Suicide: A Cry for Life

By Kathy Hurt | Nov. 17, 2017

 

From time to time during my work as a pastor, I have faced the sad task of officiating a funeral or memorial service for a person who died by suicide. Grief is complicated for those experiencing a suicide loss; loved ones face not only sadness, but also anger. Although the anger isn’t always rational, it is certainly understandable.

Many also face the stigma our cultures—and often our churches—assign to a death by suicide. For instance, I think it’s a terrible shame when families insist that the service not even mention the word “suicide.” Once, a mother whose son died by suicide reasoned that she feared his life would forever be reduced to that single act. She feared that all other aspects of his life, like the work he did and the friendships he enjoyed, would be forgotten. “If he had died of cancer, or in a car accident, that wouldn’t be all people talked about,” she argued.

Inspired by this mother’s fear of how her son’s memory might be reduced and skewed, I began to characterize suicide in my funerals and memorial services as not a desire for death, but a cry for life—more life, better life.

So often, our culture concludes that suicide is a rejection of life, a willful refusal to live any longer, but I believe suicide is a statement that life can and should be so much more than pain or despair. If a suicidal person only sees a future with days on end of pain, then that vision looks nothing like the sort of life we all long to enjoy.

I remember in my own times of depression and thoughts of suicide, I often thought, “If this is all there is, if loneliness and meaninglessness and failure are going to be the sum of my experience, then forget it. This is not life. I am breathing, going through the motions, but I am not truly living.” I desperately wanted to live, but I couldn’t find a way to do so. Yet without realizing it, saying that I no longer wanted to live actually became a way to live.

Having the courage to say how I was feeling and what I was experiencing—not pretending, but being honest even when what I was saying was difficult—was how I took my first steps away from a life that seemed no life at all towards a “real life” worth living. It’s a strange paradox: The more willing we are to be vulnerable and less-than-perfect, to ask for support when can no longer support ourselves, the stronger we become and the richer our lives become. Connections with others make the difference.

Opening the Conversation

When we bravely have open and honest conversations about mental illness and suicide, we potentially make life-saving connections—like what happened to me. Without those conversations, we only have loneliness, silence and unanswered questions.

When I speak to those who attend the services of a person who died by suicide, I often discover that it’s not their first experience of grieving such a death. They reference family members, friends, colleagues or neighbors who died by suicide, and how the present death brought back those earlier losses. They talk about how they continue to struggle with their memories and questions.

The shadow of suicide is long. Those who just experienced a suicide loss need comfort, and a religious service might provide it. However, that cannot happen if the manner of death is never mentioned. So, as we approach International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, we might consider overcoming our reluctance to speak of suicide, to break apart the taboo that encloses it. Until we start talking, healing cannot happen.

And as we speak more openly and honestly, we open the possibility that the cry for life suicide represents might be heard in time.

 

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is Nov. 18
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will be hosting gatherings in local communities for those affected by suicide to come together and share stories of healing.
For more information and to find a Survivor Day event near you, click here.

 

Kathy Hurt is a Protestant pastor who has experienced periods of severe depression, yet has gone on to recover and enjoy a full and productive life of career and family. She regularly references her mental health struggles in her work and blogs about spirituality and mental health. Kathy recently published a memoir account of her two-year hospitalization for depression, The Dark Has Its Own Light (published under the pen name Sue Dowell). Kathy is presently working on a book, tentatively titled Acquainted with the Night, describing her own struggles with suicide, reflecting on the common assumptions in our culture about suicide, and detailing her experiences as a pastor providing support for those grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide.

Comments
Denise Kastner
I am doing quite well now only because I have learned that I can not handle stress. It is the stress of taking on too much that triggers anxiety which throws me into an episode. I am Bipolar II. Horrible depressions mild maniacs. I have lost my entire family, even my adult children. I had 1 support system, my husband. In 2015 after 28 years of marriage he had an affair, divorced me and married her. I was more angry during the months and months of divorce proceedings due to the betrayal. She was a neighbor and a friend. In an apartment it was strange and I decorated in black. As the months passed I realized he was supportive but HE was the major cause of my 6 suicide attempts.During a crisis he was great but he also withheld love, affection, compliments and sex. Which added to my worthlessness. Now my apartment has so much color it is blinding, I am seeing a wonderful man who suffers PTSD from Vietnam. We understand each other. No stigma, just support and love. There is always hope. All my attempts were lethal, ER for hours, ICU days and then to psych. I find it difficult that was me. Other people have an impact on how well we do or don’t do. With caution I am now very supportive concerning depression. I have never had a true manic.
11/30/2017 11:12:19 PM

