Tag Archives: suicide

The Aftermath

In her critically acclaimed memoir “Wasted” , Marya Hornbacher she writes of the aftermath of her eating disorder. It is not the happy ending we would wish to read after a memoir of such an acute and destructive eating disorder. She writes the following about the aftermath:

“It is the distance of marred memory, of a twisted and shape-shifting past…And it is the distance of the present, as well – the distance that lies between people in general because of the different lives we have lived. I don’t know who I would be, now, if I had not lived the life I have, and so I cannot alter my need for distance – nor can I lessen the low and omnipresent pain that that distance creates.” (1)

I was chatting today with a friend about the effect a suicide attempt has. The effect on the family, but also the lasting damage and impression it leaves upon the one so consumed with pain that they thought death was the only way out.

We don’t like to talk about it. Who would?

It is uncomfortable and painful to think about that kind of despair, that kind of blinding darkness.

And yet as pastors and preachers, mental health workers, doctors, friends, parents and children, the likelihood is that we will meet someone in our lifetime who has tried to take their own life.

And the damage it causes can leave long-lasting scars in their wake. It scars families, when a member tries to remove themselves from the world.

Samaritans estimate that 5% of the population attempt suicide over the course of their lifetime – but what happens next?

It is my belief that something like attempting suicide leaves its own private and painful legacy. The guilt at the pain you’ve caused family and friends, the knowledge that you have pushed an invisible barrier to breaking point. The body is beautifully designed to protect itself, and once that barrier as been destroyed – suicide never ceases to be an option. It is this which makes a previous suicide attempt the single biggest risk factor for suicide.

It sounds like a hopeless situation.

And yet, there is something about great pain that allows for great compassion. A fight for life in whatever form that takes. One of the most beautiful things about the Christian faith is that Jesus shows us that our pain can heal. Not only that, but He forgives us when we repent – we are not left to dwell on our sins for our whole lives. Wolterstorff writes:

“And what of regrets? I shall live with them. I shall accept my regrets as part of my life, to be numbered among my self-inflicted wounds. But I will not endlessly gaze at them. I shall allow the memories to prod me into doing better with those still living. And I shall allow them to sharpen the vision and intensify the hope for that Great Day coming when we can all throw ourselves into each other’s arms and say, “I’m sorry.”

A suicide attempt does not define you. It will always be a part of your story – but it isn’t the end of your story – far from it! With hope and help, it can be the beginning of a new chapter.

There is an aftermath. There is grief and regret. But there is also forgiveness and hope – the very ingredients of life.

We Don’t Want To Talk About It

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.

 

 

How Can We #HoldOutHope? World Suicide Prevention Day 2015.

For some, suicide crashes into their lives without warning, it tornadoes through families leaving a painful wreckage in its’ wake.

For others, suicide is insidious. It’s the flash of a thought, the ache for an end to the pain.

For still more, suicide is a reminder of the guilt and despair that lingers after a suicide attempt.

Some of the pain experienced in life can be sympathised with; the loss of a loved one, or the diagnosis of a critical illness, but all too often, people touched by suicide aren’t sympathised with.

The man who’s desperately trying to hold on, but unable to escape the the suicidal thoughts which assault him every day.

The teenager whose life ended too soon, whose family are trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of a new normality without them.

The woman in her hospital bed, trying to come to terms with the scars her arms now bear and the reality that she tried to take her own life, her family at home, wondering what went wrong.

In the face of the darkest parts of the human mind; how can we respond?

 

 

Whatever feelings may be at the forefront of our own hearts and minds; hurt, anger, shame (and these are important and valid and must be cared for) the response has to be one of compassion.

Compassion, reaching out to share in the person’s pain can bring hope in the most tangible of ways.

Compassion is what the angel who nourished Elijah on Mount Horeb and it was what empowered Paul as he spoke to his desperate jailer. It doesn’t just speak trite words of sympathy, it’s the gut wrenching cry for someone else’s pain.

It’s an expression of love – and it’s a beacon of hope.

So in whichever way you face suicide, whether personally or professionally; respond with compassion. It can be the brightest light to get someone through their darkest night.

5 Ways to Face Up To Suicide In Your Community

World Suicide Prevention Day is fast approaching, and so for our finally #ThinkFive article, we’ve put together a number of ways you can face suicide in your community.

Facing the darkest condition of the mind isn’t easy, but that is the very reason it must be faced. Only by raising our voices can we break the silence and stigma which still surrounds suicide.

1. Language – If we are aiming to address suicide in our community, we must use language which destigmatizes and encourages openness. The phrases we use to describe suicide, such as “committing suicide” stem from when suicide was a criminal act. As this is no longer the case, suicide is not something to be committed! Instead, use phrases such as completed suicide or died by suicide, these phrases are accurate and do not include the language of judgement.

2. Seek Help – Suicide is not something to be dealt with in isolation, whether it’s you who is struggling, or if you’re supporting someone else, ensure that you are getting support from family, friends, a mental health team or as a part of your job role.

