It Takes Disastrously Crazy Thinking to Commit Suicide and Leave a Child Behind

It Takes Disastrously Crazy Thinking to Commit Suicide and Leave a Child Behind June 8, 2018
Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Don https://www.flickr.com/photos/fallingwater123/

Fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain committed suicide this week. Both of them chose the painful and often slow method of hanging themselves to end their lives, and both of them left young daughters behind to deal with what their parents had done. 

I cannot fathom how someone with children could kill themselves. I remember when my first baby was born. I prayed prayers of gratitude almost nonstop for the first two days of my precious newborn’s life. By the third day, it occurred to me that I could die and leave him, something I knew would blight his life. 

So, I began to pray that I would live to raise my baby. God answered that prayer. My children are grown now, and so far as I’m concerned, He can take me home anytime. I’ve finished my life’s work.

How does a person’s thinking get so upside down that they chose to die and leave their vulnerable child? They must experience a despair and feeling of worthlessness that crushes their minds. 

Depression and despair are liars. Suicide results from believing depression’s most devastating lie, which is that the pain of this moment is a fixed thing that can not, will not, change or get better. 

It must take an overwhelming lie to convince the parent of a child to kill themselves. I would guess that the monstrous lies of depression and despair convinced these parents that their child would be better off without them, that somehow or other, it would improve their child’s life if they exited from it. 

I do know that the family and child who is left behind to try to understand and go on from this tragic decision stand before a mountain of pain and confusion, anger and grief. The sense that this was the ultimate desertion, and in a way, a rejection of them and their love, must lie like smoke over the combustion of other painful emotions. 

Even worse, religious faith challenges as much as it soothes the grief over this particular kind of death. Suicide is murder of self. It is a final, ultimate rejection of God’s sovereignty over life and death. We are often told that it is the outward manifestation of the worst sin of Judas, the sin of despairing of God’s mercy. 

How do people find a way out of the misery of grief that suicide of a parent, spouse, friend or child leaves behind? Where is the hope that passes all understanding in the rejection of hope itself that suicide seems to signify?

Simply put, are those who love people who have died by suicide going to have to face the prospect that this cherished person has, by killing themselves, sent their own souls to hell?

I would love to give a soothing answer to this question, but I truly do not know. I can say that death is not so immediate as it seems from the outside. There are stages and degrees of dying, long eternity moments, in which it is absolutely possible for a dying person to turn to God. 

I know without doubt that Jesus can and will reach down and save any of us, at any time, even in these last moments of dying life when this world is fading. All anyone has to do is be willing to accept Him.

I also know that depression and despair are liars and that the things they tell those in their clutches are lies, hiding behind falsehoods, cloaked in deceptions. Why would a loving parent commit suicide? I think the only way they could do such a thing is if their thinking is so corrupted by that liar depression that the most vicious liar of all, despair, is able to drown out all other voices. It takes  disastrously crazy thinking to commit suicide, especially for those who leave children behind. 

If you need proof of a sort that these people were thinking crazy, consider that they inflicted the painful death of hanging on themselves. This was almost certainly not a skillfully weighted hanging which snapped their neck with a single jerk. It was a slow, kicking, twisting, choking, tortuous way of dying. 

Nobody, if their thought processes were normal, would abandon their child in this manner. Nobody, who was not basically irrational, would hang themselves to death. 

The easy way out of the moral challenge of facing the fact that someone you love has killed themselves would be to simply say that they were out of their mind, and as such, not responsible for what they did. That belief certainly has merit. I think it is probably true for some people who commit suicide.

But, tempting as it is to say that’s the answer and close the discussion, I don’t believe that it is. While irrationality on the part of the person who commits suicide might wash away part of the culpability for some people, I doubt very much that it always does for everyone. Suicide is murder of your own self. It is a terrible thing to do. 

