Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Gone Too Soon

My world shook last week.

One morning, I received an email:  “I thought you should know that Jack Handy (name changed) committed suicide yesterday.”  

Inwardly I groaned.  Outwardly I cried – not the kind of tears you shed at a sweet moment in a movie and secretly hope your wife and children did not see you.  I wept and sobbed.

Jack was one of my first friends at Presbyterian College my freshman year.  Like many students, we had lots of fun.  Remembering Jack makes me recall laughter, enthusiasm, silly times, and lots of good food.  We also shared meaningful moments, like meeting in his Bailey Dorm room late at night with one or two friends, sharing Bible verses, encouraging each other, and ending the day by getting on our knees and praying for each other by name.

Through the years, I discovered you don’t have a host of people who will get on their knees with you and pray for you by name.  The bond you feel with those folks never really ends.  It just gets buried sometimes.

One Saturday, I, Jack and another friend decided to go camping in the late fall.  Like fools, or freshmen, we took sleeping bags but no tent.  That night upstate South Carolina enjoyed her first freeze of the season.  After a chilly night, our other friend had burn marks on his sleeping bag from staying so close to the campfire.

Before we left college, Jack began struggling with depression and a mental disorder.  This bright, energetic, respected young man started a long journey with internal struggles.  His friends prayed for him.  Numerous ones spent hours talking with him, listening, and offering encouragement.

Graduation came, and we took different paths.  I attended his wedding about fifteen years ago.  It was fantastic to see him so happy that day.

Life moved on and so did we, not staying in touch well.  He graduated from medical school.  I heard through the years that he and his wife had two boys. 

The email stated, “He struggled for a long time with depression and a mental disorder, and he finally took his life.”  

Suddenly, memories, conversations, and experiences buried under more than twenty years of life unearthed.  I remembered the feel of his handshake, the glitter in his eye when he smiled, and the bright, winsome spirit.

Questions plagued me.  “When was the last time I prayed for him?  What if I had reached out to him?”  Then came the reality that the time for such things was over.

At his funeral, the pastor rightly declared, “Jack is now free from his struggle.”  Yes indeed.  I think that in eternity, free from the shackles of this earth, the best qualities of our lives, personalities, and spirits are free to soar.  

Jack knew Christ.  He trusted Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of his sins.  He invited Christ to be his Lord, indwelling him.  I know today nothing – not even suicide – is able to snatch Jack out of Christ’s hand (John 10:27).

I rejoice that Jack is free from his pain.  I grieve for the wife, sons, and parents he leaves behind.  And I wish I had called him the last several years and told him I loved, missed, and respected him, and asked him, “How can I pray for you, old friend?”

Some opportunities slip through our hands.  

Thank God that no one can snatch us out of His.

Author’s Note: A good resource to offer people struggling with the aftermath of suicide is Frank Page’s Melissa:A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide.


  1. Thanks for this article, Rhett. Our Jack was indeed a gift of a person. I too hurt for ours and his family's loss. My perspective may be a bit different. I wish he had not rejected my friendship out of hand so long ago. I am still puzzled by that. I had often wished to catch up with him, meet his family, and enjoy his friendship. Perhaps one day it can be renewed in the Kingdom.

  2. Rhett,

    I sometimes reflect back on our years at PC and the crew of friends that God used to change the course of my life.

    The nature of the college experience seems to act as both incubator and anvil for relationships. Young men and women have the privilege of developing gifts and talents alongside other students in an atmosphere that serves as the transition place between "home" and the "real world."

    For a brief season, I was blessed to share life with some incredible people, like Jack Handy. I forged friendships that shaped who I am. While I would never ask to relive my PC experience, I do wish that I would have maintained a connection to a handful of people from that wonderful season of my life.

    Your post is beautifully written. Last Sunday my sermon series led me to breach the subject of how Christians can respond to mental illness. I have more questions than answers as to how we can bless the Jack Handy's of the world; however, I believe that God-honoring relationships are a vital part of the process.