My Nanny’s Suicide–And Why I Believe She’s in Heaven

Sometimes it’s easier to feel angry.

It’s easier to feel angry than it is to admit how much you miss her.

It’s easier to feel angry than it is to stare at that urn with its Chinese markings and to know that your British grandmother died from a razor and a broken heart.

Nanny lived next door to Mum and Dad. She’d moved from England  to Canada in 1996 so my Mum could take care of her.

But in 1999, Dad was told he was being transferred.

Nanny didn’t want to move. She told my parents as much. My parents told her they had no choice, but they would make sure to take care of her and find her a good place to live near them.

Then they left to scout out the place they would be moving to.

A few days after their return, Nanny told them not to come and visit until late in the afternoon.

That’s when my mum found her, dead in the bathtub. No note.

I was away at Bible School but I flew home for the Memorial Service at Richard’s Landing United Church, in June, and I could barely look at the urn for how angry I was at Nanny for hurting Mum.  For how Mum could never remember Nanny telling her she loved her, or that she was beautiful.

And now, even after Mum had faithfully visited and cared for Nanny, daily, because Mum was a believer now and hoped that through her actions Nanny would fall in love with Jesus too–she’d been hurt, again.

Three years after finding her mother in the bathtub, a cancerous tumor appeared on my mum’s brain.

And three years after the tumor was found, I moved home from Korea, where my husband and I were teaching English, to take care of my mum who, when she was awake, sometimes didn’t even remember how to dress herself or go to the bathroom.

After returning home, I read an article that said cancerous tumors can form as a result of suppressed mental stress. I don’t know that the stress from Nanny’s suicide caused Mum’s tumor. It most likely didn’t. But reading that article didn’t help my relationship with my deceased grandmother.

And one particular day I was running. I was crying because Mum hadn’t woken up for three days and I was sick of being angry but it was all I had.

Why??? I asked God. Why did this have to happen? When will you heal Mum? And will I ever be able to forgive Nanny?

I know Nanny, while never diagnosed, probably battled depression. I also know that her father was cruel and abusive, and that she spent most of her childhood in a hospital because of a bone infection that left scars across her body. So she never believed she was beautiful. And I ached for that little girl because I understood her. I understood how it felt to not think you were lovable. But my empathy for Nanny wasn’t enough to overcome the pain she’d inflicted on my own mother.

I know, as Christians, we’re supposed to forgive. But forgiveness can seem so unjust. I just didn’t have it humanly in me.

And then, as I was running, I saw my Nanny, for the first time since before she’d died. I saw her with the eyes of my soul, and she was dancing in heaven, and Mum was dancing with her, and they were laughing.

I curled up on the running path and just held myself for awhile.

Because grace takes your breath away like that.

I couldn’t forgive my nanny.

But God could.

And so I asked him to give me the gift of forgiveness for my grandmother.

And I unwrapped that gift slowly on the path that day, considering that Nanny might be in heaven, that maybe God had met her in those final minutes in the bathtub just like he’d met the man who was dying on the cross and said Today, you will be with me in Paradise.

And all of that anger just kind of drained out of me, and I ran the narrow path home that day.

Anger is a crossroads. When we come to it, we have a choice. We can take the wider path to bitterness and revenge, the path that makes sure we never get hurt again. Or we can let Jesus take us on the narrow path, the one that leads to forgiveness and joy.


Let’s, by the pure grace of God, choose joy. 


(Please know, I have been there. I have been tempted to end my life because I’ve felt it’s the most generous offering I can give . I’m on anti-depressants, and I know how much they’ve helped. So please know, I am not judging–just sharing a personal journey. Yours is most likely different, and I would love to hear your side of things, too. And–after eight years of battling brain cancer, doctors have said my mum’s tumor is gone. She will never be the same, but she is daily recovering and we’re all celebrating the miracle that is her life.)


Have you found forgiveness difficult? How did you deal with the pain of loss?

[Photo:  VinothChandar, Creative Commons]

  • Lucie

    I’ve been there too, Emily – on anti-depressant medication for 20 years and have suffered depressive spells since childhood. While I was initially hesitant to let people know this, as the years have gone by and a greater social awareness of depression and its prevalence has risen, I’ve become more open about sharing my experience. Personally, I regard the condition as something that is not so much “curable” as something that can be put “into remission,” though of course this will vary with each individual. (Please understand that I am not discounting God’s ability to heal the condition; I just think that’s fairly rare.) Undoubtedly you’re aware of the controversy over anti-depressants; I try not to let it make my blood boil anymore…but rarely succeed. :-) Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. I’m also glad to be off them (coming up on three years), though they probably saved my life at one time. Everyone needs to figure out their own treatment plan.

