, millions of people live and die without the expectation of easily medical care. Disease, famine, and poverty are the default position. If you lack clean water or adequate food on a daily basis, suffering is not an aberration to be quickly remedied. Because death is no stranger, suffering is simply taken for granted”.
This is a book for the real world. “we are never fully ‘healed’… God has always been a God of paradox and reversal. The last shall be first. Life comes out of death. Our encounter with suicide and despair can lead us to comfort and hope.” And this is the note that this superb book ends on. Hope. Through the pain, hope can come. “Even though suicide is a tragedy, God gives us hope and a reason to live. Someday we will see a new heaven and a new earth, where death is swallowed up in victory and we shall never grieve again“.
I heartily recommend this book. Particularly to those reeling from the loss of a loved one to suicide and for those involved in caring for them. Yet this is a book that is well worth reading for those who do not fall into the target readership. This is a profound book about grief and hope. Writing this review in the midst of the 2020 COVID19 pandemic, I was struck that this book is a perfect book for our times. If you, or anyone you know, is encountering grief, then this book is a valuable tool.