Focus on the Family Broadcast

Finding God’s Healing After a Suicide Loss

Finding God’s Healing After a Suicide Loss

Suicide has a devastating impact on families and finding hope and healing in Christ is essential for those reeling after a sudden loss. Rita Schulte and Jean Daly share about losing a loved one and how they processed their grief with others and sought help from the Lord to move forward in His strength.
Original Air Date: May 26, 2022


Rita Schulte: So God has showed up for me along this journey in some pretty miraculous ways. But I believe with every fiber of my being that each one of those pivotal times has created a shift for me and has created a deeper trust and a deeper confidence in God that no matter where he has me, I’m right where he wants me to be.

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John Fuller: That’s Rita Schulte, our guest on Focus on the Family, offering hope for those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. Stay tuned for help and encouragement in perhaps the most difficult of circumstances on this Focus on the Family broadcast. Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, recent data from the CDC indicates that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 34 year-olds.

John: Hmm.

Jim: Just let that sink in just for a minute.

John: Yeah. It’s really disturbing.

Jim: And then for 35 to 44 year-olds, it’s the fourth leading cause of death.

John: Hmm.

Jim: Statistically, men and boys are about three times more likely to die from suicide than females. However, women and girls are about three times more likely to attempt suicide. And the point here is this is a big problem.

John: Yeah.

Jim: And it’s sad to see so many who are severely depressed or struggling psychologically or in other ways, but help is available. Uh, man, as a Christian organization, we want to be there. We want to extend that hand of help in Christ so that, uh, we can hopefully, uh, you know, point you in a healthy, spiritually, emotionally, uh, healthy direction.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Our guests today have both experienced suicide of loved ones. And, um, my wife, Jean is one of those people and she’s here with us today along with Rita. And you’re gonna introduce Rita.

John: Yeah. Rita Schulte is a licensed counselor specializing in the treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders, as well as grief and loss and trauma. She’s a member of Focus on the Family’s own, uh, Christian Counselor’s Network. We’re grateful for that. Uh, her book is called Surviving Suicide Loss: Making Your Way Beyond the Ruins. And we have copies of that here at the ministry. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, or stop by

Jim: Uh, Rita and Jean, welcome to the broadcast.

Rita: Thank you, Jim.

Jim: So good to have you, Jean.

Jean Daly: Well, this is an important topic and I understand hope that I can help bring solace to someone today.

Jim: Uh, that’s the goal and, and, uh, we agree with you wholeheartedly. Rita let’s start with the tragedy, uh, that you experienced, a suicide, your husband dying by suicide. I think 2013.

Rita: Yes.

Jim: Uh, describe, Mike. What was happening? Um, and what happened?

Rita: I would describe Mike as Superman.

Jim: Wow.

Rita: He was vibrant, charismatic. He was a dentist, strong Christian, godly man. He was a pilot. He owned his own airplane. Real adventure, and-

Jim: Uh.

Rita: … all of a sudden, things started to unravel. And, uh, the last three months he became increasingly paranoid, uh, depressed, anxious. Um, really, he sat in bed one morning and looked at me and he said, “What’s it like to watch me fall apart?”

Jim: Huh.

John: Hmm.

Rita: And I said, “It’s horrible.” So yeah, he just started exhibiting very strange behavior. And he, I mean, I found him one evening. I came home from work. I went into the sunroom. I thought he was in bed, and he was outside, and I heard gunshots. And so I ran outside I’m, I’m, I’m running through the house, screaming, looking for him and I go outside and up, the driveway comes my son on his motorcycle and down from the field, comes Mike with a gun in his hand. And so I’m hysterical. And so he was afraid, you know, they were gonna take away his airplane license or, you know, he didn’t wanna turn over his practice. And so, I mean, Mike was such a discerning person. So, and he was so wise that we just always believed him, right?

John: Hmm.

Rita: And so, I mean, I’m in the middle of this madness.

John: Yeah.

Rita: And not knowing, you know, really what to do.

