On Monday, October 21st, 2013, several hundred people gathered to celebrate the life of Josh Marks, second place winner of Season 3 MasterChef reality TV show, basketball player, loving son and brother. How do you have a funeral for someone whose life tragically ended by his own hand during a time of mental confusion? I found out that how you do it is to just do it: celebrate all the wonderful life that person DID live. Focus on the life, not the death.
The only time I had interacted with Josh was a few weeks earlier. One student I was with recognized him and wanted to high five him, so I helped them connect. I got Josh’s attention and he smiled, reached out to the student to touch his hand, then the student was shyly grinning back as they high fived. The funeral reflected this part of Josh: how he loved and reached out to so many people.
The funeral service was crafted beautifully. Several of his closest friends from college shared how Josh encouraged them and would stay up until 3 or 4am to study with them. Josh’s family chose to show a video he had made of himself; he had recorded himself singing in order to practice speaking more clearly and smoothly (he explained that to us). Before he started singing, he just talked a while (and drank from his glass of water!) From what he said, we all learned that he could make fun of himself, he wanted to grow and get better in life, and the most powerful thing he said was, “I want to be like Jesus and feed the masses.”
He didn’t cook to get famous, he cooked because he loved people and knew that food is a wonderful way to show love. One friend shared how even though one time Josh didn’t have much money, he chose to buy a homeless lady a pizza while he was hanging out with his friends. One way his family honored Josh was to provide wonderful food before and after the funeral service. Most of us were crying during parts of the service and then laughing during parts; Josh’s family composed a beautiful gathering to honor Josh’s life and celebrate his faith.
How do we transition through the time after someone we care for commits suicide?
From this experience I learned a few ways:
Let people know what is going on and let them come around and love you. Josh’s family was honest about what happened, and they let people come around and love them.
Celebrate all the wonderful things about the person that has passed; focus on the positive (feel the negative, process it, but choose to dwell on the good things about that person).
Having a funeral really helps. Just watching the family and friends that were close to Josh say good-bye to his body at the front of the church had me crying. Cry. Say “Good-bye.” Being able to see the body helps you realize the person is gone. Express your sadness.
Faith in God brings support and comfort. God can handle anger, so if you’re mad at Him for letting this person die, scream at Him if you need to: He can handle it, and He will always love you.
At the end of Josh’s funeral, a cousin sang “Amazing Grace.” I believe there’s enough amazing grace and love to support Josh’s family and friends and supporters through this loss. The funeral service, as it said on the program, truly celebrated God’s humble servant, Josh Marks.
P.S. A book that has helped me process grief is:
Josh’s Mom encouraged me to link Josh’s words that they shared at his funeral, so here they are: