Monday, December 7, 2009

Suicide is Different

I've been thinking about the essay to which I posted a link yesterday.

I've been thinking about the friend whose son shot himself on Christmas Day eight years ago. I had emailed her earlier this week to see if she wanted to get together, and she responded yesterday that her daughter's best friend's young husband had shot himself the night before.

All I could think was that if there was ever someone who should have understood the legacy he was leaving to his family, it should have been that young man.

Which reminded me of the darkness, the terrible and incomprehensible darkness of pain and despair, that must fill the heart of someone about to die by suicide.

And then I thought of the two young men at a nearby college who have died by suicide this fall.

And then I thought: How did this happen, that my mind is filled with images of young people shooting themselves and hanging themselves and filling their bodies with lethal doses of drugs and jumping from buildings? Thoughts which never entered my head two years ago and now there they are, side by side all the other thoughts.

And then I thought again about that essay, in which the writer says that however it occurs (and he includes suicide in his list of possibilities), the death of a child is one of life's worst experiences.

And then I realized that, much as I hate to dwell on it, suicide is different. Even though I do not believe that suicide is a choice in the way that we generally define the word, there is an element of initiative in it that renders it the worst possible kind of death, at least for the survivors.

There. I've said it.

Who is God?
Does God care about anything at all?
Who was this child with whom you were entangled from the moment of his conception?
Is anything that anyone ever says or does reflective of what they actually mean?

Those are the questions.

Suicide is the worst because it is unthinkable and yet: there it is. Completely real. And leaving the rest of us with no choice at all but to contend with it.


Magdalene6127 said...

Since you revealed that Chicago son died a victim of suicide, I have found myself looking hard at the kinds of things I say in sermons and at funerals (none of which has been for a comparable situation).

I find the old platitudes don't cut it anymore. I even hesitated to use the "repurposed" sermon I posted yesterday, because of the danger of it being heard as, "Don't worry. God will use it all for good." Even if somewhere I believe that, I no longer believe I have the right to say it to someone who is in the midst of this kind of loss.

I think all this runs the risk of sounding as if I am asking you to reassure me. I am not asking that. I am simply saying, your sharing of your story has changed me, I think and hope for the better. I know now, better than before, that most of the real questions are ones I cannot answer.

But I wish I could have been learned that by some other means than your devastation. Much love to you. With you in all the unanswerable questions.

Karen said...

I haven't lived it, but I intuitively know you are right. Suicide is different and it IS the worst. It heaps another layer of questions on top of the already unanswerable questions about God, death, life and suffering. It makes one doubly unsure, since everything you thought you once knew becomes suspect. It leaves a legacy of guilt and shame and rejection, and even though the survivors aren't responsible, they still feel responsible. And anger, too, I would think. It's a terrible dilemma to both love and long for and also feel some primitive anger at your deceased child for doing this to himself and you all. How it must hurt.

Praying multiplied grace and peace and comfort to you as you walk and work your way through so much. I wish I could take all that pain away. My thoughts and prayers are constantly with you and you are very much loved, dear GG.

Jodie said...

What I have felt in the couple of times where suicide has hit close to home is an irresolvable conflict between loving and aching for the murder victim, and having no closure with the murderer, whom I really wanted to punish and hurt back.

Embracing these two people together is an impossible task. Separating them is an impossible denial. Staying in the moment is like bathing in acid and escaping from it is not an option.

There is just no place to file such feelings. The deepest primordial horror scream still leaves mountains unexpressed.

Gannet Girl said...

Mags, I thought that sermon was beautiful, but I did almost leave a comment: What about when God does (apparently) leave someone to be consumed by the inferno?

I don't know whether any I write makes any difference, but I am grateful if it makes us all think about what we say to people, whether via sermons or in person. (Of course, the problem is that you start to wonder whether you should ever say anything at all. To anyone in any circumstance.) But I have certainly been pained by many comments along the lines of "God has a plan, God is always good, everything works for the better."

And Karen and Jodie, thank you for saying it better than I can.

karen gerstenberger said...

I love what Karen said. Death by suicide is clearly very tortuous and complicated, and the death of a child by suicide, even more so. I pray for comfort for you, GG.

I admire you for naming these hard questions, and for facing them. I wish I knew more people who were so courageous. It's lonely to look death in the eye, when so many people pretend it isn't there. Your perspective, your honesty, your goodness is needed. XO

Magdalene6127 said...

GG, I know. That very question made me squirm and I probably chickened out of really addressing it.

I'm struck by what Jodie says. That feels true to me-- as if in suicide the one you love is divided, murderer and murder victim. What an impossible, impossible situation.

Yes, GG. What you write makes me consider deeply what I say, what I write. You have changed me. And I'm so sorry/grateful.

artandsoul said...

My daughter is dating a very lovely young man, and I could see them staying together - married or whatever.

His father died by suicide 18 years ago when he was 10. He, his sister and his mother are still reeling. Sometimes this can be very confusing for my daughter - who, at 21, has very little life experience to draw on and can sometimes forget that this is a devestating and foundational experience for her beloved.

She is slowly reading through both of your blogs. We have had some heartwrenching but very loving discussions and I'm sure we will continue to do so.

His family rarely talks about his dad, or about their feelings... I think they all have some idea that they "should have gotten over it by now" or something.

I'm rambling, but I just wanted to say that life is an amazing and richly peopled journey. I'm terribly sorry for your loss and yet I am changed for the better because you have dared to write of it.

And you are helping other families similarly situated, because as my daughter reads your blog she is becoming more empathetic and understands more, and is able to open just a little more to this previously unknown territory.

Thank you.


Gannet Girl said...

Thank you for that Cindy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this blog. I feel so much less alone - although no less isolated.

Sometimes I've decided, God does not care. Either that or God has created this life as a horrible, horrible joke.

Other times I just hope that maybe God does care. And will get around to revealing that eventually.

Deb said...

Sometimes I shudder to think of what I have said and how it would have been hurtful, not helpful. And I try to say less, shut up more, listen more...


Beach Walkin said...

No good words... so I will just pray.