What I do know is what I said earlier. We do not die as quickly as we suppose, and death by hanging is often a protracted means of dying. Death is a process, and in that process there are opportunities and second chances, moments of grace and offers of redemption. Those poignant moments are way stations out of this life, stopping off places on the path out of time, where any dying person can turn to Christ and be forgiven.

People whose loved ones have died by suicide are forced to live out a Gethsemane of not knowing for sure. That is a kind of protracted hell on earth for which the only comfort lies in prayer and hope. 

It is critical for all of us to realize that depression is a liar and hopelessness is the worst lie of all. We need to anchor ourselves in this reality so that depression and despair, which any of us can fall into if enough bad happens to us, do not extinguish our hope.

Hope is not Emily Dickinson’s delicate feathered thing that perches on the soul. Hope is stubborn, strong and tough. It is a main beam of resilience that we can cling to when the storms of life would blow us away. 

Hopelessness is always, every time, a lie. Even in death, there is hope. Even in suicide, there is hope. 

If you suffer from depression, do not allow yourself to listen to the demon’s lies. Remember that depression is a liar and hope is everlasting. Do not let go of those truths.

Even in depression, you can chose to know that the lies are lies. You can chose to remember that things always change, that this dark day is not forever. Even if you do not feel hope, you can chose to believe it. You can refuse to let the liar win.

If someone you love has died of suicide, you face your Gethsemane. 

There are places in life that you have to go without other people. Gethsemane is one of them. But you never have to enter your Gethsemane alone. Jesus will go with you. He understands what you feel because He has felt it. He is no stranger to Gethsemane. He will watch with you through this dark night of your soul, no matter if it extends to the end of your earthly life.

You have hope, real hope, that you will see the one who died again. Do not despair of them. Pray for them. Offer your Gethsemane to ease their Purgatory. You will help them more than you can imagine.

In all things, we have hope that passes all understanding. Even the despair of suicide. 

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16 responses to “It Takes Disastrously Crazy Thinking to Commit Suicide and Leave a Child Behind”

  1. Perhaps fortunately I have never felt so terribly depressed that I wanted to end my life. Have I always been happy? Of course not, life doesn’t work that way. It is truly sad that there is such desperation that ending their life is all a person can feel will stop the pain of their life. My children are grown, but I can’t imagine leaving this planet any earlier than necessary. If I ever wanted to end my life early, I wouldn’t do it by hanging!

    • You and I have both lived long enough to know that there is always another day. No matter what happens, all you have to do is keep on keeping on and you will eventually get through it. I leave my death in God’s hands. I hope He spares me a long and tortuous death from cancer and lets me have an easier out. But I know that I will see Him on the other side. There is no death, mi amiga. It is just a transition. As my pastor says, when we die, someone will say to us “you belong to me.” I belong to Jesus.

  2. Even in depression, you can chose to know that the lies are lies. You
    can chose to remember that things always change, that this dark day is
    not forever.

    No.

    Would you tell someone with, say, advanced Parkinson’s that they can choose to get up and walk freely? Would you tell someone with Alzheimer’s that they could regain their memories if they just tried harder? Or would you tell someone with cancer that they could choose to go into remission because the treatment is guaranteed to work?

    I don’t know anything about either Bourdain or Spade. I don’t know the details of their illnesses or the treatment methods they may have tried or the pain they may have been enduring. But I am not going to judge anyone who loses that battle, as horrified as I am for the spouses and children left behind.

    And as for the “thing with feathers,” according to Dickinson, there’s nothing fragile about it. It never stops– at all–

    And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
    And sore must be the storm –
    That could abash the little Bird
    That kept so many warm –

    Sometimes, the storm really is too “sore” — would you tell a drowning sailor to choose to outlast the hurricane?

    • I wrote this column for several purposes, but condemnation was not one of them. Depression certainly has a chemical and even a hereditary component to it. But anyone who has ever experienced it knows that it leads to crazy thinking, and that the crazy thinking is both destructive and dangerous. It is possible to turn away from this crazy thinking by clinging to the reality of reality if the person does it before they get wound into the craziness. The most important aspect of this is to know and hang onto the absolute fact that the depression is a liar and that the things it is telling you are not true. Things will change, they will get better, and they are not hopeless.

