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I couldn’t shake the somberness that clung to me like lint on a suit of clothes. The grief I felt in the eyes of the family followed me out the door of the funeral home and into my car. A wintry mix of snow and rain added to the dreariness of the moment and the rhythmic swish and swash of my windshield wipers sounded like a death knell, projecting with every beat of its dirge the photographs I had just seen of the deceased in happy times, nagging me with one question: Why?
It was not a good death for this family; it was a suicide. And it left a wake of questions and misery that will likely leave ripples of doubt and pain for a long time.
No family is immune to the possibility of this particular tragedy. Just ask Rick Warren, pastor of one of America’s largest churches and author of a best-selling book about a purpose driven life. Warren’s 27-year-old-son, Matthew, committed suicide last week. Matthew had suffered a life long battle with mental illness.
Warren wrote in an email to his staff that “only those closest knew that he (Matthew) struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America's best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.”
Those of us who haven’t experienced that torture may have trouble understanding its gravity. But it’s just as traumatic and tormenting as physical affliction.
Pastor Warren recalled something his son had said. "I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said 'Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?'”
Psychiatrist and ethicist Willard Gaylin calls this dilemma “the tyranny of survival.” He says, “One can simply get to a point where the pain and grief of life is in excess of the joy and pride.”
As the words of M*A*S*H*’s theme song expressed it: “Through early morning fog I see/visions of the things to be/the pains that are withheld for me/I realize and I can see/ that suicide is painless…”
But is it?
Certainly not for those left behind.
If someone you love has committed suicide, I hope and pray you can find some comfort in Scriptures like Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”
And you are most fortunate if you have someone to hold your hand and heart through the hurt.
If you are contemplating taking your life, remember that your life is not a private matter that concerns only yourself. You are a sacred gift of God’s creation, even though the mental anguish you are experiencing may smear the clarity of that truth. You uniquely contribute to the life of others. So taking your own life is to steal something very valuable from them.
And remember, you are never beyond hope, even though despair may be the only future you can see right now. Suicide, it has been said, is not a temporary solution to a permanent problem, but a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Cling to what may seem like the thinnest shred of hope.
I read where 10 percent of the suicides in San Francisco occur as people jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. The side of the bridge from which they jump is significant. Almost every one of them jumped off looking at the city rather than the ocean.
No can know, but it makes you wonder: Was their final gaze at the city their one last longing for hope?
Climb down from the bridge and embrace The Everlasting Hope who shines in the darkest of moments, bringing hope to what may appear to be the most desperate of situations.
Give life a chance.
David B. Whitlock is a Baptist minister and author of the book "Life Matters." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(SUICIDE HOTLINE info must accompany this column)