Little did I know how a recently returned telephone call would affect me so profoundly and again bring into focus the damaging effects that a suicide has on a family. A father called to talk about his son’s flush memorial and soon the conversation turned to a discussion about his death.
On the day of his son’s death, he and his wife found the life they had known thrown into darkness and confusion. Not only were they dealing with the death of their son, they were also confronted with the stigma surrounding suicide. They struggled with the reality of their son’s death as society whispered its’ judgment. This father suffering the anguish of suicide opened himself to me and I could feel the warmth of the love he had for his beloved son. As we spoke, his private despair became very real to me and it became clear that the love he has for his son was overshadowed by a cloud of doubt and anger.
He called only to inquire about a new memorial for his son, but soon we delved into matters that were very private and personal. This loving father burdened by an overwhelming anger needed more than just a quick response to his request for a new memorial. He needed me to live the words written in our mission statement.
I discovered that he was angry with himself for not seeing his son’s pain. He blamed himself for not being able to save his beloved first born and I felt the intense love for this son through the tears of grief shared with a stranger over the phone. Those of us who are fortunate to have not experienced the death of a loved one by suicide, have an obligation to families dealing with its’ effects. We must try to understand that the cause of suicide is not choosing death; rather death is the only way out of the darkness. They do not see the glimmer of light at the end of that dark tunnel, and the darkness is so overwhelming that there is no antidote for the pain. It is not a matter of life or death it is a matter of removing the pain.
We say things like they chose the “easy way out” or that it is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” We make such comments without realizing that in the mind of the deceased, the demons will not go away and the excruciating pain is ongoing. To believe that anyone truly considers the ramification of an act that leads to death is to believe that reason somehow entered the decision making process. The unrelenting pain becomes unbearable and the mind does not distinguish between life and death, it merely knows that the pain must end. To that person, there is no light, no hope and the problem is perpetual. We must envision the overwhelming burden of this pain in order to better understand how it lead the person away from the people he or she loved so much.
A father who blames himself for not seeing his son’s pain must understand that his son loved him so much that he did not want his father to be burdened with his struggles. This is true of any one who loves another and does not want to burden those they love with their pain. We do not see it as love but then we also do not understand the reality of their pain. Love is the reason that the person caught in this trap wears a mask to protect those they love from their pain.
Many survivors visit the place where their loved one is interred and focus all of their energy on why? Anger can overwhelm them and can be directed at one’s self or at their deceased loved one. When visiting a deceased loved one, negative emotions can take away from the time to remember their relationship with the deceased. As people of faith we must remember that death does not separate us from our loved one, it merely suspends that relationship. We must allow our relationship to be transformed and spend the time with our loved ones knowing our faith, expressing the hope of what is to come and remembering their love.
During this excruciatingly painful time and in all the confusion of the moments following the news of his death, these parents turned to their Catholic faith and trusted that God would guide them through the darkness. We pray for all those who are suffering the death of a loved one and in particular those who suffer from a death due to suicide. May all find peace in the knowledge that their loved ones were welcomed with open arms and are seated at the table of our Lord and Savior.
Director, Catholic Cemeteries Association