“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”Matthew 11:28
Content Warning: Discussion of Suicide/Suicide Awareness
In August 2013, only a handful of months after I graduated from high school, I found out that one of my graduating classmates, a boy named Will, had committed suicide. His untimely passing devastated our whole school, especially his peers in cross-country and theater.
For me, my pain was magnified because we’d been close in middle school and had innocently gone down divergent paths when we reached high school. On top of this, I had seen Will two weeks before he died.
On that day, I walked out of a grocery store near my neighborhood and saw him walking towards me. We smiled and waved at each other, and I walked away, not knowing what was on his mind at the time. Because of this, I spent the following years blaming myself for failing to see the pain Will had been experiencing. I genuinely believed that if I had known sooner, I could’ve prevented his suicide.
I carried that self-inflicted blame and grief with me when I started college that same year. There were a couple of times in my first two years as an undergrad when I would remember Will, and subsequently be overwhelmed with sadness.
Shortly after Will passed away, a Facebook group was created in memory of him and Paige, a girl from our school who had committed suicide the year prior. During a quiet night in my dorm room in September 2013, I saw Will’s mother post something about her son in the group, and I broke down all over again. I couldn’t stop crying for several minutes, because I still hadn’t let go of my guilt.
The next year, in my creative writing class, we had a guest speaker come in one day. To my shock, the woman who joined us looked just like Will. She had the same facial structure, hair color, everything. It was alarming, and I came dangerously close to crying in the middle of that class session. I’m certain that it was a sign from God about Will, but for whatever reasons I had, I still held onto my belief that I could’ve stopped him from dying.
God saw that I was holding onto survivor’s guilt over Will’s suicide, and He had something powerful in mind to help me let go. I had a beautiful experience in October 2016 that aided me in finally letting go of my guilt and self-blaming.
As a side note, and as vital background information, October happens to be the Holy Rosary Month for Catholics. I found this out the day after the first spiritual experience I had in this series of events. Each day of October is dedicated to a certain saint and the saint of the day has patronage of symbolic meaning.
On October 4, 2016, I had an immensely vivid dream that shook me to the core.
First, no doubt influenced by YouTube clips of American Horror Story that I had watched before falling asleep, I dreamed that I was Misty Day (a potentially Christian witch from Season 3) walking around a campground that was symbolic of Hell. It hurt to walk on the ground, and all around me, there were people in painful situations. There was a firing squad gunning people down, and the atmosphere was thick with terror and anxiety.
There could be a number of reasons as to why I was walking around as Misty Day, namely my faith. But regardless, as I gazed around the campground in her form, I desperately thought about the mercy of God.
A split second after I had that thought, the entire dream suddenly transformed into a much more serene setting. Now I was truly myself, inside a massive building that somewhat resembled the Tamarack Mall in West Virginia. The negative atmosphere was completely gone, replaced by a feeling of pure peace and joy. All around me were people walking around, smiling and without any negative emotions.
For a number of reasons, I thought that I was seeing a symbolic representation of Heaven, or maybe I had somehow been taken into Heaven itself. I saw a few things there that baffled me completely, one of them being Pope Francis walking around with a peaceful smile. I was alarmed to see him in my dream because I knew that he wasn’t dead. I walked through the building and had an even stranger encounter that confused me further.
Somewhere in the middle of the building was a 10-foot-tall marble statue of Saint Michael the Archangel, with an appearance similar to a Roman centurion. When I walked up to him, he looked down at me and spoke to me in a gentle but commanding voice. I’m not entirely certain what he said, but it was something like this:
“It will happen soon.”Saint Michael the Archangel, in my dream
He repeated this message, and I walked away, towards the exit of the building.
The outside of the building gave way to a beautiful row of houses, with people lounging about absentmindedly. It was so quiet, so peaceful. I think it was at this moment that I truly believed that I was somehow in the real Heaven. And it’s likely because of this belief that the following occurred without warning.
Just a few seconds after I’d stepped outside, I collapsed into tears, and shouted this tear-filled plea to the onlookers:
“Will! Please, somebody, tell me where Will is!”Me, in the dream
At that moment, with the possibility that I’d been taken into Heaven, I desperately wanted to see with my own eyes that Will was there in peace.
The people sitting around looked at me in alarm and desperately looked around themselves in a bid to help me. Before they could do anything else, I was woken up by my roommate’s alarm and snapped back to reality.
When I woke up, I was completely shaken and felt emotionally drained. In the mirror in our dorm room, I could see that my eyes had the telltale puffy, glazed look that you can get after crying. After I walked around for a bit, I came back to my bed and tried to pray to God about what I had seen in the dream. My thoughts were feeble, and I could barely make myself think clearly.
I stood by my bed, and as I tried to process everything I’d just seen, I felt God’s voice for the first time in my life, like a profound, compassion-filled whisper echoing throughout my soul:
“Child, you’re on the verge of tears.”God, in my dorm room
At that, I broke down once more, collapsed on my bed and whispered Will’s name as I wept.
From the moment my roommate’s alarm woke me up, I distinctly remember hearing music in my head. The musical piece in question was “Wandering Flame”, a tragically beautiful theme from the video game Final Fantasy 10. The significance wasn’t lost on me, because “Wandering Flame” plays in an in-game area called the Farplane, a serene place where the spirits of deceased loved ones appear.
I spent the day exhausted and terrified at the potency of everything happening to me. I had no idea what would happen next, and that worried me. That following night, I think I may have been scared to fall asleep again.