3. Sensitivity – If your community loses someone to suicide, avoid talking about the methods used or the way in which they were found, this is not to hide the issue, but to protect both those grieving and also those who may be facing their own suicidal thoughts.

4. Question – If you’re supporting someone who is having a hard time, whether because of depression, bereavement or any other circumstance, don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve thought of suicide. This must be done within the context of a relationship and done sensitively; for example “I know you’ve been feeling really down, and I wonder if you’ve ever felt so bad that you’ve thought of ending it all”.

5. Point Upwards – Whether it be making a point to pray for those who are struggling with mental health issues in corporate prayer times or preaching on a passage in the Bible where someone approaches God with their despair, it’s important not to end with despair. There is hope, not only in the good things that can be found in life, but in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus who came to be our Immanuel – God with Us.

Kay Redfield Jamison said “Suicide is not a blot of anyone’s name, it’s a tragedy” and I wholeheartedly agree. Suicide is a tragedy, it’s not what is meant to be and its’ legacy is long lasting, but more than that suicide is preventable. There is hope.

Night Falls Fast…So Bring a Torch

It has long been assumed that the biblical view of suicide is that it is both condemnable and unforgivable. For some, looking to christians for comfort during a period of suicidal thoughts, or in the wake of a loved one’s suicide served to add to their pain, rather than to help alleviate it. They received judgement, rather than compassion.

I am not going to speak here of my own personal ethic of suicide, because regardless of the viewpoint we may take, both those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and those who can no longer bear the weight of those thoughts.

Suicide is a tragedy. This seems to me to be evident in the narrative of Saul and his eventual suicide in the Bible. Commentator O’Mathuna writes:

“Rather than viewing Saul’s suicide as an isolated incident with no moral comment, this scene is the tragic conclusion to a literary masterpiece soaked in moral comment. Tragedy implies that what “is” is not what “ought” to be.” (1)

I do not believe that to be at that point of utter desolation can be what “ought to be”. It is, as O’Mathuna notes, a tragedy. It was a tragic conclusion to Saul’s story. It is tragic when a life ends by suicide.

Tragic for the lost potential of that life.

Tragic for the friends and family left behind, trying to pick up the pieces.

As Charlotte Bronte so beautifully put it;

 “God surely did not create us, and cause us to live, with the sole end of wishing always to die.”

As a christian who believes in the supreme love of God, expressed through the life, death and resurrection of His Son – I must share the view of Bronte.

I believe with all my heart that the most valuable thing we can do for someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts (or in the aftermath of an attempt) is to walk alongside them.

To hold their hand if they need it.

To show them that in the depths of their darkness, you are willing to step into that darkness with them – and hold up a torch.

(1)O’Mathuna, D. “But the Bible doesn’t say they were wrong to commit suicide, does it?” Suicide: A Christian Response, Kregel: Michigan, 1998, p359.

For practical advice to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts see here.

Balancing the Ethical and Pastoral

As you may know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I’m currently writing my third year dissertation on ethical and pastoral responses to the suicidal.

It’s a challenging project, not least because of some of the pro-suicide sources I’ve had to engage with.

And yet, above all that I’ve learnt, am learning, is how to balance the ethical and the pastoral. How to be faithful to the biblical text whilst also serving the struggling and the suffering. Particularly with the issue of suicidality, it can be all too easy to either neglect the ethical or to simply judge and criticise. Neither of these approaches are helpful.

We have to try and get this balance right. I really hope that I’m going to manage it! I feel burdened more than ever to reach into the word and reach out to the suffering. Suicidal feelings are distressing and can devastate lives. It is my prayer that some of the research I’m doing is going to make a difference. That the study of such a despairing topic, will, somehow bring hope.

We had hoped.

We had hoped.

They are some of the saddest words. They are words that speak of hopelessness, broken dreams and unspeakable agony. It saddens me that I can think of countless times I have heard these words.

We had hoped that he would get the job.

We had hoped that the chemotherapy would work.

We had hoped we would reach her in time.

We had hoped that things would get better.

We had hoped he would come home.

‘We had hoped He was the one to redeem Israel.’ Words found in Luke’s gospel after the crucifixion of the one we call Christ. They had hoped He was who they had been waiting for.

The words ‘We had hoped’ hold a great deal of pain and regret. They imply that hope has died.

And yet, for those travellers on the Emmaus – hope had not died. Because as although the death of Jesus seemed to be the dashing of their dreams and the destruction of their hope – His resurrection brought about a new hope. The hope and promise that Death would never again have the last word.

As the football world still reels after the news of Gary Speed’s suicide – hope can be found. Hope can be found in the darkest nights of the soul, the Holy Saturdays that seem never-ending. The family, friends and fans of Gary Speed can still have hope.

Because after the crucifixion of Christ – came the resurrection of Christ and a new life of hope.

We can hope for rescue.

We can hope for freedom.

We can hope for healing.

We can hope.