(EDITOR’S NOTE – This week I yield my space to Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In a recent blog he shared this moving comment on Frank Page’s newly released book about his daughter’s suicide. This is a subject that can no longer be hushed. Two months ago a member of the Biblical Recorder’s Board of Directors and long-time pastor in our state chose to take his life. Incredible grief was pressed on so many. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate for people aged 35 to 64 jumped 28 percent between 1999 and 2010. This disturbing fact means more Americans die of suicide than by car accidents. It happens to Christians and non-Christians. We can learn from the Page family.)
The words seem cliché in some ways: “It’s a parent’s greatest fear.” But they are not cliché. They are real. And haunting.
Frank and Dayle Page had the “perfect” family. Or so it seemed to many of us on the outside looking in. Frank had pastored a megachurch. He had been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Even today he serves as president and chief executive officer of the administrative offices of the denomination. And he has three lovely daughters.
But one of those daughters, Melissa, was troubled most of her life. She was spunky and compassionate at the same time, but her life was dominated by problems and depression.
Melissa took her own life.
A courageous story
Page decided to write a book about Melissa. He took the courageous path. There are no false platitudes in this book. No syrupy cover-up for the distinguished Page family.
No holding back. The book delivers one hard punch after another. It details the day Melissa took her life. And Frank writes again and again about Melissa’s last words on that fateful day: “Daddy, I love you.”
He writes it because he wants to remember her love for him. He writes it as if he can grab the words and snatch Melissa back to life. He writes it with both gratitude and deep pain.
Frank told me that he wrote this book out of selfishness; he said he wrote it for his own therapeutic needs.
I don’t buy it.
Certainly there was a therapeutic value for him to write the book, but there is no hint of selfishness. It took deep courage to write this book.
Taking down the façade
Many of us in vocational ministry want to try to fool our churches and the world.
We want to act like our home has no problems.
We never fight with our spouses. Our children are the embodiment of angelic beings. We are never tempted. We have no sin issues in our lives.
And we certainly don’t have family members who are depressed, and perhaps, suicidal.
Frank Page takes down the façade. He lets us see a real family with real problems, with real struggles, and real hurts. It’s a family not that much different than all of ours. It’s a Christian family in a fallen world.
Why you should read this book
I wish every Christian leader in America would read this book. Frankly, I wish every Christian would read this book. It is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.
I read the entire 200 pages in one sitting. I could not stop. I did take occasional breaks to wipe tears from my eyes. And I did take a few other breaks to pray. But I couldn’t put the book down.
You need to read this book. You really do.
You need to hear the story behind suicide. We recently were shocked and saddened to hear about Rick Warren’s son’s suicidal death. We were reminded again that depression and suicide could come to any family. Your family. My family.
You need to understand some of the issues behind depression and suicide so you can more effectively minister to others. Indeed, you may find yourself using the book to minister to your own family.
I also pray that this book will get into the hands of thousands of persons who are contemplating suicide. Frank writes a series of letters to those who are struggling to the point where they may take their own lives.
You should also read this book to see how a Christian leader courageously allows others to see the real world of a messy family. We all, to some degree, have messy families. But we are often too prideful to admit it.
Be a part of a movement
On Friday, May 31, 2013, we published the podcast interview I recorded with Frank Page on this blog (ThomRainer.com). Please take less than 30 minutes to listen. You really do need to do so for your own ministry and, perhaps, for your own family.
Then get the book. It’s called Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide. Read it for your ministry. Read it for your family. Read it for yourself.
Perhaps a movement will grow from this book.
Perhaps lives will be saved because we have a greater awareness and sensitivity to this darkness. Perhaps we will learn to love more deeply. Perhaps we will become more compassionate people.
On one weary occasion, Frank Page was asked how many children he had. Because he was so tired of explaining where the third child was, he conveniently omitted Melissa.
As soon as he did, he had deep grief and remorse. He had denied his firstborn, his third daughter. He vowed never to leave out Melissa again. Yes, she had committed suicide, but she was a believer. Frank has no doubt where she is today. He will never deny her existence again.
Melissa lives for us too. Her story, told by her father, is one of the most incredible tomes I’ve ever read.
Thank you, Frank. Thank you Frank and Dayle Page.
Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your love of your family. And thank you for giving life to Melissa.
May her story give life to many more.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He publishes a daily blog at ThomRainer.com, where this column was originally published, and can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.)