Jim: Rita let’s, um, I’m gonna certainly dig into this, but what eventually happened? How did Mike?

Rita: Well, I had gotten him into a treatment facility in Dallas. Finally, he agreed to go. We had spent a weekend in our home in West Palm Beach. He was really bad, and he agreed to go. So, uh, he was gonna fly out Monday and I was gonna go home Tuesday cuz I had, I was doing my podcast and I had, you know, guest planned for that. And then I was gonna join him. I wanted to make sure that this was a good place cuz we’d gone somewhere else and didn’t work, so…

Jim: What period of time was this between what you were just describing and, and now?

Rita: It was all within three, four months.

Jim: Okay, all right.

Rita: …this was happening. So, you know, we agreed that I would fly down there, you know, the day after and I said, “I’ll stay with you as long as you need me to, we’ll we’re we’ll do this together.” So I left on Tuesday morning, and I started calling him, but he never answered the phone. So I was, I was like, I was able to get on the plane, right? And I’m doing a, uh, you know, I’m planning for this podcast that I’m talking about for grief when you lose a loved one to suicide. And so I’m writing that whole script up.

Jim: Oh my goodness.

Jean: Oh my goodness.

Rita: On my flight home. So I land at Reagan, get in a cab and drive to the house and um, pull up into the driveway and I see the cars there. So I go into the house and when I got into the kitchen, there’s his bag, there’s his Bible. And so I’m starting to panic and um, I run up the stairs and I turned the corner, and I could see him in the bed, and I went and ran downstairs, and I just collapsed, and I curled up into a ball. And uh, he never made it on that flight.

Jim: Yeah. And yeah, that was his end.

Rita: Right.

Jim: In this life.

Rita: Yeah.

Jim: Uh, Jean, I wanna bring you in. Slightly different experience. Uh, this wasn’t your spouse, but your brother. Describe what, uh, Craig was facing, um, kind of the family’s observation and what you experienced in his tragic loss?

John: Hmm.

Jean: My brother, uh, similar to your husband was known for his big, beautiful smile and his laughter.

Jim: Life of the party.

Jean: Life of the party.

Rita: Yep.

Jean: And of course in hindsight you can see this, but I look back and see that he was changing. He had become more serious and, and more quiet. He had lost weight, seemed like he was sick all the time. Seemed like he had a cold all the time. And those of us around him did not understand that his or the extent to which his business and his marriage were failing. And he did have one psychotic episode that he told me about. I was the only one he told, uh, that to. And at the time though, I, I didn’t know what to do with that information. And really similar to what you describe as we look back there were, it, it was about three to four months, there was a time in his life where he was struggling with alcoholism. This was before he was married and he did, uh, he took off for six weeks.

John: Hmm.

Jean: And that was a very difficult time. I did think he was dead. He had planned just to start over, start a new life in a different state. And you know, that was a difficult time, but we still, I, you know, my family and I at the time did not understand depression. Did not understand anxiety. Didn’t understand suicidal ideations. And my brother seemed to get his life on track, and he got married and he seemed happy again. And um, but then a few months before he took his life, he did have two suicide attempts, but I, I, and my family members, we just couldn’t get our heads around it. You know, you, you just can’t believe that someone would actually take their life even though my brother had attempted twice.

John: Well, you’re listening to Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And today, obviously a tough subject. Uh, we’re talking to Rita Schulte and Jean Daly, uh, about the loss of loved ones. And, uh, Rita has written a terrific resource. It’s called Surviving Suicide Loss: Making Your Way Beyond the Ruins. We have copies of that book here at the ministry. And our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, or, uh, go to our website,

Jim: Let, let’s move to picking up, you know, your lives, where those things happened. Rita ha- ha- the impact of losing Mike and the shattering of the family. I mean-

Rita: Absolutely.

Jim: …these, your children are involved. They’ve gotta process this somehow. I’m sure as a mom, you’re expecting you’ll be able to help them do that and being a counselor. And yet you’ve got your own grieving situation. So s- speak to that idea of surviving suicide loss.