      This works. I’ve seen it work, and it has worked with my own depressions.

      Telling people that their suicidal tendencies are something, like, say Parkinson’s or terminal cancer, that are absolute and concrete and that there is nothing they can do but accede to them is not compassion. it is supporting, abating and enabling the lies of depression. It is feeding the false belief in their own hopelessness and helplessness that leads directly to suicidal thinking.

      The closest thing to an apt analogy that you used was the drowning sailor in a hurricane, and yes, I would absolutely encourage him or her to outlast the storm. Life has many storms and outlasting them is part of our challenge and task in being human. You don’t do it by not drowning in a hurricane, you do it by surviving this wave, now, and then again, and again, and again. That’s what survival is made of.

      I know all this because once, when I was 17, I came very close to committing suicide myself. I didn’t harm myself, but I came close. The crazy thinking I describe was all in place. I recognize now that the Holy Spirit stopped me, which is something I may describe in the future. However, the important point vs a vs this column is that I learned from this experience that depression is a liar. I also learned that it is not only possible, but necessary to know that depression is a liar. Surviving that depression made me a much stronger person precisely because I learned to fight for myself and my life.

      I encourage anyone who is suffering depression for any reason, be it a tragic life event, loneliness, a chemical imbalance or anything else, to seek help. I would also encourage them, as strongly as I can, to set boundaries on their thinking that are rimmed all around by reality, and not the fantastical lies of depression. They need to refuse to let themselves fall for the lies that they are helpless, hopeless and that things will never get better. These are lies. And any of us, no matter our situation can chose to believe them, or refuse to believe them. Depressed people need to know that they can refuse to believe these lies, if they start before the depression totally occludes their thinking, that they can, by their will, stop the slide into crazy thinking by simply and resolutely keeping reality in front of them.

      We are all stronger than our current culture of enabling allows us to think. Enforced societal myths of helplessness feed the beast of depression and — albeit accidentally — actually encourage the kind of thinking that leads to suicide.

      Amaryllis, I know that you are being trendy compassionate with your comments, and that you mean the very best. But the kind of helpless, hopeless thinking you are encouraging can be deadly.

      • Rebecca, you speak the truth here, sister. I have lived it. In 1982, my mother committed suicide, and while I do not despair of her salvation, I do pray for her soul. I so wish that she had been able to see a way out of her personal darkness and suffering, other than by taking her own life. I have lived for decades now without my mother being here on this earth, and it has often been incredibly painful. I have struggled with depression, self-loathing, and thoughts of self-destruction at times (sometimes, for long periods of time), but as I just wrote to another person here, the Church and her teachings are doing mighty work to help me reach a place of understanding that my existence in this world is a *good thing*, and that God is *very happy* that I am alive, so I should not hate myself and fall into despair! I know, only too well, that Satan hates the radical change in my perspective (because he would much rather have me both physically and spiritually dead!), but God loves it, and I’m learning to love it too!

        • Christopher, I’m sorry you have had to suffer all these things, but I’m glad you’ve found healing in the Church. Healing in Christ is real. I’ve experienced it myself.

  3. Once you’re caught up in the spiral of self loathing that is depression, its not that much of a leap to leave loved ones, even your own children behind. After all, once you’ve internalized the idea that you’re so wreched that you don’t deserve to live, the next logical step is to tell yourself that everyone will be better off without you.

    Hey, its not that I want to die, its that I don’t deserve to live, so by not killing myself I’m being selfish, irresponsible even.

    The idea of Hell, far from being a deterrent, becomes an invitation. After all, isn’t that exactly what I deserve? Won’t the people who know me, I mean really know me, rejoice at the idea of justice being done?

