I have a friend who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and delusional. He suffered for over 5 years with this illness, and during this time people tried desperately to come alongside of him and “help him change.” All of them experienced failure in their attempts. Those years were sad and difficult for family and friends. He recently committed suicide, and we are grieving his loss.
As a result of his illness, my friend did not always treat people properly. He left his family. He lost his job. He spent his entire life savings, including his children’s college funds. The family lost their home, and his wife did her best to keep the family together. He did not walk his daughter down the aisle or even attend her wedding. He missed birthdays, his anniversary, and Mother’s/Father’s Days. Obviously, there was much pain. And there was anger. And often this anger was expressed toward my friend.
Through those trying years, many of his family and friends gave up in their attempts to help. My friend was exhausting and nothing seemed to move him out of his situation. Conversations seemed futile as he was trapped in his delusion. So people, one by one, walked away … but they did not forget.
And then he took his life. When those who knew him began to hear of his suicide, emotions, which were difficult to understand, began to surface. At his funeral, how do people come to grips with the shame of giving up on a schizophrenic friend? How do people come to grips with the guilt resulting from words said, out of legitimate anger, to a schizophrenic friend? What do people do with his absenteeism or the fact that he rejected them? Or the pain resulting from things he did or said?
I presided over his funeral, sharing four words to those who gathered: grief, celebration, confusion, and hope. In this blog I am offering to you the third and fourth words in hopes that what I shared on that day might be helpful to you. I have changed his name to “Ralph” for the purposes of this blog.
Third word: Confusion
We must not deny some of the confusion we have as we come to this service. The memories I just recounted of Ralph’s life came from the first 45ish years of his life. The last 5ish years of Ralph’s life were not like the first 45ish years. While Ralph was at Deloitte, his physical battles began. Narcolepsy began to paralyze his usual stellar work habits. The physical battles spiraled into mental battles. In the last few years, Ralph was not the husband, father, son, sibling, or friend that we once knew him to be. Do not let those days crowd out the great man he was. Ralph battled mental illness. He was schizophrenic and delusional. In many ways we lost the Ralph we are remembering today a few years ago. This makes a time like this a little confusing, but I think we need to acknowledge certain aspects of it and come to grips with it. I want us to leave at peace with all of this, or at least to have a way forward.
Ralph was mentally ill. In ways we could never fathom, the last years of his life were tortured. On our road trip, I had significant time to walk into his mind and into his world. We would stop at a gas station for 10 minutes, and, after we got back on the road, we would process how we each experienced that 10 minutes for the next hour. His accounting of the event was nothing short of bizarre. But I listened, and I learned. I did this with him on other occasions. Ralph liked that about me. I did it in restaurants. I did it in the office with his counselor. Through it all I learned, and I did my best to love Ralph and be a friend to him. He never pushed me away because he thought I was in on “it,” whatever the “it” was. He lived in a world that none of us could possibly understand. He asked me to watch the movie, “A Beautiful Mind,” but I joked with him “Why? When I had him in my life, and we were living it?” He told me that the only way he could survive without constant anger was to realize that everyone was just playing a game with him and that he needed to just play along. To him, his reality was true, and he believed that everyone else was lying to him when they claimed their reality was different. You can only imagine how this led to loneliness and even the feeling of rejection. He felt the world had turned its back on him. Through it all, he did not always handle relationships with you, or me, very well. Many of you probably felt rejected by him, and I know that he felt rejected by many of you. His mind was twisted.
Some of you tried to help, but through the years you grew weary. At times you felt exasperation. At times you felt anger. At times you yelled in your hearts, “Ralph, stop it!” Maybe you gave up. Negative emotions toward him have likely been felt by you on occasion, maybe often, and these emotions are legitimate. You need to hear that today. But we must all find a way forward. We must find some kind of understanding that enables us to say “Good-bye” to a man, who was a wonderful man for the first 45ish years of his life and another kind of man towards the end of his life as he battled mental illness.
If we had any negative emotions toward him for the last years of his life, they are legitimate, but they need to be properly focused. We have been up against the horrible effects of living in a fallen world, ruled by the prince of the power of the air, Satan. Any negative emotion we have had is legitimately directed at sin and Satan and our fallen world. Satan, the god of this world, seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy.” We have reason to have felt negative emotions. But we must separate the man we loved from the delusion we hated. These negative emotions need to be directed at the horrible impact of sin and Satan in this fallen world, where lives can be devastated by physical and mental difficulties … and by death. Our negative emotions are to be directed at the delusion, not at Ralph.
