Don't Tell Them Their Loved One Went to Hell

Yes. Someone said that to us. And we survived that, too. Here's what happened:

Word traveled fast after Dad's body was found. Family and friends came from far and wide to attend Dad's funeral. My parents' house was full of people bringing food and paying their respects. It was a revolving door sending people into our arms to hold us, cry with us, pray with us, grieve with us, and some were sent to teach us. Some taught us what we wanted to be like. Others taught us that 'hand, foot, mouth' isn't just a virus that toddlers catch in the church nursery - it's something we're all capable of having if we open mouth, insert foot, then frantically throw our hand over our mouth in disbelief that our mouth just said that. My Mom's beloved family member (who I will not name in order to save this person from being tarred & feathered at our next family reunion) caught 'hand, foot, mouth' a couple of days before the funeral. Poor thing. Seriously, you shoulda seen it. It would have been sad & tragic had it not been so stinking funny. (DISCLAIMER: We have a warped sense of humor.)  
Mom was standing in the living room with a crowd of people hugging her as they left food on the table and headed back out. Mom says to the people around her, who are crying and sharing sweet, kind stories about Jerry Don, "I'm just so thankful that we'll see him again. I know he's finally well. He's healed. This isn't what we wanted when we prayed for God to heal him, but this is God's healing. And today Jerry is healed. And he's with his Heavenly Father." At this moment everything went into slow motion as the said family member jumped into the circle of people, grabbed Mom by the shoulders and yelled into her face, "No, Linda! You won't see him again. He killed himself! He's in hell!" 
My Mom's colorless face drained more color and then it turned red. In. An. Instant. I mean, red

Even in 2005, the word "suicide" was surrounded by taboo. Mom, Jenni and I had to rethink everything our culture (in the South) had taught us about suicide versus what we knew and believed to be true, based on God's Word. Thankfully, there were tons of friends and family whispering the truth of God's love into our ears. And they were lovingly reminding us of Dad's faith. Because when someone kills himself, you not only question God, you question who the person was and you question what they believed.  I knew that despite my Dad's choices at the end of his life, he was a man who loved God. He was a man who had a relationship with Jesus. He was the man who taught me how to read my Bible, how to teach it and how to pray. He taught me to go to church and serve the body of Christ faithfully. I knew that I knew that my Dad was a believer. But the questions that rise following a suicide are in some ways fair. Survivors need to wrestle with what they believe and why they believe it. And though the questions might be fair, they are nonetheless difficult. 

Questions like:

"Would a believer who loved and knew of Christ's forgiveness/love/the cross, could that person plummet to the depths of despair so profoundly that they felt like the only way 'out' was death?" Uh, heavens yes. 

"If you love God and you have the Holy Spirit inside your being, can you ignore Him and run away to the lengths of alcoholism and pointing a gun at yourself?" Uh, heavens yes. 

"If you kill yourself, are you doomed to eternity in hell?" Uh, hell no. 

But some people believe that your fate is sealed eternally if you 'commit suicide.' Some people are taught this in their religion, in their churches or in their families. And some people get 'hand, foot, mouth' and decide to share their beliefs. 

So what did my Mom do?

Well, she didn't throw the family member out of our house. She didn't cuss out the family member, shaming him/her in front of other people throwing them out on the front lawn (like the true hillbillies that we are). She didn't slap him/her across the face with Daytime-Emmy-Award-Winning-Susan Lucci-drama. Instead, my godly, sweet, forgiving Mama, used the moment to teach someone old something new. She told the well-intentioned family member that God's forgiveness is not based on human performance. She explained that the only "unpardonable" sin is not receiving Christ. She told her that Jerry, her beloved husband of 25 years, was indeed a believer in Christ. And she assured the family member that he was in heaven and we would see him again. 

And what did the family member do?

The person looked shocked and said, "No one ever told me that before. I didn't know!"

Use moments, even difficult, painful moments, to teach others. Maybe the person who has offended you has 'hand, foot, mouth' because they really don't know any different. 
Teach them. In Truth. In Love. 

The world offers enough hell. Give 'em heaven. 

Keep going. 


Jessica Phillips

Jessica is worshiper and follower of Jesus. He rescued her heart at age 6 but he rescued her calling, purpose and direction in her early 20's. Everyday God is still writing Jessica's story. It involves her husband, Brad, her daughter, Emery, their extended families. But the story is a tale of loss of life and dark grief. And the story ebs and weaves and the grief story is followed by weddings and laughter. And what comes next? A Baby! God sends us a baby to shape and teach and grow right in the midst of our loss and realizing that life actually moves forward. We didn't think it would again after he died. But life just did what it was supposed to do...and it went on. And hope is born again. Everything I write is based on this fact: I'm God's child, I'm alive today. So what do You want me to do for You? Because I want my contribution to matter. I want to leave a legacy.