Rita: The first several months, I didn’t think I was gonna survive. I was pretty nonfunctional. I could barely get up, get out of bed. The only way I knew I was alive was to get into the shower and to feel the water pulsing against my skin.

Jim: Wow.

Rita: I didn’t wanna live. I mean, Mike was my life. He was in my high school sweetheart. We were soulmates. And to lose that in such a horrific and tragic way.

Jim: Yeah.

Rita: And so little by little, I think I just decided one day that I had to live, and it was at my daughter’s, and I had passed out in their foyer. We were watching this little cartoon with my grandkids. They were little babies, and it was about a, a Scottish, it was Brave. It was the, the cartoon Brave.

Jean: Oh, yes.

Rita: And they were in Scotland and Mike, and I had just come back from this incredible trip together to Scotland. And, and we had, in England, we had this amazing time. And when I heard the accent, I just got myself up because I didn’t wanna get emotional. And so I walked in, I fell, and I passed out, uh, my son-in-law carried me up to the bedroom and later my daughter came in and she just looked in my eyes and she’s like, “Mom, please try.” And Ashley never cried. She’s like her dad just so strong. And there was a shift there. I gotta, I’ve gotta do this. I’ve got… these people left who still need me and I, I need to move forward. And so that created a shift for me and I think I just started pursuing God with a fervor. I got involved in several groups, which I think is extremely important. Suicide loss group, grief group, uh, my friend and my assistant, uh, really pushed that, you know, for me to get out and do that. And little by little, uh, you know, people just came and walked alongside of me. So this alongside piece is so profoundly important.

Jim: Yeah.

Rita: You know, when someone…

Jim: That’s so true, I was gonna ask and Jean, I’m gonna get your situation and how the family reacted in just a second, but you know, in your spot right there at that moment, um, some people may shake their fist at God.

Rita: Yes.

Jim: And say, how could you let this happen? Um, you could have changed the course of Mike’s situation, perhaps. Uh, we do have free will, and we have to remember that. But how, how did you wrestle with God regarding your circumstances or did you?

Rita: I did. Um, but I have to trust God that he knows the answers to all those things. And one day they’ll be made clear, but I did. I mean, I, I wrote a whole section in the book on lament, and I think I poured out that lament before God. I think I didn’t struggle at first with anger at God so much. I think that came later, but I did, I wrestled with God about it. And I had to come to a place of acceptance while still holding the pain. And I think that’s where I am still today.

Jim: Right.

Rita: Because loss either propels us toward hope or it leads us to despair.

Jim: Right.

Rita: And so I believe transformation will flow from two sources. The decisions we make about how we handle our pain and our willingness to be personally responsive to how God’s leading us through these journeys of sorrow and suffering.

Jim: Right.

Rita: You know, if we choose the former, you know, we’re going to have a cloudy lens here. We’re gonna be tempted to look through that lens that loss engenders of anger and bitterness and, and hostility and rage and all of those things. But if we choose the latter, then we can enlarge our capacity for God to meet us at that place. And we can welcome those unwanted companions of sorrow and suffering, allow them to be our tutors and we can learn to embrace the darkness so that we can find the light.

Jim: Yeah. And that is a process. A big process.

Rita: It absolutely is.

Jim: Jean, my observation would be, what I saw in you and your family was that, that what I would probably describe as a typical reaction, the guilt, everybody felt. Like, “How did we miss that?”

Jean: Oh yes.

Jim: “Why didn’t we catch it? What could we have done? Could we have saved Craig’s life?” That’s a very normal place for the family to be but describe that.

Jean: Uh, guilt is a horrific toll from suicide, and I was tortured by the guilt, the should haves, could haves.

John: Hmm.

Jean: And it is a process. I came to the point, like Rita, where I did not want to live, could not continue living in the pain that, that I was in. The pain and the guilt. And, and it was a decision. It was probably three months after my brother had, had taken his life that I sought Christian counseling and began that, that journey of healing. For me, uh, I would cry out to God, which I think is so important for people to audibly express what you’re feeling, bring it out into the light. The darkness, into the light. And I, uh, recall one time just sobbing and saying out loud, apologizing to my brother.

