by Lawrence Downing

by Lawrence G. Downing, May 28, 2014
“A Celebration of Life” – This phrase is above the photo of a smiling young man with pulled-back hair parted in the middle, wearing dark-framed glasses. He is shown wearing a moderately-heavy jacket over a white tee shirt. A closer look leads the eye to note the small, oblong-shaped earring that hangs a quarter of an inch below his left earlobe. His sideburns are cut sharply off at a point some half inch above the lowest portion of the ring. He is smooth shaven save for a small “tickler” under his lower lip. The first impression is that this is a warm, friendly open guy who enjoys life. If one read no further, that is the way it would be. The words printed under the picture change everything.
               Mark Christian Ashworth
           August 28, 1967 – April 10, 2014
           Pacific Union College Church
                   Angwin, California
               Sunday, April 27, 2014
April 10, 2014, is the day Mark took his life.[1]
            Suicide is the ultimate statement one can make that he or she is dissatisfied with some aspect of his or her life. Suicide is the last desperate attempt to make a statement that when done ends debate. Those who survive are left to deal with the remorse, the loss, the questions.
            For a parent, family members and others close to the one who has chosen to end life by suicide, the act defies one’s ability to comprehend. Logic fails. The deepest stirrings of the soul are violated, and we are left to struggle with a closure that will not close. The mind will not allow a final placement; a border that will hold the event in check. Our inclination is to push back, repress, ignore and talk around. “It was a sudden, unexpected death.” Mark’s memorial service did not fall within this tradition. The family made it clear: their son; their brother; their friend took his life. They made it clear to us that they wished to acknowledge the reality of this act and the life-choices that had a powerful effect on Mark’s life. (Disclosure: Carolyn Ashworth, Mark’s mother, is my wife’s cousin. I did not know Mark. When he was a pre-teen, we may have casually met on one or two occasions. Warren Ashworth, Mark’s father, was for many years a member of the PUC religion faculty.)
            The family members recognized that for Mark, their return to the United States from Argentina, where the parents had been in mission service, was traumatic. Mark became less willing to fit into anyone’s mold. He was a free spirit. He enjoyed music, art, and dance. He had his core of friends, but this core did not always include family.
            At some point in his high school years, Mark began to experiment with various mind-altering substances. In his early twenties, he broke away from his roots and set out on a journey that would take him and a “soul mate” about the United States in a VW squareback decorated with technicolored art and unique statements. His life-journey would eventually take him to Talkeetna, Alaska. Here he found a community that accepted him as he was and allowed him to struggle with his demons. His substance abuse became more pronounced, his estrangement from family more pronounced. He stayed in Alaska most of 19 years. In August of 2013 Mark called his parents and asked if he could come home. The family welcomed him, so grateful to have him home. It soon became apparent to the family that Mark was struggling with a deepening depression. Consultations with medical professionals informed the parents that Mark’s frontal lobe was not working well and many of his neurotransmitters were destroyed. Perhaps in two to four years, the medical personnel opined, he might see things more clearly. Until that time, the remedies of choice were prescribed medications combined with acceptance, patience, support and love. And so it was, until the day Mark’s sister found him in his parent’s home.
            The family might well have done as others who have known the shock and embarrassment of a child or family member who has chosen suicide. The Ashworths chose an alternate. They asked an Adventist minister, Pastor O. Kris Widmer, to conduct the memorial service. The family knew that he had addressed suicide in a Sabbath sermon. They requested that he share his personal and biblical insights on the subject of suicide and that he describe what people should look for that indicates a person may be considering suicide. In his homily, Pastor Widmer addressed questions that are raised when suicide occurs: Is suicide the one unpardonable sin? No, said the pastor. He gave powerful expression to the biblical hope that is essential to the Christian faith and gave assurance, based on St. Paul’s statements, that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God. And “nothing” includes suicide.
