There was this moment in recent conversation that I’ve replayed over and over again.
This is a thing I do sometimes.
Especially if I think I didn’t speak my truth.
This particular moment stands out a lot right now because I’ve been thinking a lot about grief. I’ve had friends lose babies, early on and full term. I’ve had friends lose parents and spouses. And I’ve wanted to know how in this culture that avoids grieving like the plague, can I really love and support my friends when they inevitably face grief. And then, I miscarried. I’d lost grandparents, when I was young. But this, having this miscarriage, was different. This was all the hope in the world for new life, crushed, while I was alone.
When I started bleeding in my current pregnancy, I had a moment on my bedroom floor where a sound came out of my being that I’d never heard before. My heart and mind were flooded with visuals and words – painful poetic words about grief as a spirit who’d come to embody me without my even realizing it. And here she was, her voice coming out of my mouth. I wondered if she’d ever leave, or if she’d make a home within my soul.
So, I’ve read about grief. And about death and dying. I watched a video about death doulas. I read the Confessions of a Funeral Director. And a book about supporting your loved ones when they lose a child.
This conversation I keep replaying was kind of about grief.
And kind of about empathy – or a lack thereof.
I’ve been just one or two degrees removed – but so painfully close – to suicide several times in my life. That statement doesn’t seem as clear as I want it to…. on three separate occasions, in three very different seasons of my life, I’ve had very close friends who lost their fathers to suicide.
I remember vividly the first time I heard the concept I’m about to address, because it was a HUGE perspective shift for me. It didn’t sit with my understanding of pain, and it clearly still bothers me now.
For the second time this year, someone I don’t know well, (but people I love do know well,) has committed suicide. And I had this conversation where the circumstances of the most recent suicide were described, and then very factually, “It’s just so selfish.”
And I agreed.
I verbally affirmed this statement out loud.
But it’s been eating away at me since then. Because, to put it simply, that perspective is wholly incomplete.
My agreement was inadequate.
But I was at a loss for words.
I didn’t know what words could possibly be adequate anyway.
I am not saying suicide is NOT selfish.
But can you imagine a pain so big – so deep and all encompassing that it would prevent you from the slightest glimmer of hope? A feeling of worthlessness that swallows you so whole that you can’t get past it to look at the future of seeing your children grow up? Have you ever experienced a feeling of isolation that made you weep cries you didn’t know you were capable of? What if that feeling were deeper? What if you weren’t capable of seeing around the mountain of despair blocking your view? What if you didn’t have the resources to find a new perspective because all the things stacked up at exactly the wrong time and you were just drowning?
I can imagine that.
And the last thing I’d describe it as is selfish.
It’s mind numbing.
It’s all consuming.
I remember, I was in middle school, sitting in the lobby of the private Christian school I attended. At the time, the campus of this school I attended utilized a building which had previously been a funeral home. I remember accidentally microwaving my leftover chicken sandwich in its wrapper and starting a small fire in the microwave, near the kitchen where they supposedly embalmed bodies. I remember somehow, suicide was being talked about. And I remember that someone I liked said something about ‘the thing of suicide – and self harm – being the ultimate selfishness.’
That was so foreign to me.
Because it removed any attempt at understanding just how or why someone’s pain is so deep, but also because it is just never that simple.
I’ve been angry at these fathers who ended their lives. On behalf of their daughters, and their sons. For the legacy lost, for the struggle that will never leave these children whose stories are forever changed. For the resolution they can never have in this life. For their abandonment and the shadow they left of hopelessness. For what we perceive as a lack of strength. I’ve been angry because it’s easy to say, “it’s just so selfish,” and dismiss the reality of the pain and brokenness that led to the worst point in someone’s existence. I have been filled with sorrow again and again as I’ve watched friends try to pick up the pieces while they carry grief. They’ll always carry grief – like this unwanted house guest that follows them everywhere. Their moments of joy will be richer for it, their song sweeter, and their sorrows always, always deeper.
It skips over so much love to oversimplify and call it selfishness.
The people I know who committed suicide weren’t people who would typically be categorized as being selfish people. They were some of the most caring people I’ve ever known. Some of the most empathetic and broken people – who truly carried other people’s burdens with them. To get to a place where you feel like you can no longer offer any good to the world but only cause pain and prevent goodness isn’t selfish. It’s misguided. It’s lost. It’s wrong. It’s undeniably broken. But it’s not just selfish.
The most recent suicide that impacted my greater community wasn’t someone I can even remember ever having a conversation with. But I saw their light from afar many times. I saw glimpses of the unique ways that the glory of God was reflected in their person. And their life gone all too soon is still impacting me now. I think about them and their family every single day. I’m not carrying the grief of a loved one and even I couldn’t find my way through the foggy grief brain to find a better thing to say than ‘yeah, it is selfish.’ I can only imagine how earth shattering that statement would be to hear for the grieving widow, or their child, or their parents.
To simply sum up the person they loved – more than anything – in one phrase like that, validates the deepest fear of many people’s grief… that after this tragedy, the person they loved will fade and completely disappear and be forgotten altogether.
We can do better.
Enter into the discomfort and be willing to look for a different perspective that allows for love to enter in.