Listen as a mother shares her journey through grief after her daughter commits suicide. God inspires her how to help others even as she is healing herself.
Rebecca Christians: Healing and Fulfilling a Vow to God
Rebecca has lived in Milwaukee, Colorado, Illinois, Montana, Arizona and Arkansas. She has worked doing many things from gas station attendant to hospital work. She went to nursing school and was a paraprofessional in an autism classroom, which is where I met her when she worked with my boys. Now she is a rancher. Rebecca has three children, three step-children, and nine grandchildren. She’s been married to the love of her earthly life, Steve, for the last 15 years. He has been her hero in many ways. In her spare time, Rebecca likes to knit, crochet, spend time with her horses and read. Her passion is Jesus and serving the Lord.
Back in 2002 Rebecca’s daughter, Autumn, struggled with anxiety and depression. Rebecca found out later Amber had kept a journal and it got into the wrong hands at school and got passed around. This brought on bullying. In addition to this, Amber was also struggling with her sexuality. Unfortunately no one ever approached Rebecca to tell her about this until after she had lost her daughter.
Rebecca was working full time at the hospital and going to nursing school. Rebecca confesses she was an unintentional neglectful parent. She did get Autumn counseling and she wanted to get her into a mental health hospital but they were full.
The day before, Rebecca came home from work really tired and she vividly remembers Autumn telling her she loved her. Rebecca then went to bed and left the next morning for work.
She got a phone call from her oldest daughter who found Autumn dead and was absolutely hysterical. Rebecca turned around and came home to paramedics, ambulances, and police officers. A friend had come over and gotten her son and daughter.
Rebecca remembers being confused and totally in denial. The officials wouldn’t let her in the house.
Autumn was a Born Again Christian and had been baptized. Her pastor showed up and she went running up to him and grabbed him by the lapels and said, “Please tell me Autumn is in heaven.” He didn’t have an answer for her.
Rebecca had just arrived and the funeral home showed up and wanted her to start making decisions–and yet she still wasn’t even computing everything that had just happened.
The paramedics came up to her and said, “We can’t do anything for your daughter. Can we do something for you?” Rebecca said she was so confused and kept thinking, “What do you mean? Where is my child?” It almost felt like she was living in a dream.
Rebecca feels like she couldn’t even process what was going on, and she couldn’t cry.
The paramedics finally wheeled Autumn down the hall and they stopped so Rebecca could see her. Rebecca said it looked like she was sleeping. Then Rebecca began crying. Autumn was wheeled out and she was gone.
Rebecca was left sitting on the couch with these other people who were crying and grieving. She still didn’t understand what is going on.
Her former pastor’s wife called to tell her how sorry she was. Rebecca remembers telling her, “God could have stopped her and He didn’t. So I have to figure out what to do with this.”
That was the day Rebecca felt her life ended. This started a whole new season where she just wasn’t sure what to do. She had questions for God and questions about Autumn.
The First Lesson
That very day of Autumn’s suicide Rebecca learned her first lesson: her shoulder’s weren’t big enough to carry the burden. She needed God. Rebecca didn’t have the answers but to why He didn’t stop it. She trusted God knew what he was doing even though she didn’t–she still had to trust.
She never asked “Why?”
They had the viewing and the service, which was weird. Rebecca feels kind of like she was standing outside of her body as people filed by. It was exhausting. At the service Rebecca sang “At the Garden” because it was one of Autumn’s favorite songs. Rebecca says that was a “Holy Ghost moment” because she couldn’t have ever sung it on her own steam–EVER!
Rebecca just clung to God and said over and over, “You just have to carry me through this.”
The Question and Answer
The only question Rebecca ever asked was after everyone had gone home. Rebecca remembers standing in the shower sobbing and she told God, “I have to know you that you have my child. I need to know without a doubt that Autumn is sitting at the feet of Jesus.” After that prayer, Rebecca describes a “wave of calm” which came over her. She asked God for a sign.
There was this ring Rebecca wanted Autumn to be buried in, but she couldn’t find it. She had looked everywhere for it, and she had others look for it–especially in her jewelry box, but no one could find it. After Rebecca’s prayer she felt prompted to go look in the jewelry box one more time–and the ring was there.
