The most usual, and most compassionate, judgment about suicide has traditionally been: “Took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed.” This is not only compassionate. It is also reasonable and truthful. You have to be on the point of mental disturbance, in most circumstances, to take your own life. Leave aside religious law: it goes against natural law. As the French writer Colette once said: “Every cell in the human body urges us – live!” No one is in a position to pass judgment on any individual suicide. But reports of some suicides nevertheless leave a harrowing impact on the mind, and make one yearn for some remedy to stop the same thing occurring again.
Such a case is that of Claudia Oakes-Green, aged 44, a regular attender at St Winefride’s Catholic church in Shepshed, Leicestershire. Mrs OakesGreen apparently killed her two children, aged 13 and seven, and then herself, while her husband was working abroad.
Everyone in the neighbour hood is bewildered, including those who knew the family from regular Sunday services. The parish priest, Fr Michael Eastwood, spoke kindly about how “pleasant, bright and smiling” Mrs Oakes-Green had always seemed and how happy the children were.
A bright smile can conceal a broken heart. Or a deeply worried soul. And it seems that Mrs Oakes-Green harboured many anxieties about the future. Well, everyone is worried about the future, so far as I can see, but this anxiety must have weighed especially heavily indeed.
Until there is a full investigation, we cannot know what the exact circumstances were in this case. But it is not the first such recent case of a parent putting an end to the mortal life of their family, and then themselves.
The question – notably, I think, for priests who may feel called to speak about this subject from the pulpit – is how best can we discourage such tragedies in the future?
I would say that compassion must be tempered with some attempt at deterrence. And some counterpoint against a trend seen on the internet – of presenting suicide as an acceptable and even heroic choice.
I believe that Christian doctrine should also advocate courage as a significant virtue. Life is difficult – sometimes it is anguishingly painful – but we have to be brave. Mothers, especially, must sometimes show courage and fortitude – as so many mothers indeed do.
We should exalt examples of valiant mothers – and the annals of biography can cite a multitude – who battled on, raising large families in the midst of great privations, and became unforgettable beacons of strength to their children and grandchildren.
Mrs Oakes-Green’s tragedy is haunting. Everything should be done to stop such cases reoccurring. Maybe we should all ask ourselves: what can I do? What can you do? ‘The only public figure to denounce capitalism in the past 25 years, Hobsbawm claims, was Pope John Paul II.” From Professor Terry Eagleton’s review of Eric Hobsbawm’s most recent work on Marx and Engels in the London Review of Books.
If either Professors Eagleton or Hobsbawm are intending to travel to Rome for the late John Paul II’s beatification, they will have to pull some strings (as will anyone else) to procure a hotel room, which I’m told are already packed out.
Anne Robinson, the television hostess of The Weakest Link, had a convent education, though I’m not sure how much of the nuns’ values rubbed off.
In her most recent interview she says she “despairs” of women in the workplace, because they’re not hardhearted enough.
Women should get tough and reprimand anyone who treats them disrespectfully with a firm rebuff, instead of just going off and “crying in the loo”.
“It’s no good saying ‘so-and so was horrid to me’,” says La Robinson, “or ‘so-and-so made me cry’. You simply have to learn to carry yourself better.” On second thoughts, the advice is not so very different from that advanced by certain exacting Mother Superiors I have known.
It was gratifying that one of the Oscars awarded for The King’s Speech was given to the writer, David Seidler. By Hollywood tradition writers were the lowest figures on the totem poll. So the lowly are now given a place at the banquet table.
Better still, David Seidler is aged 73 – and a former stutterer. He has made his weakness his strength. And he is now an active example to oldies that it’s never too late to aim for the stars.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science reported last week that learning a second language delays Alzheimer’s by five years. But winning an award, such as an Oscar, can add five years to your active life. Visit Mary-kenny.com