    As horrific as Matthew Warren’s suicide was, I hope that at least one good thing may rise from it – a still greater awareness that this condition MUST be better addressed. Judgment is stinkin’ useless! So are arguments over whether Christians “should” take medication for the condition. No one who has not reached the mental low your grandmother knew, or that you and I have known, will ever understand how suicide can seem a viable option, because they cannot help applying rational thinking to a mind that is temporarily blinded to the rational. Thank you for ending your grandmother’s story on a note of hope. GOD understood and met her exactly where she was…and that’s all we really need to know.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Lucie, I agree. There needs to be greater awareness, especially within the church. We need to talk about these things, as hard as they are. And nothing is impossible for God; he can turn the blackest night into dawn. Bless you friend. Thanks for sharing.

  • Louise

    Forgiveness seems so tricky. Yet to live without this root of bitterness which will grow and take over my life, I must forgive. One day, a couple of years ago I heard Dr. Phil say: “When you forgive someone you’re not saying that what they did was okay, you’re saying they are not going to have this power in your life anymore.” That helped me start to process various hurts in my life. I hung on to unforgiveness because I did not want it to be brushed off, or made to think that what they did to me was okay. But bitterness started to take over and colour much of my life. I was at a Phil Joel concert and he addressed the root of bitterness specifically and I knew it was my time to forgive my family member for an incredible pain they had caused me. I laid it out before God to take care of and this is the most amazing part: love filled my heart! Now isn’t that just like Father? He just can’t wait to give His good gifts to his kids when they ask! Now every time the bitterness tries to rear it’s ugly head, and it does and it’s strong, I know Father is waiting to take it away and flood me with love.. and He does… every time I choose Him!

    • Emily Wierenga

      I love this Louise. Yes. Our father wants to bless us.

  • Ruthie Dean

    This is so sad, Emily. I can’t even imagine. Thanks for your courage to share this story with us. xoxo

    • Emily Wierenga

      Oh Ruthie, thank you so much for reading, friend. It is sad, yes. But always, there is hope.

  • Lisa notes…

    “I couldn’t forgive my nanny. But God could.”
    I love that insight, Emily. It shows how powerful he is, how weak we are, and how his grace makes all the difference. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story of forgiveness. We all have areas we can apply it to.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Thank you dear Lisa. It has been eye-opening for me too. God deserves all the glory and praise, though we long to hoard it to ourselves. He is the only one deserving. Bless you.

  • Tammy Olver-Belzile

    I understand what’s like to be consumed with unforgiveness. I, for a long time didn’t understand depression. As they say “Hurting people hurt people”. I had been on the recieving end of that from a close family member. Through this persons depression and anger, I felt they lashed out at me, and wanted to poison me with their bitterness. I became frustrated, and hurt, which led me to judge this persons depression. A few years later this person caused me yet again more pain. This time it went too far, and I felt that I could never forgive. Well it took me about two years to figure out that I couldn’t forigve on my own, but I had to look at this person through the eyes of Jesus. During this time, I myself had been suffering from deep depression, and I was just crying out to God “Please… please I just want to be happy” THat’s when He spoke to me “THis feeling that you have in your soul… that is how _ has felt for most of their life” Well I was driving at the time, but if I could I would have got on my knees I certainly would have. I asked for forgivness for judging, I repented…. and I forgave. Then “it” left. Whatever was on me, the heaviness,the despair it left. During this time of struggling with depression I thought of going on some medication, but I felt God say no, as I needed to get to the root and dig it out. About 7 months later, I still didn’t feel quite like myself. So I went to the doc, and asked for some anti depresants. I struggled with taking them. I felt God speak to me again “Why wouldn’t you?” That’s when I evaulated my heart as to why I wouldn’t. Religiousity,judgement, and an uneducated view stopped me from taking this medication. Once the wreslting was over, and I realized how much I have misjudged this certain medication I finally started to take antidepressants. I have been on antidepressants now for 5 months, and I am feeling back to normal. When your body is depleted from being able to produce certain hormones like seratonin, that’s when your body needs help. We don’t tell a diabetic to “suck it up”, or that they don’t have enough faith if they need their insulin. Well the same is for mental health. This whole process and journey of letting go of unforgiveness and depression, has humbled me so much. BUT through this humility, it has made me a better person, a much more compassionate, and less judgemental person.
    Thank you for sharing Emily, I enjoy reading your posts. -

    • meme3

      In my life, I have found that when I have judged others, at some point, God has placed me in similar circumstances. This has greatly increased my empathy and love for those around me. I grew up with an alcoholic dad and couldn’t understand how he could choose the alcohol over us, his family. Although I avoid alcohol now, I struggle daily with an addiction to food. I have at times chosen food over my children, my family and my God. Is my addiction any different than my dad’s? According to our Father, it is the same. Once I recognized that, God has given me the empathy and strength to forgive my human dad and look at him through His eyes. Wow what a love that is… blessings…

      • Emily Wierenga

        This is so, so powerful friend. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Wow, friend, I loved hearing your journey. And I agree … it takes humility to take medication. It’s hard, no doubt, to admit we need something, and yet, it shouldn’t be. There is a stigma out there that needs to be dropped concerning depression and medication. Thanks for being so vulnerable and open. Bless you.

