How Do I Conduct A Funeral For A Suicide Victim Who Did Not Know Christ?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,
I have to conduct a service for a man who took his life. There was no evidence of an acknowledgment of Christ. What tips?

Sincerely, Tim

Dear Tim,

Sorry to hear about the suicide—especially for a man who was not a Christian. The hardest suicide funeral I ever did was for a twenty-two-year-old man who blew out his brains with a shotgun in front of his nine-year-old sister. Sister will be traumatized for the rest of her life. Since he left no suicide note, mom and dad and the rest of the family will struggle with so many unanswered questions and will suffer a legacy of guilt: “Why did he do it? If we’d only known his despair, what could we have done to help him before it was too late? What warning signs did we miss?” A no-note suicide is one of the nastiest and harshest things any one can do to their family and friends.

The family didn’t care much about what I was to say during the funeral. The only thing that mattered was that we play the song, “Desperado,” because it was his favorite.

The funeral was incredible. As I rose to speak I saw his wife and baby sitting on the front row to my left. The woman sitting alone on my right was his girlfriend. No wonder he committed suicide.

Suicides are the hardest of all funerals; so, we approach them carefully. We must keep our expectations in line with reality. We cannot fix the situation. We cannot explain the circumstances. Most of the people are so distracted in their own guilt and misery that they won’t hear much of what we say anyway. That is not to say that we can’t bring peace and healing to those in the room.

Let give you a few thoughts that might help as you prepare.

1. The family of an unsaved suicide needs comfort. Let me share several comfort passages that I use again and again: Psalm 23; Psalm 103; 119:76; 2 Corinthians 1:3; and 2 Corinthians 1:4. Focus on understanding their grief. Refrain from encouragement, rationalization and explanation. These don’t matter much at a suicide funeral. Rational explanations and encouragement can come later. Tell them how sorry you feel for them and how much you grieve for their pain.

2. Don’t talk about Heaven or Hell. You don’t want to raise false hopes and you certainly don’t want to pretend he is in heaven when you are fairly certain he did not have a relationship with Christ.

3. Arrange for someone to share several good memories about his life. Humor and funny stories are more than appropriate. Humor can dissipate the strained nerves of a tense situation.

4. In some funerals having an “open microphone” and allowing people from the audience to share special stories can be effective. However, in this case I would refrain from that. The risk is that the wrong people will say the wrong things and embarrass themselves, or more likely, the deceased and/or the family. Instead, arrange for two or three friends or family members to share. Have them write out their comments in advance. This will help to alleviate the problem of people saying whatever comes to mind at the moment and will lessen the chance of someone speaking way too long.

5. It is hard to be evangelistic without sounding insensitive and “preachy”—especially in this case. If you can work the gospel in, do it gently and by all means proceed. This may be the only chance the folks in the audience will ever hear the gospel. Leave a good impression on the folks and you may have a more effective time to share later.

6. Fear of appearing “preachy”  in no way means that we stay away from talking about Jesus. Using the story in John eight of Jesus’ restoration of the woman caught in the act of adultery gives a hopeful sense of picking up the pieces and starting over again. Using Philippians 4:10-13 about the God who pours in the power through Jesus Christ to give victory in every situation can be helpful and appropriate.

7. In most circumstances services for the unsaved who commit suicide don’t need to be long and drawn out. The “shorter the better” is good advice for many things and applies well here. The suffering and guilt in the room are incredible. This is not the time to speculate why he did what he did or attempt to answer questions regarding suicide. Keep this service as short as possible (20 to 30 minutes, including music and songs) is enough.

8. At the end of the service encourage the friends of the family to comfort the survivors in their pain. Tell them that comfort is emotional. It looks like empathy. It consists of words of compassion and care: “I am so sorry;” “I know the pain is incredible;” “I can’t come close to knowing what you are going through. I know it hurts;” “I grieve with you.” Comfort helps to heal hurts.

Tim, I hope that I’ve shared some things that might be of help. May God give you blessing and wisdom as you take part in this funeral

Love Roger

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