“I cannot believe he is gone.” Those words still ring in my ears. They came from parents of a young pre-teen who took his own life. As you would imagine, these parents were beyond being consoled. Their pain was so real and their sorrow was so deep that there was nothing that I or anyone could say that seemed to bring relief. I felt helpless. I did my best to offer comfort before the funeral, during the service and afterward, but I still felt powerless to help them.
Losing a child is unbelievably difficult. Dealing with one who took his or her own life is even more challenging. Every so often, I read an article or a book which resonates with me concerning this most horrific of grief situations. Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, has authored such a book: Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide.
Frank chronicles the painful experiential road of grief that he and his family traveled when his daughter Melissa took her own life a few years ago. I would classify this book as a must read for those who want to help people facing the sorrow of such a loss or who know people with suicidal tendencies. Allow me to summarize why I think the book is a resourceful tool of comfort and encouragement for hurting people.
I. “Melissa” is the story of a troubled soul.
In this sense her name is legion. There are so many people who deal with emotional and mental problems in our spheres of influence. An awareness of their challenges allows us to be of help to them in tangible ways. For this reason, I am pleased that, in the recent meeting of Southern Baptists in Houston, the messengers passed a resolution calling on Southern Baptists to be on the forefront of being helping hands to those struggling with these so often misunderstood problems.
Melissa, the daughter of Frank Page, had all the benefits of care and concern but, like the son of the well-known pastor Rick Warren, the pain of living was so immense that death seemed the only way out of it. If we can help one troubled soul along the way, it will be worth the time and energy on our part. It is all about saving lives. Troubled souls live in every neighborhood and in many families. Their lives are lived on the edge of life and death. The story of Melissa brings this message home to us. As you turn the pages of the book, you can feel the pain of one family seeking to deal with a troubled soul, and you can sense the desperation of that troubled soul.
II. Melissa is a story of a transparent servant.
Frank Page is truly a transparent servant of God. In writing such a book, the temptation might be to try to gloss over the deep valleys and uncomfortable memories of this painful experiential journey, but this is not the spirit of Frank Page. He wanted to tell the whole story in picturesque detail so that others might identify with the Page family and with Melissa. With this approach, Frank has done us all a favor. He has humanized the story of how a young lady comes to the point of seeing death as a way out of pain. He has put faces on the pain families experience when such a death happens.
In the foreword to the book, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee commented that such an experience is not supposed to happen to families like that of Frank Page. Apparently, we often have the idea that some people are immune from tragic suffering such as this kind of sorrow. However, the transparency of Frank Page counters such a notion. He recounts the ups and downs with authentic openness and sheer candor. In effect, he reminds us that suffering is the common denominator in this life we live together.
III. Melissa is a story of the Triumphant Savior.
Frank Page is not preachy in this book. He does not hide the fact that he is a follower of Christ, but his purpose is not to give us a sermon or a series of them. He is not trying to answer the question of why this happened. He does not seek be a theologian or a psychologist. What he is, in fact, is a fellow sufferer and that speaks volumes to the reader.
At the end of each chapter, Frank writes a letter to anyone contemplating taking his or her life. These thoughts are so personal and poignant. You can almost hear his voice of concern pleading with the reader to hang on to hope. Of course, for Frank Page and so many of us, that hope is found in Jesus Christ.
You may have read my blogs online or printed articles in The Alabama Baptist newspaper and noted that I have recommended numerous books through the years. I cannot overstate the importance of having this book available for those individuals who are on the fragile line between life and death. I believe it will also speak comfort into lives of those dealing with the suffering that can come from this kind of unspeakable sorrow. Melissa’s story is one that needs to be read and shared with others. Her story will bring comfort to those in sorrow and give a source of encouragement to those contemplating taking their own lives.