The impact of sin wreaks destruction in this world, to the point that we cannot even fully understand its effects upon the mind and the body. And, as we gather to remember Ralph, it can be confusing. Which Ralph are we remembering? The Ralph of the first 45ish years? Or of the last 5ish years? The Ralph of the first 45ish years is Ralph. The Ralph of the last years was a man, battling schizophrenia and delusion. Delusion of the mind is difficult for us to understand, but we need to understand this: our negative emotions for these past few years are not to be directed at Ralph, but at Satan the author of confusion, the one who destroys.
Some of you feel guilt because of the way you might have treated Ralph. Let go of any guilt you have felt for the anger you had toward Ralph. Let go of any guilt you have felt for your exasperation. Let go of any guilt you have felt for words you wished you would not have said or texts you wish you would have not texted. Let go! Realize the complexity of the battle you were in.
Some of you feel shame because you walked away or gave up or did not do enough. Please know you walked away from a delusion, not Ralph. You gave up on a delusion, not Ralph. You did not do enough for a delusion, not Ralph. Let go of any shame you feel. Do not carry this with you. You were up against severe mental illness, and it was horrible. Today, put your shame and guilt to rest.
What is my point? My point is that today is the day to begin dealing with these last 5 or so years in a new way. If you feel shame or guilt because you believe you could have done more. Let it go.
Some of you may feel the pain of being rejected by Ralph or by words he said or words he texted or for his absence from significant events in your life. The pain may run deep. But today try to understand that it was not Ralph who rejected you. It was his delusion. He was not thinking right, and you got caught in the horrible reality of the impact of a fallen world. Begin to heal in this moment.
We must give all of these things to the Lord, who understands more than any of us the horrible mess of mental illness. We were all doing the best we could. God is going to use all of this to grow you in Christ. And to the children, your dad was proud of you. On our road trip he mentioned each of you by name and expressed his pride for you.
As bad as all of that is, the devastating impact of sin does not win the day. Satan never wins in the end. In many ways, delusion stole Ralph from us for the latter part of his life, but it does not win in Ralph’s death. Ralph’s story is not over.
Fourth word: Hope
There is one more aspect of Ralph’s life that we need to remember today. Beyond the fact that Ralph’s life, and our relationship with him, was changed by the horrible impact of living in fallen world, a world which wreaked havoc upon his mind in ways we simply cannot understand, which led to his delusion, even before all of this happened, he was also one who committed sin. On a day when we are remembering many wonderful characteristics of Ralph, we also honestly remember that he was a sinner. Before mental illness plagued him, he still let you down, failed in relationships. He was not perfect. We all know that. And God’s word is clear. His sin separated him from God. God is holy and just, and everyone who sins will be eternally punished. It is the just wages for sin. Everyone in this room is a sinner and, therefore, worthy of this eternal punishment. Like Ralph, we are sinners and will not escape the judgment from a holy God that our own sins deserve. Death causes us to consider this. Your life will also end, and you will stand before God.
But this is where the greatest news of all time enters the picture. Jesus died on the cross, defeating sin, defeating Satan, and defeating death. And he died in our place; he died in Ralph’s place. God poured out the wrath that we deserve for our sins on Jesus. The one who steals and kills and destroys is defeated.
Whoever puts their faith in Jesus’ death on their behalf is saved from the eternal punishment they deserve. God’s wrath is satisfied, and so he forgives. John 3:16. Ephesians 2:8-9. That is the gospel. Grace alone. Faith alone. In Christ alone. We deserve nothing and we gain everything. Please, do not leave here today without having this assurance for yourself. The family wants you all to know this good news.
Because Ralph put his faith and trust in Jesus, he was forgiven. God has declared him righteous because of the blood of Jesus shed for him. Because of this, sin does not win the day. The horrible effects of living in a fallen world may have won in Ralph’s last years, wrecking his mind, but it did not win in Ralph’s death. Ralph is now with his Savior, and those of us who have also put our faith and trust in Jesus will join him one day. The battles that Ralph had here are over. He is no longer tortured. He is now at peace. He is eternally with his Savior.
So we grieve, but not as those who do not have hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Be encouraged by these words. Ralph now has his glorified body, and, if you have trusted Jesus, you will join him one day. Even though there was much pain in Ralph’s life in his last years, for him and for you, we have hope that is greater. Let’s close with these words from Romans 8:18-24, 28-35, 37-39:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved … And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Grief. Let’s grieve well. Celebration. Let’s celebrate fully. Confusion. Let’s come to peace with the last 5ish years. Hope. Let’s rejoice in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who provides us amazing grace and has given Ralph an eternal rest. May you know the presence of the Lord in these days as you grieve the loss of Ralph.