    And so on.

    Look, I know you guys are kind of obligated to promote your religion as the best thing for everybody, but the truth is that there are some core elements within that ideology that only serve to add fuel to the fire.

    • The Catholic Church teaches that the existence of every single human life (both born and unborn) is, ontologically, a good thing. Self-loathing is not some kind of logical result of Catholicism. Satan wants people to hate themselves, not God. Satan is the lover of despair, because it leads to destruction. The Catholic Church also does not teach that it is a matter of “justice” for people who are terribly struggling to go to Hell. You may get “likes” here for misrepresenting Catholicism, but you are still misrepresenting it all the same. I write as a Catholic convert whose mother committed suicide, and as a man who has struggled with self-loathing in the past but who is learning to rightly love himself and others, better and better, in the balanced way that the Church teaches.

      • I didn’t say self loathing is the logical result of Catholicism; I’m laying out the thought process of someone already there.

        As for my misrepresenting Catholicism, are you saying that we don’t all deserve to go to Hell? Do you have another word for people getting what they deserve?

        I know this is supposed to be balanced out by God’s mercy, but that may not resonate with someone in a suicidal state of mind.

        • I am curious as to why you seem to think that the Catholic Church teaches doctrines which are not actually Catholic, but rather, which come from certain strains of evangelical Protestantism? The Church’s teachings on humanity and sin are not as simple as the assertion that “we all deserve to go to Hell.” The Church does teach that Christ died for all sinful people (everyone, all of us). and that all people should hear the truth (the “Good News”) about Him and what He did for us.

          As for all of humanity simply “deserving to go to Hell” though, the Church’s teaching is much more nuanced than that kind of assertion. For example, there is the Catholic distinction, which can be found in Scripture, between the gravity of various, different kinds of sins. In Catholic theology, this is explained with the terms, “venial sin” and “mortal sin.” The Catechism has much more to say on these matters. It’s fair, though, to say that Catholicism does not teach what your local evangelical church(es) may well teach about people deserving to go to Hell for committing any sin at all, no matter what it is, case closed.

          • Look, the point about Catholic doctrine was a tangential one, and it was simply that to somebody caught in a spiral of depression, self-loathing and a desire for self-destruction, some concepts, like Hell, do not serve as a deterrent for suicide and can be actually the opposite. The finer details of who goes to Hell, how and why, are honestly irrelevant and beside the point.

            If you want to take issue with the idea that we all deserve to go to Hell and that Hell is a manifestation of God’s justice, then maybe you should take it up with the Patheos Catholic bloggers who made those expressions. The only reason I bring this up is in response to you saying this is an “evangelical thing”.

            If its all the same to you, I rather disengage from this conversation. Given how personal the subject matter is for both of us, I’m not sure its either healthy or helpful to continue arguing about this. There is certainly nothing for me to gain or prove from “winning” the argument. Catholicism works for you; that’s fine and I’m glad. I’ll leave it at that.

            • Well, for the person writing this comment (which will be my last one to you, as you wish) who has struggled with depression, self-loathing, and a desire for self-destruction, at different points in his life, the possibility of Hell has very much served as a deterrent to said self-destruction. God’s love and mercy have done the same.

  4. “How does a person’s thinking get so upside down that they chose to die and leave their vulnerable child?”

    This is a very good article Rebecca. There is something going on in the culture that is causing a lot of misery in the human soul, and that must be pushing some of the borderline stable into suicide and violence. That said, I am convinced that a mental illness is at the root of most suicides and violence. People with mental illnesses don’t process information the same way healthy people do. My mother has throughout her life had mild depression and moments of anxiety and paranoia. She’s never attempted suicide, thank God, but when she is not right she does not see the external facts before her like one should and therefore reaches “crazy” conclusions. And you can’t convince her otherwise. These people who commit suicide I suspect have reached a conclusion from looking at the world through a distorted lens. May they rest in peace and may God understand their suffering.

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