I woke up in the middle of that night, and to my alarm, I saw Will kneeling next to my bed, looking so shocked. When I saw him, I freaked out and spoke defensive words in response, because I was paranoid that what I was seeing was only a cruel illusion. Will disappeared, and I was left with more questions.
My Catholic coworker and I discussed my experience the morning after I saw Will. The two of us talked about the horribly negative belief that anybody who commits suicide is automatically doomed to Hell. I cried as I told her about my pain of not knowing where Will was, and she did what she could to comfort me. She herself didn’t necessarily believe that he was in Hell, but she too was aware that this belief was fairly widespread.
Later that day, I did some research on the Internet, desperate to find some answers. Because Pope Francis and Michael the Archangel, two important Catholic icons, had appeared in that dream, I wondered if my answer would be similarly Catholic-themed. That was when I learned about the Holy Rosary Month.
According to one page that I viewed, the saint dedicated to October 4, the day of the dream, was Saint Francis of Assisi. And on the page I viewed, Saint Francis’s patronage was described, among other things, as “peace and dying alone”.
Well, I broke down again upon reading that, because the connection was painfully obvious to me. It was what I needed to hear. But God wasn’t done with His planned catharsis.
Finally Letting Go
That night, while thinking about Will being truly at peace, I heard God whisper to me once more. This time, His words were shorter, but still filled with compassion:
“I love you, child.”God, once again
I broke down in anguished tears again, feeling God gently nudging me to finally let myself admit to Him that I’d been carrying survivor’s guilt over Will.
I spent roughly 30 minutes opening up to God about the role I believed I had in failing to prevent Will’s suicide. I told Him that I should’ve done more to help Will, that I should’ve asked him how he was doing that day when we saw each other outside the grocery store.
On top of that, I recall tearfully begging Him to “take me back there”, because I really did believe that I had been in Heaven, and I desperately wanted to see Will again. For the entirety of my tearful confession to Him, I could feel God encouraging me with compassion to not hold any of my grief back anymore.
In all honesty, I was worried that night that I wouldn’t be able to stop crying. I think what happened was that God enabled me to release the grief I had been holding onto ever since Will died, and helped me finally admit that I wasn’t to blame for his suicide. I’m glad that it happened, but weeping like that, and feeling all of the sadness rushing out of me, was an alarming realization that I had never finished grieving for him.
Adding to the beauty of this whole thing was the fact that October 5 is dedicated to Saint Faustina. I would call Saint Faustina a special saint, simply because her patronage is quite unique. Instead of being the patron of a specific human quality or career type, Saint Faustina is the Secretary of the Divine Mercy.
After I learned about that, I studied Saint Faustina’s life and discovered that she had numerous conversations with Jesus Himself about the true nature of His mercy. Essentially, she discovered that God’s mercy is limitless, boundless, and can’t be boxed in by human standards. God is always merciful before He is just.
I did more research on this and found a conversation Saint Faustina had with an old nun who had received numerous visions of the afterlife. Throughout these visions, she learned that no person who commits suicide out of despair for life is punished by God. Instead, they are saved, with their grief and pain being cleansed in Purgatory, a place of purification, so that they may enter Heaven without their suffering burdening them any longer. None of these souls are ever lost, because God, more than anybody else, is fully aware of how grief can blind us.
Now I know that Will is at peace, and knowing that has finally put my mind at ease. God’s mercy is truly beautiful.
Five Years Later
I originally wrote this blog post five years ago, on February 5, 2017, when I was a senior at college. I’ve been looking at my older blog posts today, February 5, 2022, to see if I can touch them up a bit. Imagine my shock when I realized that I wrote this exactly five years ago!
I know forevermore that Will is at peace. Years after God gave me these beautiful experiences, as somebody who suffers from depression, I’ve been able to empathize with Will’s plight more and more.
While I don’t struggle with suicidal ideation, after going through some really rough patches last year, I have a deeper, more personal understanding of Will’s struggles with despair. I think I read in the Facebook group dedicated to him that somebody found out that he’d been struggling with fear of the future, over the unknown, after his Mom decided to move to a southern state far away from where we live.
When you fight against depression, you also have to combat the cruel lie that no matter what, things won’t get better, that there’s no promise of a better future no matter how hard you try to obtain it.
Sometime back in May 2021, I broke down in tears again after mournfully musing to God that Will sees now how deeply loved he still is by all of us. My grief in that moment was so intense that I wonder if it was God’s grief alongside my own, or even God allowing me to feel Will’s own sorrow.
It was such a somber parallel to these experiences back at college. For that entire night, up until I went to bed, I couldn’t stop weeping for Will.
The next day at work, out of nowhere, I heard God speak to my soul again, with that same characteristic compassion:
“You broke My heart last night.”God
I broke down crying again, and in hindsight, this was God encouraging me to be honest with my coworkers about how low I’d been feeling. For the first time ever during my three years of employment at that place, I broke down crying in front of them all in our backroom, and immediately they surrounded me with unconditional compassion.
Fighting against depression, against the endless chemical warfare in your brain, is a lonely battle. It doesn’t help matters that while you can run away from danger, you can never run away from your own mind.
When we receive tender reminders that we aren’t fighting this battle alone, we feel empowered to keep fighting and not give up.
Wherever you are, no matter what cruel lies your mind might try to feed you, know that you aren’t alone, and you are deeply loved.
Peace be with you, friends.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Featured Image by Connor Brennan
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