John: Hmm.

Jean: I’m sorry. I couldn’t help you. I’m sorry. And, and working through the forgiveness of myself. Allowing God to help me forgive myself, that I could only do what I could do to help my brother at the time.

Rita: Absolutely.

Jean: And, and of course, of course, if any of us knew that a, our loved one was going to take their life, we would do things very differently.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Jean: But we don’t have the benefit of that hindsight at the moment. And you must forgive yourself. You have to find ways to forgive yourself. I had to forgive myself. I had to ask God to help me with that healing, the Christian counseling. I would, I immersed myself in God’s truth because the enemy uses, uh, those lies, accusations. And I remember just listening to positive Psalms and reading the truth and the gospels about God’s love for my brother and for me and learning, you know, you have to give grace to yourself and to your loved ones. Because there’s usually someone also that, you know, could have done things differently that may have helped your loved one. But so much of it is-

Jim: Right. Not being bitter about that.

Jean: Right.

Jim: This, these are things you could have done.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Rita, and what Jean is describing and really the, the place where we need to go is how you pick up the pieces.

John: Yeah.

Jim: How you look forward. Um, how, how do you acknowledge the experience and then move on with life? I mean, that sounds even like a coarse question to ask.

Rita: Yeah. I remember my counselor asking me that six months out, you know, what do you want your life to look like in a year? And I couldn’t even fathom that. But in time, I think we have to do this meaning making work. You know, how Jean was talking about seeing the counselor and a trained therapist in grief and trauma can help you do that. What was the meaning you attached to the suicide? She and I both were drowning in guilt.

Jim: Right.

Rita: You have to do business with that. Uh, big thing that helped me too with that was I had a me only perspective. Like it was all about me and what I did or didn’t do, or if I’d have come back with him on the plane, it wouldn’t have happened. If I should have done this and I should have done that. But at some point, you, you don’t get a do over. So I had to push back on what was Mike’s responsibility.

Jim: Huh?

Rita: Because he did have some. He, he needed to be responsive for his own care on some level. I mean, I had the doctor at the hospital say that. Um, he should have dealt with this long before it got to be this bad. Uh, he should have taken the medication he was prescribed. He wouldn’t do that. He was non-compliant. So he had responsibilities as well. So that helped me to have what you were saying, self-compassion and self-compassion says being human means being subject to limitations.

Jim: Yeah.

Rita: I need a savior. I couldn’t save Mike. I thought I could.

John: Hmm.

Rita: And I thought putting him in a hospital setting was the closest thing to safety for him, but it didn’t work out that way.

Jim: Yeah. And I, I appreciate that. I think that’s part of the process that it ultimately is out of your control and that’s perhaps the thing that, um-

Rita: And that’s the scariest thing.

Jim: … loads, the guilt onto us.

Rita: Yeah.

Jim: That we could have done something, but people have free will. I want to end with, you know, the Lord and God in all of this. I mean, there’s the stigma attached to death by suicide, and you know, what does that mean? And, you know, I think generationally, some of those stigmas are different today than they were 40 years ago, but still God in the midst of all this and how do you as survivors of a family member taking his life or her life, where does the God factor go? How, how do you talk to God about this now?

Rita: Yeah. So God has showed up for me along this journey in some pretty miraculous ways. And I won’t go into each and every one of those, but I believe with every fiber of my being that each one of those pivotal times has created a shift for me and has created a deeper trust and a deeper confidence in God.

Jim: Hmm.

Rita: That no matter where he has me, I’m right where he wants me to be. And that’s just a really good place for me right now to be. So my heart is to use that part of my verse to turn back and strengthen my brother’s. So if, if I can do that, um, it doesn’t mean, like it’s, again, it’s about deciding what I’m gonna do next. And that doesn’t mean I’m never gonna have a bad day that, um, you know, I’m gonna be sick and tired of being brave. Uh, I’m not gonna feel like I’m falling backward, but what I am gonna do is keep my focus on Jesus.

