Anti-suicide message at funeral of tragic Bethany

Tragic:Bethany Topping (with permission of the family).
Tragic:Bethany Topping (with permission of the family).

The parents of tragic teenager Bethany Topping opted for a public funeral in the hope that it might steer other young people away from suicidal thoughts.

The Broughshane girl died on Tuesday in the Intensive Care Unit of Antrim Area Hospital.

Bethany was rushed to the hospital following a tragic incident at the family home

It is understood that the 16-year-old, from Broughshane, had suffered from depression.

The funeral service for the former pupil of Cambridge House Grammar was held at High Kirk on Saturday. A large gathering attended the service.

Bethany’s father, Richard Topping, is the headmaster of Broughshane Primary School, which was closed on Friday as a mark of respect.

The school said it was saddened and shocked by Bethany’s death.

”Governors and staff of Broughshane Primary School wish to convey their deepest sympathies to the principal, Mr Richard Topping, following the death of his daughter, Bethany,” the school said in a statement.

Bethany’s heartbroken sister Amy thanked all of her friends for their support in an online message.

“Thank you for all the beautiful pictures and posts about Bethany. It means the world to my family and I,” she said on Facebook.

Amy added: “Thank you again to everyone who has showed their support, it has made the past few days a lot easier to cope with knowing that Bethany has impacted so many lives in so many different ways.”

The Funeral sermon for Bethany was led by the Rev. Norman Cameron. We are grateful to him and to the Topping family for their permission to provide the text of his sermon online.

Our hearts go out today to this family and all that they are going through. Can I assure you Richard, Lorna, Aaron, Amy and your wider family of the love and prayers of the church fellowship here in High Kirk and the wider community in Ballymena and Broughshane as you travel through this valley. I have been touched by your dignity and your strong faith through not only this past week but indeed the past two years of all that you and Bethany have gone through - of how you have all gone through the nightmare of depression and mental illness and all that that entails.

Sadly many other families today are dealing with depression, with self-harming and increasingly and tragically, even suicide. It is a growing and horrendous problem among young people. It is partly I think for this reason the family wished to have a public funeral, not only to celebrate Bethany’s life and give thanks to God publicly for it, but also that in some way it might be used to speak to people, and especially to young people going through similar experiences and to encourage them to see that there is a better way. The family have encouraged me to be as direct and as clear as possible in addressing those gathered today and pointing them to a better way.

I want us to see three things –

1.That life is valuable, 2. That taking life is wrong and against God’s will for us, 3. To see that even death cannot separate children of God from the love and presence of the Lord.

1. Life is valuable. Human life is sacred and special. God has made human beings in his image – we are not fully sure of what this means but it means that we are physical, emotional and spiritual beings. We are not just physical matter – we think, love, choose, feel, create, imagine, play and pray. We reflect something of God in us and no matter how broken or sinful we are we reflect something of God in us. Every human being is fearfully and wonderfully made, we are not just a random collection of atoms. We are designed by a creator and he loves us.

God views human life as special and he sets us within families where we give and receive love and seek to reach our fullest potential in a network of loving relationships. God himself exists in the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and he wants us to enjoy the love of our earthly family but also of our heavenly Father as we come to know him and trust him.

Human life is sacred, special and to be handled with care – it is the most precious of things.

2. The taking of life is wrong and against God’s better will for us. Because human life has such dignity and worth the bible tells us that God places a high value on life and he prohibits the taking of life. Let me be clear - taking a life, including our own life, is wrong. It is against God’s will, it is not right and never can be right.

As well as breaking God’s law it brings immense heartbreak to families. Words cannot express what this family is going through. Suicide never solves anything – it makes bad situations worse and the consequences of a life being taken in this way go on for years. For those who are contemplating it, whether young or old, can I urge you in the strongest possible terms not to do it. Do not put your family through what this family is going through. Talk to someone if you are feeling negative thoughts about yourself or about life. It is always better to talk these things out rather than holding them in.

What Bethany did was wrong but sadly the state of her mind was such that she was not able to think clearly and rationally. She was ill and was not able to think straight and appreciate all the good things that she had, how much she was loved by her family, how much she was loved by her friends and how valuable life really is.

