The phone rang near 1:30 p.m. I knew who it was. His “ringtone” on my phone sounds like a revving motorcycle engine, roaring delight with his Harley. A 50-year-old executive and grandfather, his voice was flat-toned, shaky. “I’ve got something hard to tell you,” his rumbling voice breaking up. “Mom killed herself.”
“I never expected this,” his voice quaky. “I knew she wasn’t feeling well, was depressed and lonely since her husband died. I had talked with her about her loneliness, sadness and painful illness.” He repeated, “I never expected this.”
Every death sends emotional shock waves through us. Suicide hits us like a F5 tornado. Our hearts and souls feel deep pain along with overwhelming questions and confusion. “Why?” “Could we have done something to prevent it.” “Why now?” “Did I do something wrong.” “Why didn’t she get help? Or let us help her?” “I don’t understand how anyone could do that.” “I feel angry.” “She didn’t have to do this.” The agonizing questions feel endless.
Bewildering questions throb like a fierce headache with every burst of tears. We feel out of control. What are we to do?
Here are some suggestions:
Hug and cry with your family and best friends. Then move away from the intensity for a while, doing normal things, then return to the hug and cry dance, moving in and out as you need.
Embrace your confusion and questions, don’t avoid or run away from them. Strange as it seems they are your friends, and, in time, your answers will come to you and confusion will focus in a new understanding.
Center your attention on the good, the wonderful, the beautiful of the person. Celebrate all the great and fun memories and pictures you have stored in the data files of your mind and heart. Share them like pictures on your smart phone.
Grieve your way. Feel and express your sorrow and loss in the ways that work best for you and help you heal. Your sadness is yours. Journey through it your way. Do what seems to help you. And if you need to, ask for help.
We are helped to go on when we hold in our hearts compassion for the deceased person, trying to mentally and heartfully “walk in their shoes.” A walk in their shoes gives us insight and understanding, lessening any critical or judgmental feeling we may experience.
Sometimes suicide is a form of euthanasia since the formal practice of euthanasia is not legal and treated as shameful in our culture. Euthanasia is the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering. The word “euthanasia” comes straight out of the Greek — “eu,” goodly or well + “thanatos,” death = the good death.
The person who self-euthanizes, a child of God, one God loves, who faces horrible illness, may be a saint. Choose to remember and honor them as the saintly souls they were. The family in this case considers the mother’s death self-euthanasia.
Life is a gift and a choice. A suicide spotlights life, for ourselves and others, in the most starkly simple, elemental question. The author of Deuteronomy (30:19-2) paints a picture of God speaking to human persons: “Today!” and “Right Now!” God says — life itself says — “I have set before you life and death,” with all its good and bad, all its joys and hurts, all its beauty and sorrow, together in a single, wondrous gift. Then God says, “Choose life!”
Life walks up to us every minute of our days and says, “Choose me!” Sometimes all the bad, hurts and sorrow pile up and push us away from life. Still the great invitation stands, “Choose life!” Life still calls, “Choose me!”
Remember your mother/grandmother/friend as a good loving person. She was a compassionate, highly intelligent, nurturing person. Family, friends, church and faith anchored her.
Give thanks she was your mother, grandmother or friend. Give thanks for her love, wise counsel and genuine goodness.
(Thanks to my sons Ben and Dallas, who helped me write this column. It was prompted by the death of their mother, my first wife.)
Allen Polen is a retired United Methodist pastor and a Progressive Christian. He lives in Winfield.