We don’t know how to talk about it.
We don’t want to talk about it. I’ve written a dissertation on it, run campaigns around it, and I still find myself struggling for words to understand, to help others understand.
Like the basilisk being summoned to people’s lives once more from Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets, suicide is something we try to avoid thinking about, especially in churches. We only think about it when it rears its ugly, destructive head. The despair and pain felt by a suicidal individual cannot be eloquently described. I could speak of darkness, of a fear of the future, of a bone-heavy weariness with life, but each of these phrases fall short. Kay Redfield Jamison eloquently writes suicide in her book “Night Falls Fast” and she says this:
“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.”
For some people, it is unthinkable. The thought may flit unwarranted through the mind, but it doesn’t stay. For others, it is a thought which has to be endured, fought on a daily basis. The psychopathology of suicidal ideation is complex and thankfully, many who struggle with the thoughts never act upon them. For those who do, and survive, we speak strangely of a “failed suicide attempt” as if the completion of the act would somehow be a success. Suicide, whether completed or thankfully interrupted, needs to be talked about.
ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) teaches that asking about suicide doesn’t increase the risk – it decreases it. We must banish the myth that speaking of suicide may somehow “give someone the idea”. Asking the question may be the key which enables someone to say the words no-one else wants to hear.
I won’t pretend here that hearing someone’s wish to die is easy. It isn’t. Hearing someone say the words “I want to die” is incredibly difficult, especially if we love that person. For the christian, fears of committing the unforgivable sin and being condemned to hell exacerbate this (for the record, suicide is a forgivable sin, any more than other sin – for further reading on the attitudes of suicide I will direct you to Rob Waller’s article on the matter.
Suicide, in whatever circumstance, is tragic. It leaves in its’ wake a complicated grief and countless unanswered, unanswerable questions. I can only offer a reminder of the spirit which groans for us when we haven’t got the words to pray ourselves to those touched by suicide.
For the Church, we have a challenge. We have the chance to make a difference. To ask the most difficult questions and stand beside those whose legs are giving way beneath them.