Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

03 March 2014

Love: The Response to Death

Runner, writer, and educator Joe Muldowney over at "Running Shorts: The Blog" shared last week about a close friend's recent suicide. He expressed his bewilderment over why his friend, or anyone else, would decide to take his own life. Joe's appropriate response was not an "answer" to the question; instead it was a forward movement:
I kissed my wife and told her I loved her. I spoke to my three children. They are doing well with their lives and careers. I threw snowballs in the air for Dixie, my Labrador Retriever, to catch.
Love is the best response to death. Love is the best response to the threat of death, to the contemplation of death.

There are many dimensions to the mystery of suicide. Sometimes Love doesn't get to the person in time. Sometimes the person isn't able, or willing, to receive Love. Sometimes bystanders are afraid to express Love.

And sometimes I don't have a clue what I'm talking about, and am afraid to suggest that anything I could offer (in this or other subjects) holds any weight whatever, except if I happen to be citing the Bible or the Catechism.

A friend who struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts directed me to the popular blog Hyperbole and a Half, which deftly chronicles, among other topics, the young author's struggles with being depressed (here and here) and with being subjected to sincere supporters.

I confess to being one of those well intentioned persons. Call me anything, but don't call me "at a loss for something to say." If a person gives me an inch of willingness to be heard and harangued, I'm taking a yard. Whatever it takes to distract them (and me!) from self.

In the heart of the dejected, Self--the false one, not the true one--becomes the enemy. More properly, the false self becomes the tool of the Primordial Enemy of Salvation and Transcendence (PEST). I distinguish the false from the true self in terms of who a person is from the perspective of a wise and loving Creator and those persons who, knowingly or not, assist Him in building up the human family. There may be technical dimensions to the distinction, such as one might encounter in the likes of Merton or Jung, but these exceed the scope of the current post and the current poster.

Thank God and thank my friends, my worst far...haven't been nearly as bad as I ever thought they were. But I certainly acknowledge how easy it is for the mind to become an echo chamber that augments only the worst thoughts and feelings, and this with gusto. How subtly and stupidly "You didn't lock the door" can morph into "You suck both professionally and personally!" But that's just how people can roll; it is both a science and an art.

In their malaise do the discouraged mean to manipulate? Sometimes I think they do, absent their better judgment, only because I've been aware of that proclivity in myself. Unable and/or unwilling to receive the Full Insight About Themselves (FIAT), they may unwittingly resort to repeating those time-honored deprecations (imprecations?) at the first, second, or nineteenth sign of imperfection. At the least, they may repeat it interiorly, or aloud when they sense that the receiver might retract or mollify his or her statement, even if it was reasonable and practical ("Locking the door secures the house, which ought to be important to you").

In short (because, at just under 5'4", that's what I am), the "You" in question is not the real person. He or she is the delicate yet sturdy construct of years' worth of lies, approximations, intimations, and mishearings, honed by the finest sandpaper and sealed with the oiliest varnish. Don't dare destroy it, because, as the lie goes, there might be nothing left to salvage; and then what?

My friend Joe's sadness is no doubt shared by many who survive a loved one's suicide. "What could I have done--especially if I'd known about it"; or, if I knew about it, "why didn't he reach out, or why didn't I reach out...more than (say) three times?" Mourners go through the gamut from denial to acceptance with the uniqueness of snowflakes, though with enough predictability to have made a science of it.

In the economies of many households, the deficit of Love goes back generations. And (to shift metaphorical tracks) in some situations, a single traumatic event or protracted experience (e.g., war) can derail a train that previously had run smoothly. The passengers are either genuinely interested in everyone's safety or simply want to reach their destinations without further disturbance. The team of mechanics (ideally, it is a team) have run out of tools, and even the best of them are tempted to run out of patience. And, above all, the conductor himself often doesn't know how it happened or how to return to optimal conditions.

If mass transit reports such problems, how much more so the human spirit, which surpasses mere functionality and is "worth more than many sparrows" (Mt 10:31)?

The caregivers in a concerned community (family, workplace, presbyterate, etc.) must try their darnedest to uplift the downtrodden among them. At the same time they cannot ultimately take responsibility for the final outcome, and would do well, therefore, to enlist auxiliaries, even if for their own sanity. Consider the game plan of Moses, for whom seventy elders did the trick (Num 10:11-15). Seventy may be too high or too dear, but how about three?

Plus we cannot underestimate the care we demonstrate on our knees, praying that our friends want to be well, or even want to want to be well. "Paul plants, Apollos waters," but who knows how the grain may eventually make its grand appearance?

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