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Finding Solace In Suicide Through Faith

[I originally wrote this article in January of 2007 when a woman who had been part of our church committed suicide. She was not the first that we had known to commit suicide but she was the closest to us as she had lived with our family for some time.]

This past week we lost a dear friend to suicide.  Too many people that I have known have yielded to the temptation of taking their own life.  Their action leaves those who remain behind asking questions for which we struggle to find answers.

According to the Center of Disease Control, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Utah (diabetes is eighth)for all US men, and women report attempting suicide during their lifetime three times more often as men do. For youth, there is good and bad news.  The overall rate of suicide among youth has declined since 1992, yet suicide is still the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24.

I would expect that most know a family that has been touched by suicide.  If this is true, why then do we find it so difficult to discuss suicide?

When someone we care for dies, we will naturally grieve our loss.  We will miss the moments we shared, we will miss the hugs or encouraging words, we will miss the opportunity to express to them that we love them and will miss them. 

But suicide brings an added wrinkle to our grief.  In most deaths, we are afforded the opportunity to publicly grieve our loss, but in the case of suicide, we can be cheated out of our grief.  We may feel it to be taboo to speak about it.

Lacking the opportunity to enter into the grieving process, we may be left with a sense of false guilt.  If we are unable to talk about our grief, we can be left asking questions for which there are no answers.

Questions like, “Why did they do it?”  This is an obvious question that we may naturally ask, but one that we cannot answer, since the only one who can answer our questions has died. 

We ask hoping to be able to place blame somewhere.  We hope that if we could understand, then we would be able to put our pain to rest.  Yet this is unlikely, for our why questions will soon be followed by the ‘what and how’ questions.

These questions ask, “What more could I have done,” and “How could I have helped more?”  These questions seek to share the blame for what has happened and while understandable, they are not helpful. 

Why not?  Because our desire is to find answers that will either lessen the pain, or give meaning to our pain.  Yet the truth is that rather than lessening our pain, our pursuit of these questions can only increase our pain because it focuses on our guilt.

These questions lead us to the “if only” questions.  These are questions of hindsight: “If only I hadn’t” or “If only I had.”  Such questions are not helpful for they falsely assume foreknowledge that only God possesses.  We cannot know or predict the inner struggles that our loved one faces.  Yes in hindsight, these things may seem obvious, but we call it hindsight for a reason – because it is after the fact.

Possibly the most dangerous question is the one that doubts their love for us.  While suicide is self-focused, many times they do not act desiring to harm those they love.  We can appreciate that the one that takes their life is not thinking rationally, maybe we can also understand how they have falsely believed that their act may be one of love.

They have believed the lie that they are a burden; that others will be better off if they were not around.  In confusion, they may see their act as loving rather than hurtful.  For them, dying may seem like an unselfish act that allows their loved ones to be less burdened and thus able to get on with their lives.

How can we make sense of a senseless act?  When suicide takes the life of a friend, we need to allow ourselves time to grieve; we need to talk with others and honor their memory by remembering the special times shared.  We need to put aside our fears and not judge the reasons for our friends act.

Finally, we can find solace in the words of Psalm 103 “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is his love for those who fear him.”  For those who place their faith in Him there is always forgiveness.



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