Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 12, 2005
Suicide's victims are safe in God's hands
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
Every year I write a column on suicide because, among all forms of death, it's still the one we struggle with the most. What makes a person take his or her own life?
Suicide, no doubt, is the most misunderstood of all deaths and leaves behind a residue of questions, guilt, anger, second-guessing, and anxiety which, at least initially, is almost impossible to digest. Even though we know better, we're still haunted by the feeling that suicide is the ultimate act of despair, a deed that somehow puts one outside the family of humanity, the mercy of God and (in the past) the Church's burial grounds.
When someone close to us commits suicide we feel both pain and shame. That's why suicides are often not reported publicly. An obituary is more likely to say that this person "died suddenly," without specifying the cause of death. To lose a loved one to death is painful, to lose a loved one to suicide is also disorienting. A number of things need to be said about suicide:
First, that suicide, at least in most cases, is a sickness, a terminal illness that takes a person out of life against his or her will. In essence, suicide is death through emotional cancer, emotional heart attack, emotional stroke. That's why it's apt to say that someone is "a victim of suicide." Suicide is a desperate, if misguided, attempt to end unendurable pain at any cost, akin to throwing oneself through a window and falling to one's death because one's clothing is on fire. Suicide is an illness, not a sin.
Next, those left behind when a loved one commits suicide should not unduly second guess themselves, anxiously examining over and over what they might have done differently, why they weren't more present, or how they somehow failed the one who committed suicide. Part of the anatomy of the disease is precisely the pathology of distancing oneself from one's loved ones so that they cannot be present to the illness.
We weren't there precisely because the person committing suicide did not want us to be there and picked the moment, the venue and the means precisely with that in mind.
Besides, we're human beings, not God. People die from accidents and illnesses every day and all the love and attentiveness in the world sometimes cannot prevent someone we love from dying. Suicide is a sickness and, like cancer, sometimes cannot be cured by any amount of love and care. Knowing this isn't an excuse to rationalize our failures, but it can give us some consolation in knowing that it wasn't our neglect or inattentiveness on a given day that led someone we love to suicide.
Finally, we should not have undue worry and anxiety over the eternal fate of our loved ones who commit suicide. Why not?
First, in most cases, suicide victims have cancerous problems precisely because they are over-sensitive, wounded, too bruised to be touched, and too raw to have the normal resiliency needed to deal with life. Their problem is not one of pride and strength, but rather of shame and weakness. What drives them to this act is not the arrogance of a Hitler, but the weakness of an illness.
That's why we can make a distinction between "falling victim to suicide" and "killing oneself." The former is done out of illness, the latter out of pride. On the surface they might look the same, but there's an infinite moral distance between being too bruised to continue to touch life and being too arrogant to continue to take one's place within it.
God, more than anyone else, understands this. God's understanding and compassion are much deeper than ours and God's hands are infinitely gentler than our own. If we, in our imperfect love and limited understanding, have some grasp of this, shouldn't we be trusting that God, who is perfect love and understanding, is up to the task and that our loved ones are safe in God's hands?
Any faith that connects itself to a God worth believing in doesn't have undue anxiety as to what will happen when God, finally, face to face, meets an over-sensitive, wounded, ill, struggling soul. Indeed, we have many scriptural references as to what happens - God, who can descend into any hell we can create, goes straight through our locked doors, enters into the hell of our paranoia, illness, and fear, and gently breathes out peace.
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