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.