Mourning a Daughter's Suicide
Melissa: A Father's Lessons from a Daughter's Suicide
June 1, 2013
224 pp., $13.35
Distress and Melissa," writes Frank Page, "were rarely very far away from each other." Some sources of that distress, like cancer, were beyond her control, but sinful habits and destructive life choices also played a pivotal role. Distress and Melissa would remain entwined until Page's daughter, one of three, committed suicide at age 32. After years of grief, Page, a longtime pastor and former Southern Baptist Convention president, has decided to tell his family's story in Melissa: A Father's Lessons from a Daughter's Suicide (B&H). CT associate editor Matt Reynolds spoke with Page about Melissa's turbulent life, the aftermath of her suicide, and the challenge of shepherding other fragile families through seasons of darkness.
How would you describe your daughter?
Melissa is little in stature, about 98 pounds of pure fire. She is a vivacious young lady who lit up the room with her smile and endeared herself to others. But she is also a young lady who, from early on, struggled in many areas of her life. The struggles never stopped. They changed in nature sometimes, and in their severity, but she struggled her whole life.
You certainly don't present an airbrushed portrait of Melissa. How were you able to be so candid about the chronic patterns of sin and disobedience in her life?
I felt that if this book was really going to touch a lot of lives, it was going to have to be transparent. For over two years after Melissa's death, I was not transparent about her. I didn't lie, and if someone wanted to talk about her, I certainly did. But I really began realizing that if this book was going to make a true impact—and hopefully among people considering suicide themselves—I needed to be honest. In the Christian community, sometimes, there's a lack of transparency and a lack of honesty, and it just would have been false if I had tried to pull a curtain over the reality of her life.
Why go to the effort of writing the book, if it involved such painful memories?
At the outset, I thought it might be cathartic, and therapeutic for me. And so I began writing, thinking it might help me deal with the loss of a daughter. But then I quickly began to realize that there's a huge epidemic of suicide, and so many people are dealing with this. And so I decided to put my pride aside, my love for privacy, and even a protective spirit toward my daughter. And I decided that the best way to honor her memory was by helping people in the name of the Lord.
How have you and your family dealt with the aftermath of Melissa's suicide?
From early on, we resolved that we would not blame each other. We all recognize we could have done things better. I could have been a better father. My daughters perhaps could have done something different to help their sister. We all know that, and we're honest about that. But we also realize that usually, honestly, we did the best we knew at the time.
We're open with one another. We talk about Melissa. We miss her, and at holidays and birthdays, we talk about how there's a place at the table missing, a big place. And so we hold onto each other and support each other. We pray through it. We realize that God's grace really is sufficient. At some point, when something like this happens, of this magnitude, you have to ask: Do we believe what we've taught, preached, read, and said all these years? Does God really come through in the dark times? And the answer is he does, and he did. And he has for all of us.