Jim: Hmm.

Rita: I’m gonna keep my focus on what he’s called me to do. And hopefully for those that are listening, as you do that the road before you will widen so that you will be able to embrace the darkness while you accept the light. That you can hold onto those cherished memories of your loved one and that you can move forward in whatever way God’s calling you. And if you choose that path, then the most important part of the story may be yet to come.

Jim: Hmm.

Jean: And to that point, when, when talking to someone who has recently lost a loved one, I mean, my advice is to just listen, to just listen. They, it’s not the time to hear all of that, that you know how wonderful it is in heaven, even for their loved one or, or that God will, that’s a truth. God will use this for good, but it’s too raw to hear it at the time they just need, they need you to listen and love on them. But it is true, God has used this for good. Was it…? So I do wanna say it was not good that my brother took his life or Rita that your husband took his life. That was, that is not good, but good does come from it. And God doesn’t want the world to be the way it is. There is sin in this world. It is fallen. We are fallen. There is death and grief in this world. We will not have this in heaven, but God is good. He does walk us through those dark moments if we allow Him. And because of my experience with suicide, uh, in our city, we did have an epidemic of teen suicides and I was able with several of those families, take them a meal. It wasn’t awkward for me. I asked if I could join them in the meal. And I sat with them and just asked them about their son or their loved one, just listened to ’em loved on them. And I was able to tell them that a day will come when you think of your loved one, and it doesn’t feel like you’ve just gotten punched in the stomach. A day will come when you can smile. When you can look at those photos and actually laugh, thinking about some fond memories. And I also share with them the truth that God is with… God loves the brokenhearted. We cannot fathom how much God loves and loved that loved one. But I do know that He was with them, that they were not alone in their last moments.

Rita: That’s so important. That’s so important.

Jean: Yes.

Rita: That’s the realization that God really brought to me, that He was with Mike all the time.

Jean: Yes.

Rita: He never left Mike.

Jean: That’s right.

Rita: And that was so comforting to my soul. And you’re right about the comments. Listen to folks, don’t judge where they are in their grief walk. Don’t tell them, at least you had your brother for 30 years.

Jean: Right. Right.

Rita: Don’t say, listen, and just love them because all the biblical verses we wanna throw out are true, but they’ve gotta be timely.

Jim: Yeah.

Jean: Yes.

Jim: So true. Thank you for your strength. I think that’s, what’s come across clearly and, uh, you know, being able to talk about it and to give people hope.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Cause with all the listeners and the viewers, someone has probably just experienced this. If not one, it could be a dozen. And we want to encourage you to get in touch with us and certainly get a copy of Rita’s book, Surviving Suicide Loss. And of course, if you can help, that would be great. We’ll send the book as our way of saying thank you. If you can’t afford it, we’re gonna get it to you anyway and trust that others will take care of it. The point being, you need to talk to somebody, call us, John will give those details in a minute, but we are here for you. This is why we exist as a ministry, because we want to help you in the name of Christ to, uh, you know, listen and hear your heart and provide hope for you. So get in touch with us today.

John: Yeah, God has equipped us with some wonderful caring Christian counselors. They’ll help carry the load and, uh, give you some direction. It may be, uh, that you, you just want the book. Either way, get in touch with us. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459. And we’ll have further details at our website. Uh, it’s And remember when you call or go online, donate, as you can. Support the ministry here, as we offer life giving messages, as we come alongside those who, as Jean said, are hurting and broken. Um, and we work together as, as a community of believers. Again, our number 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Rita. Thank you again. Jean, thank you. I love.

Jean: Oh.

Rita: (laughs).

Jean: I love you too.

Rita: So sweet.

John: Well, thank you for joining us today for Focus on the Family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time as we, once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Surviving Suicide Loss: Making Your Way Beyond the Ruins

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