For over a month now I have thought daily of my friend who committed suicide in late June. She wasn’t really my friend in the best buds sort of way, we didn’t run in the same circles, and she was a good deal younger, but I still considered her a friend. She was the kind of friend that you always wanted to see and regretted when you didn’t get a chance to visit. She was like a shooting star who was fascinating, insightful, open and always moving. Besides all her other qualities she was beautiful and the kind of woman who despite her accomplishments seemed to have all the same man troubles the rest of us had. In fact, the times we got together the most frequently were when one or the other of us was wrestling with heartache or a relationship dilemma. Because we weren’t in touch regularly I studied her comings and goings through FaceBook, and just before her death, she seemed so happy, so in love with a man who was fascinating and appeared caring. She took him home to visit with her family, and all of her followers loved reading about the two having grand adventures in Africa. She had a cottage she adored in Sag Harbor and was trying to rent it for the season, one surmised because of her new love relationship and then suddenly it was over.
I have not had a day that I have not thought about her since I got the news. I have found myself checking her FB page daily and finding solace in her mother’s beautiful and emotional posts. She was a woman who was well loved, admired and successful. Why did she take her own life? I suppose there will never be a simple answer. I remember times when she was worried about money or some other life challenge, but she was never without supporters.
I grew up in a time when suicide was not only a tragedy but also a scandal. In some faiths, a person who took their own life was denied burial in a church cemetery. Doctors lied on death certificates to help the family get peace. For as long as I can remember the adults in my life were very fond of saying “God gives and God taketh away.” This shorthand phrase was aimed at those who committed suicide. Regardless of where they were buried, they had no right to take their lives; only God could do that! It has been many years since I bought off on that notion, choosing instead to see suicide as the act of a desperately sad or ill person, not someone to be condemned. Since I had decided on my own that suicide while painful for those left behind was not a sin, I had not done much thinking about it in an ecclesiastical sense. But in this month of desperately trying to understand my friend’s actions, at a time when things seemed so good, I started to review the Episcopal Church’s position on suicide and was relieved that there are active members of the clergy who are trying to destigmatize the act.
I think it is incredibly important that the church take a compassionate role in ministering to the families left behind. I was on the outer circle of my friend’s life, and I think daily about why she did it and what if anything could have been done to prevent her actions. If I feel this way, I can only imagine how her family and loved ones feel, the ones that were close to her and knew her far better than I did. In her mother’s lovely postings on FaceBook, it would seem that her daughter had masked the internal pain she must have been dealing with. Yet, as perhaps only a mother can know, she accepts the peace that her daughter longed for. While the pain of losing her is palatable, there is a calmness of understanding truth.
I do not doubt that for those who knew this amazing woman there is a whole host of feelings; anger, guilt and profound sadness. But I take comfort in what I believe to be the truth that despite her pain this glorious woman knew she was loved, relished the relationships she had and is beside those who hurt the most whispering to them that is was not their fault, she was just tired and needed to rest. The battle with whatever demons she was wrestling with just wore her out. It was time to go. I also take comfort that within my faith there is no longer condemnation and scandal, but love and comforted for the departed and those left behind.
Bless, O God of eternal life, all who have died by their own hand. Grant them peace from their inner turmoil and the compassion of your love. Comforted those who mourn their loved ones. Strengthen them to face the questions of pain, the guilt, and anger, the irreparable loss. Help us to reach out in love to others who prefer death to the choices of life and to their families who grieve. Amen. – Vienna Cobb Anderson