I do not have a son who committed suicide, but many years in pastoral ministry and many more years of just plain living have imprinted on my mind and heart the need for greatly increased sensitivity in relationships and interactions with people who have suffered terrible loss. Kay Warren, wife of pastor Rick Warren, writes in the new Christianity Today Newsletter of “friends” who send them the same jolly Christmas cards that they always send, full of their children’s and grandchildren’s pictures and doings. Her article is really impressive, written out of raw pain and yet controlled and well-expressed. There is much to be learned from it. It is entitled “Stop Sending Cheery Christmas Cards,” with the subheading, “When you don’t mention our son’s tragic death, it only hurts more.”
I think Mrs. Warren has done a courageous service for us all. There is a widespread and fallacious notion that one should not mention the name or the death of a child or other greatly loved person. A friend of mine whose son was killed in an accident in his early 20s often spoke to me of the hurt she felt that so few of her friends ever mentioned it. It was as though her son had never been born. Another friend mused that people probably thought that mentioning her lost daughter would “remind her”–“as if I would forget her!” she exclaimed indignantly.
Here is the first page of Mrs. Warren’s piece: there is much more as the article continues.
When I opened the first batch of cards, shock washed over me. Photos of beautiful, happy, intact families cascaded onto my kitchen table. Most were accompanied by a greeting wishing me a joyous Christmas. Some had a signature and the message, “Hope you have a great Christmas.” Others included a standard family newsletter, listing the accomplishments, vacations, and delightful family moments that had filled their year. I grew astonished, then angry, as I realized that none of the cards mentioned that our precious Matthew had died violently six months earlier, leaving us definitely not having a joyous Christmas.