It was the year after I graduated high school when I heard the news. A fellow classmate took her own life. She had just finished family dinner, when she excused herself from the table, took her father’s gun and used it to kill herself. She was still alive when EMS arrived but was pronounced dead at the hospital. She left behind a 3 year old daughter.
One sunny September morning, I was at work and my boss shouted down the hallway calling everyone into the conference room for a meeting. This was not a good sign, an unannounced meeting. We all sat down and noticed a grim look on his face. He informed us that a fellow colleague and friend had taken his own life sometime in the early hours of the morning. He lived alone, having been recently divorced with no children. It was about a week before he was supposed to be his older brother’s best man.
As Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, we take an oath to protect all life in every stage. But how do you come to terms with someone who makes such a finite decision? It is easy to say, “Oh that person was so selfish” or “That’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem” or “They must have been on drugs or drunk”. No, that is not the case. Suicide is often the unfortunate result of a battle with depression, just as a person who has a heart condition dies of a heart attack. And for those who remain there is often the guilt of having survived. Questions start to pop up. Why didn’t I notice the warning signs? Why didn’t this person reach out? Why didn’t I reach out? What could I have done differently? Why God? I don’t understand.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2280) states: “Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. (2281) Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. (2283) We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”
How can we who are alive process this type of tragic event and help others to heal? By listening. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross have said that it is through silence that God speaks to us. People want to be loved and want to know that they are loved. Love thy neighbor. Love others as God loves you. Be silent and listen. We are not God, we cannot be everywhere, we cannot see everything, or hear everything. But we can be more aware. We can make ourselves available. We can take a moment out of our day and reach out to others. A simple text message, a warm smile, grabbing a cup of coffee together, or inviting someone to Mass- these are just few examples of little things that can go a long way for someone who is at the end of their rope. And above all PRAY.
If you need someone, or know someone who needs someone, pick up the phone and call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). During this holiday season remember those who are alone or who feel lost and show Christ’s love to them.