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Suicide, a Chaplains perspective

Suicide, a Chaplains perspective

Having worked as a Chaplain for the past 10 years, I have been witness to the devastation  suicide brings to the family and the community in general. The only other type of death that  brings this much psychic damage is the unexpected death of a child. In my experience suicide  creates waves of psychic injury that reverberate through families, friends and organizations for  years. In families I have seen the negativity affect more than one generation. It can bring grief  to children throughout their adult lives, I have witnessed this pain in adult children even on their deathbeds. To illustrate what this death is like let me give an example. Imagine your best friend knows you  will be out of town for the weekend and asks to stay at your home, just to get away for awhile.  You’ve known this person for years. They have your total love and trust, so of course you give them your keys. These trusted friends invite everyone to a party at your house. These people  destroy your home and your most prized possessions. The walls and floors are covered in vile  content from alcohol, vomit and human waste. Windows are broken and there are cigarette  burn marks throughout the house. Your yard is no better. The party was so out of control that a fight broke out with your neighbors and they sustained physical and property damage.   When you return home, you find your neighborhood in total disarray. There are police, fire and  ambulances in your cul-de-sac. Your neighbors are upset and the police want to talk with you.  You find a note from your friend on your door, it states, “thanks for the use of your house, had  an epic going away party, leaving for South America, don’t try to find me.” Your home is  destroyed, your neighbor will not talk with you and your homeowner insurance will not pay for  repair or clean-up. How would you feel; betrayed, hurt, violated, angry? Metaphorically this is  what a suicide is like. The person who commits suicide is the trusted friend and the family is  their family members and their neighbors are their friends and co-worker.   When I was a paramedic going through PTSI, I would have been repulsed by the  aforementioned story. When I contemplated suicide I rationalized that my family would be  better off without me. I’ve made a mess of my life and the lives of my spouse and children. My  family had to be better off with me gone. My wife will find someone else to love and that  person will raise my kids in a happy home. Life insurance will clean-up the mess I’ve made  and I will be free of the pain. This is a lie we tell ourselves to feel better, but it is a lie. The truth  is suicide is the ultimate selfish act.   In the aftermath of a suicide we find pain, grief, guilt, shame, anger, abandonment and denial, among family members, friends and co-workers. Denial, guilt and grief are their initial reactions. The “could of; should of; and would of;” are overwhelming. Everyone blames themselves for not seeing the signs, not being home or getting help sooner. Spouses and children are the hardest hit. Later comes anger, abandonment and shame, especially among the children. They feel their parents never really loved them, otherwise why would they abandon them? It’s a devastating blow to the spouse, parents and children’s self esteem. These low self-opinions, causes them to act out in way that would have never been acceptable before; alcohol, drugs, sex, crime, poor grades and self-harm. Low self-esteem rarely leads to good choices in life partners or a happy childhood. Life insurance, if it does pay, will be delayed, which leads to financial distress.   The grief, guilt and shame drives a wedge between family, friends and co-worker. People drift  apart because seeing each other brings too much pain. Parents in my experience never  recover from the death of a child, no matter the child’s age. Parents experience the losses of  their dreams about their child’s future. They feel cheated and betrayed. No parent wants to  bury their child. If a loving person thought about these outcomes, they would never put their  loved one through this pain.   Then why do we contemplate suicide? In truth, one of the biggest obstacles to help is ego. We do not want to ask for help; we don’t want to face the shame, guilt, humiliation and hard work it will take to turn our lives around. We do not want to give up what we have worked so hard to achieve, even though it is killing us. The career, the title, the uniform, the position, the respect of our peers, the benefits and retirement we have spent years to achieve. We also don’t want to give up the crutches that help us cope; drug/alcohol, sex/affairs, possession and/or our uncontrolled spending sprees.   Suicide is born out of a feeling of being trapped without an acceptable way out. The effort  required to extract oneself from our self induced purgatory seems beyond our reach. In truth  it’s not. Many have done it and been better/wiser people for it. I’m one of them.   What saved me? Faith. Well, to tell you the truth initially it was a fear of God’s judgement. Let  us explore suicide from a spiritual perspective. The best spiritual belief for a person who wants  to commit suicide would be Atheism. If there is no God or gods, then we are a cosmic  accident. Suicide means Annihilation. The outcome of suicide is extinction and someone else  has to clean-up the mess. The opposite is what I faced. I feel it is the worst scenario. At the  time I contemplated suicide I was a fundamental Christian. Suicide is a sin, my faith allowed  me to be forgiven of my sin, but I must be forgiven of my sins before I die or I will be sent to  Hell and eternal punishment. If ones last act in life is suicide, a sin, it is a straight ticket to Hell.   The spiritual outcomes of suicide, depend on your beliefs. If your beliefs are more Eastern;  Buddhism, Hindu, Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism, etc., you believe in reincarnation. With  reincarnation comes karma and karmic debt. This means the damages you wreak in this life  will be paid in the next life. Besides your family, friends, and co-worker, you have damaged the  people who find your body and have to clean up the mess, lots of Karmic debt. Some believe,  depending on the amount of Karmic debt, you may come back as a lower life form, such as a bug. Others believe you will return in human form, but your circumstances will be more  difficult this time, in order to work off karmic debt. Most Americans intuitively believe our souls come to earth and inhabit a physical body in order  to learn something, accomplish something or to help others on their journey. Some believe a  person’s physical journey on earth is chosen by a higher power and/or our individual souls.  This learning experience is only something that can be learned in a physical body. Life is  difficult, it can be wonderful and it can be incredibly painful. The belief that heaven and hell is  on earth, finds validation in many of our lives. Through these earthly trials we are in a battle  between good and evil. This battle is not outside of ourselves, but within. When we choose a  higher calling (spiritual), we help others and ourselves. When we choose sin (physical), we hurt  others and ourselves. This line of thought brings us to the conclusion that we come to earth to  learn to love others and ourselves, no matter what obstacles we face in our lives. Most religions  believe that after death we have a life review, whether with St. Peter or by meeting the people  we have met on earth. We will celebrate our triumphs and be shamed/learn from our failures.  If we choose suicide we do not complete this process. Some say we must have a do over until  we learn these lessons. What is the truth? It depends on you and your beliefs. I had an old Native American tell me I  was like a nine volt transistor radio trying to hook up to 100,000 volt line. In other words, my  human mind was never going to understand the Great Mystery/God/Universal Intelligence.  After many years procuring an understanding of the Unknowable Creator, I agree. I ascribe to the Theological Theory of Matthew Fox, Episcopal priest and Theologian, “Many Wells, One  River”. In this theory we all dig a well of our own understanding to the one Creator. There are  no right or wrong paths, it is the journey that is important. Ultimately when a person chooses  suicide they circumvent their life purpose, the outcome of that decision is beyond my  understanding. My understanding is much simpler, it came from my mother. If I create a mess, it is my responsibility to clean it up, I can ask for help, but the responsibility is ultimately mine. It  is wrong to leave my mess for my loved ones to clean up.