Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Suicide: Some Things

It's been three years, seven months, and one week.

I was able to celebrate an Easter communion liturgy with genuine joy and hope.  The promise of a bodily resurrection into new and whole and healed life is very real to me.

Josh's death has not stopped me from caring for my family, completing my education, becoming a spiritual director, being ordained to ministry, pastoring a church, and dealing with breast cancer.

But, in case you were wondering:

No, I never stop thinking about him.

No, I am not finished with the the horror, the denial, the anger, the bargaining.  I have no plans to accept this.  I suggest to God every day that I would gratefully trade absolutely everything in my life (other than people) for Josh's.

On Friday, out to pick up some lunch at the bakery, I ran into a professor I know from John Carroll, and his wife, whom I had not met before.  Their fifteen year-old-son died in a ATV accident two and one-half years ago.  Friday was his birthday; we had all just been to the cemetery, apparently only a short distance from one another, before coming to the bakery.  She told me that he would have been eighteen, preparing for college:  What college would he have chosen?  What would he be planning for his life?  

I told her that Josh would be twenty-seven and that I often wonder: would he have stayed in the corporate world; would he have started at Chicago's B-school by now?  Or would he have abandoned that path; would he be at the Art Institute or on the road with his camera?  

She commented that suicide must be particularly difficult.  I agreed, but added that we must both find ourselves thinking about how different our lives would be if only things had gone otherwise in the last five minutes of our children's lives. That we have all been the victims of stupid, stupid actions by impulsive young men. And she agreed with that.

I suppose that if you had seen us in the bakery, you would have had no idea that our conversation was about our dead sons and our dashed hopes.

One of the things I wonder about is: what would it even be like to live through a day without this terrible weight of sorrow?  I've completely forgotten.  I think, though, that life would probably not be quite so difficult.

Today I am presiding over my first funeral as a pastor. I have planned, or helped to plan, several other funerals, but they have all been for close family members or friends.  The lady who died in this case was ninety-one years old.  Her children are devastated. Ninety-one.  I am envious of sixty-seven of those years.  Can't I get them back for him?

I don't think it does much for my ability to pastor, that I am jealous of a grieving family.  

And probably the parents of young children who have died feel the same way about me.  Couldn't we have just had twenty more years, they must wonder.  Is that so much to ask? 

So, if you are wondering what it's like, I'll tell you:  It's terrible.  It changes, but: so what?  It's still terrible. 

A few weeks ago, an 83-year-old parishoner told me the story of her father's death by suicide, when she was a little girl.  As far as I know, she has had a good life: husband, children, community.  But the horror of a father's suicide casts a long shadow.

I think we would all like a do-over.


  1. Praying with you.

  2. "I don't think it does much for my ability to pastor..."

    I'd say that your humanity and honesty about it does a great deal for your pastoral abilities, though.

  3. Like you, I don't plan on ever accepting it. Forced to live with it, yes; but accepting it? The whole idea infuriates me. I also wish for a do-over. I am learning much living the life I wish I'd never had, but oh how I long for the good ole days when he was here.
    Love and hugs, Robin. I loved your Easter message too.

  4. God be with you - and such a good reminder that we never know what burdens another carries. Thank you.

  5. I agree with Mary Beth. And in many cases, it is these life experiences and burdens that Nancy refers to, that heighten our sense of compassion, empathy, and ability to support our fellow human being.
    Wishing you continued grace...

  6. When I read your word "accept" I hear "agree with" or "approve of" and I just wanted to say that I do not use that as a definition of the word acceptance. So, sometimes in your blog or in other of my writings you may see that word - I want you to know how I use it, and how it works in my life.

    For me, acceptance is what you describe - living with the terrible. Acknowledging that it changes and that there are many wonderful things, but that it is still terrible. To me that IS acceptance. In the deepest, most meaningful way. For me, acceptance is a moment to moment choice to live in the reality. Even when, and maybe especially when, reality hurts like hell.

    I accept that. And so I live with that. I do not turn my face away, pretend it didn't happen, or look for illusions and crutches to prop me up in some kind of denial. Do I wish it had never happened? You bet. Do I wish I could have an instant, a choice, a moment back to do something different? You bet. To me, that is acceptance too. My desire in conflict with the reality that it will not be granted - not according to the laws of physics by which this particular phase of my being is governed.

    But like you, I have a hope in the eternal. And there, there in the eternal I may have a chance to live in that timelessness that is God, and there find the wholeness, the peace that I long for. Yes, I have peace here. Daily. I really do. And serenity, and even joy and happiness. But not ever do I think that it means that things have changed. That the terrible did not happen. That it does not still, and always, color my life. Those things (joy and happiness and serenity) simply exist with it. And seeing that as my life is, to me, acceptance.

    I'm not suggesting that you change the way you define "acceptance" I just wanted you to know that I use it differently - but agree with you wholeheartedly in the living.

    Sending you much love.

  7. I like your definition, Cindy and, if that is acceptance, then I suppose I am accepting. I probably used the word "acceptance" here more carelessly, and more in line with what I think others often mean: that they have moved on, looked away, decided 'to think about it tomorrow" a la Scarlet.

    1. Yes, I know many people who live life that way. It's just not a life I could lead - not with any sense of purpose, meaning and faith.

      I know I've said before (probably here in this blog) that one thing I think Mel Gibson got very, very right in his film is the cinematography of Mary, the mother. Her unblinking presence, her devotion, her love, and her acceptance - she never looked away. Never moved on. Never imagined how she could fix, control or manage the situation. Instead, her gravitas is, to me, the searing imprint that I cannot shake from that movie.

      I know, I'm supposed to focus on Jesus. But there was something in her eyes, in her carriage that just spoke - and continues to speak - to me. About presence. And that other kind of acceptance.