The Persian poet Hafez wrote a poem nearly 700 years ago entitled “We Should Talk About This Problem”. In it, God addresses a wounded soul: There is a Beautiful Creature Living in a hole you have dug ... And I often sing, but still, my dear, You do not come out.
I have fallen in love with Someone Who hides inside of you.
That’s God’s feeling, and perhaps ours too, when someone is in a suicidal depression. Few things can so devastate us as the suicide of a loved one. There’s the horrific shock of losing a loved one so suddenly which, just of itself, can bring us to our knees; but with suicide there are other soul-wrenching feelings too: confusion, guilt, second-guessing, religious anxiety. Where did we fail this person? What might we still have done? What is this person’s state with God?
What needs to be said about this? First, that suicide is a disease and generally the most misunderstood of all sicknesses. It takes a person out of life against his or her will, the emotional equivalent of cancer, a stroke or a heart attack.
Second, we, those left behind, need not spend undue energy second-guessing as to how we might have failed that person, what we should have noticed and what we might have done to prevent the suicide. Suicide is an illness and, as with any sickness, we can love someone and still not be able to save that person from death. God loved this person too and, like us, could not, this side of eternity, do anything either.
Finally, we shouldn’t worry too much about how God meets this person on the other side. God’s love, unlike ours, can go through locked doors and touch what will not allow itself to be touched by us.
Is this making light of suicide? No. Anyone who has ever dealt with either the victim of a suicide before his or her death or with those grieving that death afterwards knows that it is impossible to make light of it. There is no pain like the one suicide inflicts. Nobody who is healthy wants to die and nobody who is healthy seeks to burden his or her loved ones with this kind of pain. And that’s the point: this is only done when someone isn’t healthy. The fact that medication can often prevent suicide should tell us something. Suicide, in most cases, is an illness, not a sin. Nobody who is healthy willingly decides to commit suicide and burden his or her loved ones with that death any more than anyone willingly chooses to die of cancer and cause pain. The victim of suicide (in most cases) is a trapped person, caught up in a fiery private chaos that has its roots both in his or her psyche and in his or her bio-chemistry. Suicide, in most cases, is a desperate attempt to end unendurable pain, akin to one throwing oneself off a high building because one’s clothing is on fire.
Many of us have known victims of suicide and we know too that in almost every case that person was not full of pride, haughtiness and the desire to hurt anyone. Generally, it’s the opposite. The victim has cancerous problems precisely because he or she is wounded, raw and too bruised to have the resiliency needed to deal with life. Those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide know that the problem is not one of strength but of weakness; the person is too bruised to be touched.
I remember a comment I overheard at a funeral for a suicide victim. The priest had preached badly, hinting that this suicide was somehow the man’s own fault and that suicide is always the ultimate act of despair. At the reception afterwards a neighbour of the victim expressed his displeasure at the priest’s homily: “There are a lot of people in this world who should kill themselves,” he lamented, “but those kind never do! This man is the last person who should have killed himself because he was one of the most sensitive people I’ve ever met!” A book could be written on that statement. Too often it’s the meek who seemingly lose the battle in this world.
Finally, we shouldn’t worry too much about how God meets our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide. Aas Jesus assures us, God has a special affection for those of us who are too bruised and wounded to be touched. Jesus assures us too that God’s love can go through locked doors and into broken places and free up what’s paralysed and help that which can no longer help itself. God is not blocked when we are. God can reach through.
And so our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide are now inside of God’s embrace, enjoying a freedom they could never quite enjoy here and being healed through a touch that they could never quite accept from us.