Our misunderstandings about suicide
Every year I write an article on suicide because so many people have
to live with the pain of losing a loved one in this way. I rarely go
for even a week without receiving a letter, an email or a phone call
from someone who has just lost a family member to suicide. In virtually
every case, there is a corresponding sorrow that there really isn’t
a lot of material out there, religious or secular, to help console those
left bereaved. A friend of mine, who through some very dark years has
had to work through the pain of losing her husband to suicide, plans
one day to write a book to try to offer consolation to those left behind.
There is a desperate need for just such a book.
When someone close to us dies by suicide we live with a
pain that includes confusion (“Why?”), guilt (“What might we still have
done?”), misunderstanding (“This is the ultimate form of
despair”) and, if we are believers, deep religious anxiety as well
(“How does God treat such a person? What’s to be his or her
What needs to be said about suicide? At the risk of repeating what I
have been writing year after year:
First, that it’s a disease, something that in most cases takes a person out of life against his or her will, the emotional equivalent of cancer, a stroke or a heart attack. Second, that we, the loved ones who remain, should not spend undue time and energy second-guessing as to how we might have failed that person, what we should have noticed and what we might still have done to prevent the suicide. Suicide is an illness and, as with a purely physical disease, we can love someone and still not be able to save him or her from death. God too loved this person and, like us, could not interfere with his or her freedom. Finally, we shouldn’t worry too much about how God meets our loved one on the other side.
God’s love, unlike ours, goes through locked doors,
descends into hell and breathes out peace where we can’t. Most
people who die by suicide will awake on the other side to find Christ
standing inside their locked doors, inside the heart of their chaos,
breathing out peace and gently saying: “Peace be with you!”
But I also receive a lot of very critical letters every
year suggesting that I am making light of suicide by seeming to lessen
its ultimate taboo and thus making it easier for people to do the act.
Wasn’t it G.K.
Chesterton himself who said that, by killing yourself, you insult every
flower on earth? What about this?
Chesterton is correct, when suicide is indeed a despairing act within which one kills oneself. But in most suicides, I suspect, this is not the case because there is huge distinction between falling victim to suicide and killing oneself.
Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. He can be contacted through his website: www.ronrolheiser.com