  • kellyasummers

    I don’t really, deep down, bone level understand this. I haven’t been there or had to face but. But god if this isn’t the most heart wrenching thing I’ve ever read…
    thanks for taking the time (and I’m sure strength) to share such a deep story. I hope one day if/when I deal with something similar, I’ll remember this and how you let grace do what you couldn’t.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Kelly, it means so much that you would admit that you don’t understand it but that you still care. That is huge. I wish the church felt more like you do. So appreciate you reading. Bless you. e.

  • Michelle

    thank you Emiiy for this story of your Nanny! I remember that day clearly
    when your Nanny took her life. So many changes for your family, so much sorrow.
    The truths you share heals different places in my heart and reminds me that with God we can forgive.
    Getting to that point is difficult especially when one suffers from their own illness as I suffer from PTSD.
    It’s a roller coaster ride, but in sharing with others it gives us hope and reminds us we are not alone in our battles.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Oh Michelle, it makes it so real when others remember it too. Thank you for standing by my family all of these years. And I’m so sorry for the suffering you’ve gone through. It does give us empathy, though, for others, doesn’t it? Bless you friend.

  • Nancy

    Thank you Emily for sharing your life experience which happily includes the forgiveness that was God’s blessing for you. From your writings, I realized that early in my life I was truly blessed of God. He allowed verbal abuse to roll off my back (like water off the duck’s back). I did however find that a memory often comes back concerning the same person’s effect on another beloved family member. I’m not sure if that is unforgiveness or not. That memory does not rule my life because I have learned to trust in Jesus and He gives me joy in place of sorrow. That is my prayer for you.

    • Emily Wierenga

      I love that you have learned to trust in Jesus, friend. That is my longing too.

  • Kelly @ Love Well

    Oh Emily. This is so tender.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Thank you for reading dear Kelly. You are a blessing to me.

  • Marie

    Thank-you, Emily. (hugs)

    • Emily Wierenga

      Hugs to you too, Marie! e.

  • Cassie Kingan

    So beautifully written as always. I look forward to your posts Emily. Thank you for choosing the road of honesty and humility in your daily walk and writing. You are a blessing.

    • Emily Wierenga

      I appreciate you, Cassie. Thank you for encouraging me tonight. Peace to you, friend. e.

  • Julie-Anne Mauno

    Thank you Emily for writing with such authenticity and for sharing this part of your story. How amazing that your mum is still with you. I want to say that Jesus has walked me down the path to forgiveness (sometimes I felt like a child kicking and screaming the whole way there). But, it has always, and I mean always, led to joy and so much freedom! Your message blessed me today. There can be so much fruit out of our pain.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Oh Julie-Anne, I’m kicking and screaming the whole way too. :) We’re in this together friend, this forgiveness journey. But I agree. At the end of it all, there is freedom. Thank you for commenting! Bless you.

  • Laura Scurtu

    Emily, thank you for your honesty and vulnerability, you inspire people!

    Even though the last week I have lost many things, including my best friend and my business, I was hearing a voice in my head all the time saying: God is good, God is good! Quite the opposite of what we feel when we lose people in our life, but He is soooo good with us, all the time, even if we feel it or not, even if we know it or not. Thank you for your articles, Emily!

    • Emily Wierenga

      oh Laura. praying for you. that God would bless your faith, and restore …

  • KellyW2010

    Beautifully told Emily… thank you for sharing this deep part of yourself

  • 1lori_1

    Wow…all I can say. Every time I hear a story like this, I wonder how much stress one family can take. And then I remember God can take it all. So sorry for all the heartbreak, but so glad He gave you His grace on that running path.

    • Emily Wierenga

      Thank you friend.

  • Kristine Webster

    Thank you for sharing. I didn’t even consider it “flippant” the way you mentioned the suicide in the previous post. The details of the suicide weren’t specifically pertinent to the story you were writing.

    Thank you. For sharing that you are on ADs. for sharing your anger. for sharing a vision that some would call wishful thinking or even heretical. Thank you for being here and being honest and showing more of us that we are not alone.

    • Emily Wierenga

      So appreciate your encouragement, Kristine. Thank you for this.

  • Sarah Jones

    Sorry, but as someone with PTSD and depression, I’m probably not going to be encouraged by the same writer who, weeks earlier, explicitly blamed women for the behavior of men, and neither are the multitudes of women hurt by her words. At this point, I’m ready to give up on Prodigal.