            The following statements were printed as an insert in the Memorial Service program under the heading:
Assessing and Accessing God’s Comfort for “A Death Like None Other
            1.         A Death Like None Other
            2          The Silence and the Stigma
            3          It is growing in frequency
            4.         It affects all ages
            5.         It touches us all
            6.         It touches us regularly
The Hopeless View
            1.         The Verb: “Commit”
            2          Doctrine: “Immortal Soul” and “Immediate Heaven” doctrines requires all                            suicides be deemed “lost”
            3.         6th Commandment (Thou shalt not kill—my inclusion)
            4.         (Judges 9:52-54—Abimelech)
            5.         I Samuel 31:4—Saul
            6.         I Samuel 17:23—Ahithophel
            7.         I Kings 16:15-20—Zimri
            8.         Matthew 27:3-5—Judas
The Hope-Filled and Hopeful View
            1.         The Verb: “Died by – ”
            2          Doctrine: Death as Sleep – “you’re not going to glory now anyway, so                                 keep living!”
            3.         I T 519,520 [Testimonies, Vol. 1, by E. G. White] – James White
            4.         Ephesians 2:4-9 – Saved by Grace!
            5.         Titus 3:4, 5 – Saved by kindness and mercy of God
            6.         Psalms 87:6 – The Lord shall count where you were born
            7.         I Samuel 31:5 – Armor Bearer;
            8.         Judges 13-16: Samson;
                        a. Hebrews 11:32
            9.         John 8:21-24 – Jesus
            10.       John 10:15-18 – Jesus
            11.       Today’s suicides are acts by ones who are, for that moment, not in a fully                          coherent mind.
            12.       Our God…understands the intensity of our troubled minds, bodies, souls.
            13.       Acts 16:19-34 – Paul and Silas prevent a jailer’s suicide. vs 28 “Do                                       yourself no harm; we are all here!”
To Anyone Contemplating Suicide:
            “If you think suicide will keep you out of the Kingdom and this thought keeps you alive – just keep thinking this!’”
            “This too shall pass.”
            “It gets better.”
            “Do yourself no harm; we are all here!”
            There is help. Get that help.
            We want you here with us!
            You are a unique creation: 1:500,000,000 chance of existing.
            Ecclesiastes 1:24;  2:12,13;  5:18;  9:7-10;  11:7-10 – Enjoy life!
            Come; let’s get some ice-cream!
            Please stay with us!
            Semicolon! [;] Indicates something that could have ended; but didn’t.
To any family grieving “A Death Like No Other
            The Armor Bearer, Samson, Jesus
            Suicide is NOT the unpardonable sin. Not even close!
            Psalms 139:13-18 – We are not hidden from God when we are formed. God has               our days written down before there is even one of them.
            Psalms 139:23, 24 – Know my heart! Know my anxious thoughts!
            Job 14:5 – Our days and months are determined with God. There is a limit that                  none of us shall pass.
            Job 14:13-17 – Oh…hide me in the Grave! My sin is sealed in a bag, My iniquity               is glued together.
            God knows the limit of our lives…and the limit of our deaths (Job 14:13)
            Frankly…the angels are amazed that we hold up in this world as long as we do!              We were not designed to cope with the troubles of this fallen earth.  We were                        supposed to live in perfection.
            Romans 8:35:-39 – NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.
Embrace the semicolon;
“The author is you; the sentence is your life;
 Your “story” isn’t over;”
            One could add to some of the statements in an attempt to explain what the reader believes the writer intended. That will not be done! The words stand on their own. Some may debate whether certain of the statements do not fit the situation, or take an oblique position, or suggest that it is better to ignore the negative and center on the positive. These options the family rejected. Parents, siblings and others close to Mark were united in the decision that it is important to accept reality and not gloss over a significant and traumatic loss and how that loss impacts their lives. Eric, Mark’s younger brother by five years, gave powerful expression to this decision in his emotional and insightful eulogy. The good news for the family and friends is that Mark, in his final seven months of life, was a changed man. He had begun his return to the faith of his childhood.
            The memorial service was streamed live around the world. More than 250 people took advantage of the opportunity to attend the actual service. The Pacific Union College church has archived the service on their web site. This service, I believe, will prove a support and encouragement to any whose life has been impacted by a suicide. 
Mark’s Memorial Service can be accessed online at PUCCHURCH.ORG. Click on “Livestream” in the lower middle part of the page. Then click on “Mark Ashworth Memorial Service.”


[1] The Ashworth family has read and given their approval to the contents of this article. LGD