On suicide

This is one of those posts I did not envision when I started my blog, but I think I need to put it out there. It is a topic we don’t normally talk about, and I feel it is important.

In the last week I have had conversations with two unrelated people who have been faced with having to deal with the attempted suicide of someone they cared deeply about. And I have been struck again by how little we talk about suicide, and yet most of us will have to deal with it one way or another.

The first time I really encountered suicide in a personal way was several years ago. The person had been a colleague – someone for whom I had a great deal of affection and respect. We hadn’t had contact for a few years prior to her suicide, so I had no real insight into why she would have made this choice.

Her death brought the complexity of suicide into my world. I was forced to think about what death by suicide might mean in faith terms. Historically the church would not bury someone who had committed suicide on consecrated ground. And this choice certainly goes against the idea of the sanctity of life. So what then for my colleague? In considering her death I discovered in myself a sense of compassion – I did not know what had precipitated her choice, but I could not help but feel tremendous sadness that she could not see any way through.

Thinking about the meaning of suicide in processing the death of my colleague helped me a great deal, when just a few months later, one my relatives took his own life. This time the reasons for his choice were a little less opaque in retrospect. But it was no less shocking.

When we think of the meaning of suicide, it is important to remember that the reasons that people take their own lives are many and varied. These two instances certainly taught me that. There is a gamut of emotion around the way in which it is done, the reasons for it, how it is discovered and so on. But I think, as people of faith, it is important to think about what it means – how do we think God responds? I suspect God is far more understanding than some of our older traditions may suggest.

In a similar way our responses to suicide may be widely variable. In families this can be particularly evident. Two people with a similar relationship to the deceased may experience the suicide completely differently. In conversing with suicide survivors it is really important to allow them the space simply to be true to where they are emotionally.

There are no right answers and no correct responses. There is only prayer for grace and compassion.

5 thoughts on “On suicide

  1. I am struck by your statement, “it’s a topic we normally don’t talk about.” I suppose it depends upon whom “we” are. Those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide talk about it constantly among ourselves.

    Kay Jamison’s book is indeed excellent, but I would caution suicide survivors (those whose loved ones have died of suicide) to wait awhile before reading it. The information is essential and her writing is elegant, but the book has the potential to inflict even more anguish on those whose hearts are still raw with grief.

    Something to read, if anyone is interested:


    • Hi Robin, thanks for the reading tips – In my experience suicide is something that we don’t talk about until we are directly affected by it, and then we find ourselves at sea. And I guess I think it would be better for all of us if we had thought about a little before we are faced with dealing with it.

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