Thursday, August 12, 2010

Suicide (Not for the Faint of Heart)

I could be wrong (wouldn't THAT be surprising?) but I have about concluded that the suicide of a child is the ultimate challenge to any understanding of faith. As is the suicide of a sibling or parent, although the reasons would be somewhat different.

Maybe I'll start thinking about how to articulate that. For now all I can do is mumble something along the lines of: no matter what the articulation of faith in the face of suffering -- like this for instance -- my brilliant comeback is always, "Yes, but . . .".

The suicide of a child is in its own category.

Let me try this:

I went to the eye doctor several months ago. She has cared for all of my children all of their lives. In the context of our conversation about Josh, she told me about another patient family in which the son died last year in a motorcyle crash on the day he graduated from college. The mother and daughter have become speakers promoting organ donation. Brave, heroic women. No question about it.

Do you see the problem?

Suicide: No organ donation. No heroics ~ which is to say, no salvific sense of purposefulness in courage or in helping others ~ not for the person who has died and not for the survivors. Death, brutal and violent - and alone. The knowledge that someone you loved far more than your own life suffered so terribly, and that one aspect of that suffering was an inability to seek help. No good-byes. No conversation at all. And an action that so violates every tenet of life, an action taken by someone whose own life was a process and product of your own love, at conception and for every moment thereafter. Even if you are confident, as I am, that suicide in most cases (including this one) is not the act of a rational person (which is another conclusion that causes only anguish), it is still different than, say, being run over by a train, or cornered by an illness.

The summer right before Josh died, I spent 11 weeks doing my clinical pastoral education in a hopsital in which almost all of the patients are critically ill. Dozens of my patients died. I poured my very being into offering spiritual care to all of those people and their families, most of them complete strangers to me. I could not do that for my own child.

On Sunday I will be preaching on God's all-encompassing love. That's what I believe in; that's all I can believe in.

But some days it's a real stretch to find any point of contact between faith and experience.


Cynthia said...

Any loss of a loved one is terrible, but I completely agree with you. The loss of a child to suicide is an entirely different realm. I am constantly humbled and deeply touched by your ability to articulate your experiences after Josh's death and your ability to move forward through it all. You are in my prayers.

Kathryn J said...

An apt warning. Your writing is so amazing that my heart crumbled and then stopped while reading this. I am left stunned, overwhelmed - once again - that Josh is gone. The part I detest the most is knowing that my pain is a ridiculously small portion of yours.

You are a hero when you write about it and when you preach and some days just for getting out of bed.

Karen said...

The suicide of a child is in its own category of human suffering, and nothing else compares. The loss and hurt and pain is multiplied geometrically by so many factors unique to this type of death. It shocks me still that this tragedy invaded your life. You are heroic, and your quest to make meaning of it all is salvific. Thank you for opening a window on something so personal and painful, and yet so very important for all of us to understand- however much we can.