The reason Autumn didn’t wear the ring is because it had broken. But when Rebecca found the ring it wasn’t broken anymore. This was God’s sign and confirmation to a grieving mother’s heart.
From that point on Rebecca felt such a relief knowing God had Autumn and she didn’t have to be sad, bullied, or hopeless anymore. She knew Autumn was safe.
The hardest thing about losing someone you love to suicide is knowing they made that choice and you never got to say goodbye. You’re never going to see them again. But that confirmation she got from God gave her a little bit of hope that someday she will see her again, but it was hard to be left behind.
The next period of Rebecca’s life was extremely difficult. She feels like she just didn’t participate in life. She couldn’t go to the end of her house where her daughter died. Rebecca dropped out of nursing school because she couldn’t work very well. She didn’t go to counseling.
About 6 months after Autumn died, Rebecca was at the hospital at work and she went down to lunch and she began to cry. She went up to the break room and kept crying. The lead nurse came in and asked her what was wrong and Rebecca told her that she just couldn’t stop crying and had a complete breakdown.
Rebecca ended up being hospitalized for a week on her nursing floor and then she was transferred to the same mental health unit she tried to get her daughter into when she was struggling. She stayed there for about a month. It was a good place for her to be at the time but it was hard.
Once she was out, she went to a psychiatrist. She was on a lot of medication and kind of felt like a Zombie. She stopped parenting and she stopped doing a lot of things.
A Friend and Partner
A little while later she was at the grocery store because she had to get some food for her son and she saw Steve, who later became her husband. They had been friends for 8 years, and she tried to avoid him because she hadn’t showered in a week and had gained a lot of weight due to the medication, but he waited for her. He went to give her a hug and she fell into him. They dated for 5 months and got married.
Rebecca feels like God sent Steve to pull her out of the blackness.
Rebecca never lost hope that:
a. She would see Autumn again
b. God was going to do something with this
c. He would tell Rebecca what to do with this
Things That Helped
Journaling, Scriptures and Prayer
She journaled and journaled and prayed to Jesus. She always ended with, “Please give my Autumn a hug and a kiss for me and tell her I miss her.”
In all her journaling to Jesus, she feels she was able to lean into the Lord and He met her on those pages. There is just something about journaling and getting it all out helps us start the healing process. Even through all of her PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) nightmares, Jesus would meet her in the morning and tell her “I’ve got you.”
Rebecca really had to lean and press into the Lord. She would hold her Bible to her heart and she could feel God as she pressed it to her chest.
Journaling was a purging of the dark things from which God wants to rescue us. “He is the ultimate healer. He may bring you people who will assist you in healing, but ultimately without Him you will just swirl the drain.” Healing takes time.
Serving and Helping Others
Three years after Autumn died, Rebecca began working in the autism classroom. She found a lot of healing working with those sweet kiddos. Working with these innocent kids showed her that Christ does amazing things. This time period was also God’s way of preparing Rebecca for what He was going to call her to do.
The Vow & God’s Idea
At Autumn’s Memorial service Rebecca made a solemn vow to everyone that she was going to find something that would bring glory to the Lord and honor Autumn–that her death would not be for nothing.
On one of her days off work Rebecca began listening to a CD a lady at church had given her. Within 5 minutes of beginning to listen Rebecca was sitting on her couch bawling and she “heard the Hallelujah Chorus in her head.”
The CD was about a woman in Oregon who started Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch with rescued horses who they pair with youth at risk, special needs kids, or those with mental health issues in their community. Rebecca knew she was supposed to do this, but she thought, “I can’t do that. What are you thinking, Lord?”
So she went to church and told her congregation about what she felt she was called to do and how she needed a certain amount of money to go out to an information clinic the next month. The very next day a couple from her congregation approached her with an envelope and all but $110 of the money she needed.
She found out at the information clinic, “If God calls you, He will equip you.” Mind you, Rebecca was still a broken person–afraid of her own shadow who struggled with anxiety. Years later a friend from Crystal Peaks gave her a ring she wears today which says, “If God calls you to it, He will bring you through it.”
