Monday, October 16, 2023

When We Lose Someone to Suicide, the Wound Remains…

Below is a poem that I wrote over a decade ago and that has appeared on this blog before. I don’t know what to say about it, really. I know that on a beautiful October day, 18 years ago, I learned of the tragic death of a very special friend—a friend from a family that has been close to our family for three generations. He had visited us with his brother fairly recently, and we knew that his depression had turned in a dangerous direction (though apparently he was able to hide it from people in general). 

His depression was different (and much more severe) than anything I have suffered in my “constellation” of mental illnesses over the years. He was very sick. We knew he was struggling, and that there was a danger… but who imagines that these things can really happen?

This seems like it was a long time ago, and I have mourned and grown and have been healed in many ways. It’s a different time in my life. I am passing through the grief of the deaths of my own parents (who were his godparents). I have also mourned together with other friends whose families have been plunged into sorrow over suicide. There have been too many people who have lost their lives, and too many families who have had to endure this suffering.

But it’s been a long time since the death of my friend, and so much has happened since then. I would think that the “emotion” expressed in this poem would be something I would feel only “remotely” at this point, as an attentive compassion to others who go through this, and as a cry to God in prayer that the epidemic of suicide might not be such a scourge in our part of the world—where we have so much wealth, where we think we can be “safe” and secure, where we have so many resources for improving mental health, where we have “awareness” and where much is being learned and put into practice to improve people’s lives and address their many hidden crises and traumas. 

Much good is being done. Many lives are being saved, and many people are being treated successfully for illnesses that were scarcely acknowledged to exist when I was a child. My own medical and therapeutic treatment for depression and OCD, sustained by a supportive environment, must be regarded as a success (my physical health… well, that’s another story, but overall I manage it). Without mental healthcare I don’t know what kind of bizarre husband and father I would have been during the past decade-and-a-half (during the time the kids were growing up and needed a loving and mentally stable father). Instead, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it seems that I have done okay—I now have four basically normal young adults (😉), a couple of great in-laws, and — what a wonder! — grandchildren. (We still have a teenager at home, of course, so stay tuned… the adventure goes on!) I am grateful: for the grace of God, the love and patience of my amazing wife, and access to good mental healthcare in the ways I have needed it.

We need an “army” of mental health professionals today—an army that is strong enough to be compassionate and tender, to bring merciful aid to those who are suffering. Many people don’t get the medical care, the therapy, the counseling, the accompanying that they need for the disorders and traumas and wounds that they suffer in this unprecedentedly stressful and tumultuous world. Humans (especially in the “rich world”—the “West”—the world I know best) live in environments and with powers and possibilities that no human beings have ever had before. We also live with a hyper-vulnerability, being continually invaded by these new forces we think we control. We are exposed and turned inside out by gigantic (sometimes monstrous) collective and interconnected experiences that can dominate our interiority, crowd out self-reflection, and confuse our need for transcendence by overwhelming us with spectacles of material power that are only transitory, that leave us frustrated and hollow.

This is the “front” in our war. It is a strange war. The enemy is opaque. But the explosions are all around us, in the emergence of this ever-evolving artificially-constructed human world—a world of unprecedented power that envelopes us, that we think we are “using” but that we don’t understand (with wisdom). Therefore, it invades everything we do with its own relentless dynamics, shaking us, stretching us, deluding us, exhausting us. We are all at least a little bit “concussed.” We need the place that has been called the “field hospital,” where there are inexhaustible resources of mercy for the whole of our humanity. Mental healthcare needs to be vitally connected to the “field hospital;” it can contribute to bring healing because it is a work of mercy.

Life. It’s hard for everyone. There’s no shame in admitting it. When we recognize our vulnerability and ask for the fullness of life, for true freedom, for an answer to our yearning hearts, then we begin to live in a new way, unmasking the “absolutist” pretenses of every finite power, and beginning to understand with wisdom, begging for the gifts that enable us to engage this gigantic world with a gigantic compassion. Mostly we will fail, we will be overwhelmed, we will be wounded. But it is the begging that matters, the giving-over of our weakness to that “Weakness that is stronger than every strength” (see 1 Corinthians 1:25).

My memory of my beloved friend, and of that day nearly twenty years ago, is full of hope. But it’s not a “cheap hope.” Even though many other needs and challenges have come since then that have “distanced” me from the tragedy, I still know that losing my friend to suicide remains an open wound. It still cries out to be healed. Occasionally its vividness rises up, prompted by this or that circumstance. I can’t really explain. There are tears, and I do not understand them, but they flow… even now… once in a while. They cry for healing, and for a greater love—a love that hopes all things, endures all things… a love that never ends.

We all need healing. We all have wounds that cry for a greater love.



In Memory of a Friend

"He didn't seem like he was depressed and was always smiling. This is shocking" (Anon).

A bright autumn day
sunlight flashing on the windows.
A clear day, blue with painted hues of leaf.

I stood strong and tall
in the breezy wind
and felt life once again
like great power
from my head flowing down through me.

With large strides
I passed over the fields
drinking fountains of expansive air.

And with the red sun playing on my head,
I burst through the door
but her face was bloodless white.
I stopped, and suddenly
the October air froze on my skin.

She searched my face
with a gaze of shiny wet cheeks
and spoke your name,
and this single word
had a weight
that said everything.

Fire arose in my bones
and spread all over me
until it found my eyes.

And the sun flickered in the shadows.

              --in memoriam, jp, +october 17, 2005