Dear friends:

This past weekend, a student from Lafayette High School died as the result of suicide. The student has many connections to Woodlawn Chapel and our immediate neighborhood, though the family are part of a different congregation. I know that the school has been in touch with LHS families, and that many people in the community are aware of the situation.

I’m writing to you today to provide information and resources, and to guide our church in a time of prayerful discernment. Please join me in praying for this person’s family and for all who are grieving.

A young person’s death is always a tragedy, and suicide is especially heart breaking. When a young person takes their life, it impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of others. Our hearts are weighed heavy and filled with a range of emotions and feelings. Suicide is a traumatic death, which only adds to the complications associated with grief.

Do not hesitate to contact me if I can provide any assistance. In addition, our church and community are blessed with many caring and trained persons who are willing to help and listen. As we offer our prayers for the students, family and staff of Lafayette High School, let us also make a commitment to become better informed about suicide.

Sadly, suicide is very common among all age groups. In Missouri, it is the second leading cause of death among persons ages 10-24. Last year one in six Missouri high school students and one in eight middle school students contemplated taking their own life. The rates are higher for college students. In addition, the rate of suicide in Missouri is higher than other states. Suicide is a serious public health concern. We do know that sometimes the risk of suicide is increased as the result of access to firearms, poisons, or drugs. Over 57% of Missouri suicide deaths involved firearms.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the national hotline 1-800-273-8255. (Go ahead and save this number in your phone’s contacts.) In St. Louis, call Provident Crisis Line at 314-647-4357. Both lines are staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There is no single cause of suicide. It occurs most frequently when someone is experiencing overwhelming stress related to social, emotional, and health issues. Sometimes a person contemplating suicide will make sudden changes in behavior, especially in relationship to a loss or grief. Persons may talk about not having a desire to live, or they may start or increase use of alcohol and drugs.

They may withdraw from activities, seem depressed. Sometimes, however, the person contemplating taking their own life may suddenly seem relieved and at peace because they have made their decision. Many suicide survivors will tell you they only saw the “signs” in retrospect. That is why it is always important to ask someone who may be at risk if they are considering taking their life. (Do not say, “Are you considering doing something stupid. Practice saying “suicide” before talking to someone.)

As a pastor, I also feel it is important to point out that suicide is not a moral failure, nor is it an “unforgivable sin.” All of us have fallen short of God’s intentions, and all of us need grace. Our hope rests in the loving grace of God whose love is unconditional. To suggest to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one who died by suicide that God has or will punish their loved one is poor theology in my opinion and is not a tenant of our faith. God yearns for us to experience the richness and abundance of life — a life that can sometimes be complicated, and hard, but that is also filled with love, laughter, and beauty. Everyone matters.

As Presbyterians, we believe that in “life and death we belong to God.” We also believe in the strength and power of community. Though we live in stress-filled and complicated times, we are blessed with a strong and caring church. As we worship and pray together, our bonds of support are increased. No one should face these struggles alone. Thank you for the rare and rich privilege of serving as your pastor.. May God’s peace keep and bless us all.

Chris Keating