God will always give you something that will stretch you and make you grow and ultimately bring Him glory. Running a non-profit and working in ministry is fun, exhilarating, and exhausting! It brings you to your knees–it’s humbling and healing.
So after seven years of praying, God breathed into being Autumn’s ReRide Youth Ranch. Rebecca is in her 10th year of having this ranch serve her community in Northwest Arkansas and it has grown exponentially. They have 19 horses, 4 sheep, and too many chickens.
Working with the children who come to the Ranch, Rebecca sees Autumn’s face in theirs, she hears her voice as she talks to them. But more importantly she is able to share the hope of Christ.
After 10 years of running the ranch, Rebecca has realized that for the past two years she has begun to struggle again. Her PTSD has never gone away. For her the healing hasn’t come completely, but it has gotten different. It is a new normal for her.
It is important to realize it is going to take time as you go through different phases of healing. Rebecca knew she needed more help when she realized she wasn’t feeling or hearing God as close as she used to. She went back on medication a year ago.
1. Listen to your body if you have been through any kind of trauma.
2. Mental and emotional challenges aren’t weaknesses, they are broken things.
3. You can go through counseling several times when you need it at different points of your life.
4. Find your safe place (hers is the ranch).
5. Although God could heal these issues quickly, He also works through others to help you heal.
Rebecca fluxuates between praying between praying that God will take the brokenness from her and praying He won’t take it from her so she can be compassionate and understanding.
She now does counseling online through video chat sessions with her therapist and she spends most of each session crying and unloading all of the things she thought she had dealt with but never really faced. Her hope is growing bolder again as she goes through therapy. Rebecca is grateful God has given counselors the ability to help people who are broken.
Rebecca got an email from her insurance company telling her about this online service for behavioral health. The email was very timely because she didn’t want to go into a counselor’s office where they would ask her about her day. “My day is fine. My life is broken,” Rebecca laughingly commented.
It has been hard to get over the stigma of needing help, but self care is so important no matter the situation: special needs, cancer, suicide, etc. You are going to need Jesus as a spiritual helper but also a human helper to get us through trauma.
Advice: Don’t tell people they are depressed because of some unresolved sin in their life. That is ridiculous! The reason people are depressed is because the chemicals in their brain are broken or missing.
Rebecca had a hard time realizing she would have to be on medication the rest of her life because of this imbalance, but she figured the Lord wants us to be happy and the medication helps her feel more balanced and happy. We shouldn’t fight medication and counseling. They are there to help us heal and feel happy.
God helped the counselor learn to be compassionate, God made the guy who developed your medication. Just be careful and prayerful about what is right for you.
The Grief Timeline
Autumn has now been gone for 17 years, which means she has been gone for longer than she was alive. Rebecca still grieves and although her grief has evolved over the years. Rebecca notes the important key is to pay attention to where you are with grief. If you are in trouble, get help! You can get stuck to where you never move again, and if you are stuck you may need help getting unstuck and moving on to a different place in grief.
Rebecca had to tell herself it was okay for her to have joy again. She had to give herself permission to smile and laugh again. “God gave you those smile muscles, use them!”
Favorite Bible Verses
Rebecca feels that she lived in the Book of Psalm forever! That was her favorite place to read.
Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
Power of Visualization
This was a big scripture for Rebecca because she felt pretty weary and faint. Rebecca would hold her Bible and play a movie of this verse in her mind. She imagined God giving her wings to rise with strength, courage, bravery, hope and healing. She waited 7 years for God to tell her His plan. He renewed her strength each day. Using this visualization helped her make it a day at a time. Start with baby steps and until you have a “great big eagle” you are flying with.
Psalm 91 (KJV)
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.
Rebecca identifies with this chapter because she has a secret place with God. He is her refuge and fortress. Rebecca pictures herself in a small, old English castle–nothing too big. Something just right for her in the Lord.
Philemon 1:7 (NIV)
“For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.”
There are people around Rebecca who refresh her and bring her joy and Jesus is her brother. Her counselor told her to write a letter to herself this week from Jesus. God sees who we are and who we can be. He takes broken people like Rebecca and I to help share His love.
The first thing He would probably tell Rebecca is that He loves her.
Recommended Resources for Survivors of Suicide Loss
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention afsp.org