As I have said as human beings we have a spiritual aspect to us. I happen to believe that satan can gain a foothold in our thought processes when we are in a weak place and we are more vulnerable to the deceptions and lies of the evil one. In John 10:10 Jesus describes satan as the thief, he is the thief of life who comes to “steal and kill and destroy.” In contrast Jesus comes to give us life in all its fullness. I cannot but think that the spate of young people’s deaths is partly due to satan speaking lies into the heads of our young people telling them that life is worthless and they are not valuable – he is the life stealer. This is not only a physical and emotional battle but also a spiritual battle.

Life is valuable and special. Taking life is wrong and against God’s better will for us.

3. Even death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:38-39 says “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This verse has come separately to me and to the family over this week. Richard and Lorna are people of Christian faith and conviction. Bethany has been brought up within a loving Christian environment and was a member of our Girls Brigade. Up until age 14 she lived a trouble free, fun filled life. The last two and a half years have been a battle with depression and all that flows from it.

One of the great strengths of our reformed faith is the principle of covenant – that the children of those who are followers of Jesus Christ are within God’s covenant, God’s family. This is a reminder that the children of believing parents are also children of God and are such until they wilfully decide themselves to reject God. Some do reject God when they become adults; some do that and in later years return to faith and to God, which is often a testimony to the truth that God’s hold upon us is always firmer than our hold upon him.

As children of God we continue to sin – we are not perfect. As children of God sometimes we go through a time of stress or illness where we hardly know our own minds and cannot think straight for we are in a prison of despair. Sometimes we are swayed by our feelings and led by our wrong thinking into ways that are destructive and foolish. And yet through it all God’s grace, his mercy, his patience and love is greater and wider and longer and deeper than our failings.

John Piper puts it well when he says –

Saving faith can be so weak at times that the heart gives way to grievous sin. But this does not mean that the saving relationship with Christ goes in and out of existence with each of our sins. When a believer yields to temptation, his faith in Christ is weak and the enticements of sin and the power of Satan get the upper hand. But there is a great difference between Satan getting a temporary upper hand and Satan being the Lord of life. There is a great difference between yielding with resistance to an evil that I hate to do, and doing that evil as part of the usual pattern of my life. The evidence of the Master’s hand is the warp and woof of the fabric, not the snags in our thread.

Taking life is wrong, taking our own life is sin and is against God’s better will for us. Notice that I say his better will. For even when we sin, even when we seem through deliberate intent or through illness to do that which is wrong God’s will can still triumph, God’s ultimate plan will not be thwarted.

When satan worked through Judas and the powers that be to orchestrate the death and destruction of Jesus Satan thought he had a victory and had the upper hand. But not so. God can turn the plans even of the evil one into his glory. At the darkest point of Jesus’ life his greatest work was being achieved. As the evil one may have whispered to Bethany it would be better to take your own life, God can even take such a loss as this, such a dark tragedy as this and shine the light of his grace upon it so that others will be drawn to life and not death, to hope and not despair, to salvation and not eternal death.

Through what has happened to Bethany other lives might be saved and that would certainly be Richard and Lorna’s hope and prayer. Young people saved physically from being tempted to take their own lives in the midst of this horrible illness called depression but saved also spiritually as we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ the only saviour from sin and the bringer of life in all its abundance.

The only one who can protect us from the folly of sin and the weakness of our own human nature is Jesus. The only one who can reverse the curse of death is Jesus and so we must give our lives to him.

Quite separately the family and I have been led to Romans 8:38-39. I believe that in the midst of the tears, the loss, the waste, the despair, God wants us to hear a better word, an eternal word, a hopeful word, a healing word – “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Even in the midst of our grief and loss and despair; even in the midst of the darkest depression and the lies that satan sows into our ears and hearts; even in the midst of a family being torn apart by the awfulness of suicide – we need to hear today that God is sovereign over death. We need to hear that when a person or a family trust in Jesus Christ nothing can separate them from the love and presence of Jesus.

Jesus has covered our sin and we can only be safe in him. But we must be in him for there to be this hope. When we are in him we are safe. In the best of our days and the worst of our days we are safe in him.

Sometimes this life can be great and sometimes it can be rotten. And today is one of those days when life is rotten but we hold on to the O ne who brings abundant life here and hereafter; who makes some sense of the mess. One day he will put everything right.

Meantime in faith we trust him and we hold on to verses like these that are eternal promises to us. Can I invite you to trust in Jesus Christ and to wage war against the disease that is taking so many lives.

The grass withers and flowers fall but the word of the Lord stands forever. May this bring comfort to us on days such as these.

If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline (080 8808 8000)