Claudia HAuri
I was 10 mins from committing suicide, plan, means, etc because the 'hurt' was too much. I called the psychologist I was seeing & even thho' she had an apt in 1/2 an hour, she gave me time. On the way there I remembered a psychologist I heard at a conference many yrs ago say he asks the person to make a pact not to do anything for 3 weeks to make sure this is what is wanted, prepare papers so nit a shock to family, consult with PCP, explore options. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem is what I say to people seeking help & verbalizing their plight. I also say the person has an inner strength they haven't realized yet, just for reaching out or whatever.
11/30/2017 10:47:29 PM

Larry
For those in the comments above looking for help, please try this site, http://someonetotellitto.org/
or call the national suicide hotline.
11/30/2017 10:16:11 PM

Eleanor
When people are diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, etc., their family and friends do not look down on them. They are not spoken of as lacking willpower, self-centered, flawed. However, those diagnosed with a mental illness often meet negative judgments and attitudes. Yes, suicide is often a result of feeling that others don't realize what life is - or what it isn't. As the book and film "The Hours" explains, we manage to get through THIS hour, but, oh, there's another and another...
11/30/2017 8:11:29 PM

Nancy
I feel the same way-the "help" makes me feel like I did this to myself!
11/30/2017 6:49:15 PM

Prudence Tolliver
Where can they go if people keep on rejecting them. We, can reduce the overwhelming impact of suicide. Hear the cries that cannot be heard. See the tears that cannot be seen. Listen to the words that are not spoken and give the love that comes with comforting words and meaningful actions. Yes, we can do our part in reducing, if not stopping suicide.
11/30/2017 6:26:45 PM

Jeanne
It is incredibly painful to hear your own child say they no longer want to live.
11/30/2017 3:35:49 PM

Melissa Samuel
Thank you for this article. Sometimes a person really needs to feel like they are not alone with those thoughts of wanting to end their life. I would love to give some hope to others that you can recover from feeling hopeless. And make a decision to LIVE instead. Thank you!
11/30/2017 2:32:39 PM

Steve
M, I wish I had the words to help you. You can heal. Every time I have some injury or wound, even cutting myself shaving, I wonder if it will heal. One cell at a time, it does. Jesus promised us an abundant life. You have that same hope and promise. Don't give up. There may be someone who needs you to help them get through this too. SH
11/27/2017 11:03:33 PM

Mary Bryant
I have a 16yr old daughter who is a cutter. She finally tried unconsciously to kill herself. Told me she wanted to die. She has experienced trauma, went through therapy, but I'm severely bipolar. So wondering if it could be the CASE. Need HELP exhausted but can't and want give up on her cause I know her heart and mind.
11/27/2017 1:01:26 PM

Amy
M.,
I feel the same way. I am at a loss for what to do with myself. Everytime I think I have started to feel better, I get knocked back down, deeper each time. It feels like the only solution is death. I am so tired of fighting this. What can we do to help each other?
11/23/2017 6:53:51 PM

Cyndi
Too chicken to harm myself, I recall that my fervent wish was that God would take me during the night while I slept. Just think! Go to sleep one night, and not wake up the next morning. Sounded ideal.

Apparently God did not agree...he did not comply. That was three decades ago. I am still here. Suicide is in my family tree. But, I work to not add to that familial pattern.
11/23/2017 2:02:35 PM

Brooke Collett
Keep seeking for the right help. You will heal. Time I'm sure feels like it stands still at time but there is light at the end of that dark tunnel. Find someone that you can talk to that will just listen. You are worth every second of it!
11/22/2017 12:03:37 PM

Deborah
Thank you for your honest share. With gratitude, Deborah
11/18/2017 5:01:17 PM

Jennifer Lichy
Suicide victims die at their own hands not because they want to be dead but because they are hopeless that life will ever get better for them. They feel that they cannot be helped either because of stigma and shame or because they feel unhelpful altogether. We need to reach out to all the mentally ill, especially the suicidal and give them some help hope and unconditional love!!! ❤
11/18/2017 4:54:37 PM

M.
I've seeked help, and all it has done for me is push me even further to end my life. I'm not sure if it just me, or the people "helping" just don't know what to do with me. And every time I talk about how I am feeling, I feel like I'm being judged. What if I can never heal?
11/17/2017 3:11:47 PM

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