Thursday, January 24, 2013

Coping with Suicide: To Life, To Life, L’chiam!

God would like us to be joyful, even when our hearts lie panting on the floor.

I thank Him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord.

Not long after I posted the other day, I quickly ran out of energy. My major accomplishment that day was hanging out my washing. I got very tired from moving my backpack from the dining room to my room and summarily sat at the kitchen table for a few hours. It was strange to me because it happened so quickly. Well, I read a couple of poems, fell asleep for a few hours and was beyond lethargic for the remainder of the day.

Yesterday, although nothing greatly physical was accomplished don my part, I did actually get a lot more done. The, talking with Eliza was all I could manage for hours: I even found reading exhausting. Yesterday, however, I arranged some music that I’m hoping my ensemble will play this year - maybe even for Catholic Performing Arts - as well as reading a couple of chapters of G K Chesterton’s St Francis of Assisi, not only eating but preparing food, showering, writing up some stuff for 40 Days for Life and a few smaller tasks.

What does this have to do with the title and above quotes? I’m not sure; I’m getting to that.

In my first Coping with Suicide post, I finished with a quote from Fr Rolheiser which I will requote here:

Knowing all of this however, doesn't necessarily take away our pain (and anger) at losing someone to suicide. Faith and understanding aren't meant to take our pain away but to give us hope, vision, and support as we walk within it. 

Knowing all what? That God loves me, my family, my friends and my dad. That, as the Catechism says, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.” (2283) Knowing all that doesn’t remove the pain and anger and confusion and irritability; it doesn’t help me sleep; it doesn’t help me have the energy to do things, nor to eat. Knowing all that doesn’t help me feel less fragile; doesn’t help me not to crumble under the weight of this cross, so to speak.

However, the Faith does help me get back up again.

You see, the image of an emotional rollercoaster wasn’t particularly helpful when it was first suggested to me a few weeks ago by a well meaning lecturer at the university I used to attend. To be honest, it’s still on a helpful image. My emotions haven’t been roller-coasting: my reactions to them have. Oh, sure, I go through various bouts of being more irritable or angry - yes, they are different - but I have had more or less the same emotions since the 4th or 5th of December last year. My reactions, however, vary just like a rollercoaster. It is not just up and down; there is a much broader depth and deeper breadth to them than that. This is because my emotions are deeper and broader.

Oh, holy Faith!

I can not imagine how it would be possible to cope without the Holy Faith of the Apostles! How, without such great examples of patient suffering, could one manage to bear their own cross of whatever size‽

How, without the sublime help of the One Whose Heart was pierce by a Sword, could I hope to bear patiently this wound inflicted by the death of a family member as She was? She watched His suffering and was helpless to prevent His Death. So, too, did She watch the Death of St Joseph. Ah, how, without the comfort of knowing my God watched His earthly father die could I face my own father’s death? How could I, without the loving support of the Holy Family, reconcile myself to the brokenness of my family; broken before and now, in some way, shattered?

The Jewish people have historically been good at many things. The Scriptures tell us that their ability to mourn far out strips the ability of a post-modern Westerner to do so. Where we would hear a piece of bad news and, typically, react somewhere between stoicism and silently weeping - or, at the most extreme, briefly crying out - (my reaction to the news about dad’s death was closer to that of the Stoic), the Jews of the Scriptures with tear their clothes, wail and weep over all types of ill news. It is easy, then, to understand why, when compared to the Jewish culture, we have an impoverished vocabulary with which to speak about suffering, mourning and grief.

When our hearts lie panting on the floor.

Here is a reaction to long suffering or to grief. One’s heart, ripped from the body by extreme emotion, is cast on the floor where it has room and space to beat, although at the risk of it being trampled underfoot by our post-modern carelessness. Having no room in the chest because it is so swollen with emotion, the heart bursts forth; the struggle of keeping inside and, most simply, of the grief causes the heart to feel worn out. Just as a dog after a long chase will lay down and pant, so too does the heart. Exhausted, worn thin, vulnerable for it’s own protection, the heart - like the dog - can do nothing other than lie on the ground, gasping for breath and trying to return to normality. However, unlike the dog, our hearts don’t quickly recover from the need to be laying, panting on the floor. In a sense, the dog is merely exhausted; the heart, however, is out of it’s natural environment and experiencing extreme pain, and does not recover quickly from this. That is why all the Very Helpful Information says that grief can last weeks, months or years.

Yet, through all this, God would like us to be joyful! Now, if ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ are synonymous, it is clear that it is impossible to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor. However, they are not the same thing. Joy, St Paul tells us, is a fruit of the Spirit: happiness does not make the list.

It is times like these that Minties just don’t cut it, and that people often lose their faith in Christ. I argue, with G K Chesterton, that this is because they don’t have a sufficiently wide enough point of view. In St Francis of Assisi he writes: Men will believe because they will not broaden their minds. As a matter of individual belief, I should of course express it by saying they are not sufficiently catholic to the Catholic. I am not saying that in the face of a truly catholic - and, therefore, Catholic - perspective, all suffering and pain melts away into nothing but just the opposite. It is only with that Catholic world view that suffering makes sense. It is only with the Cross that our crosses have meaning; it is only because of His unjust trials that our trails (of whatever justice) make sense; it is only within the Communion of Saints that our Communion with our suffering God can be realised.

During a 2009 General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI said that, “The saints are true interpreters of Sacred Scripture. In the experience of their lives the saints have verified the truth of the Gospel; thus they introduce us into a knowledge and understanding of the Gospel.” This is the very same Gospel that tells us to take up out cross on follow Christ our Lord and God. It is our Faith in His Redemptive Paschal Mystery that gives us “hope, vision and support” and it is these that give us joy. Therefore, St Paul writes to the Corinthians, “we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.” The Saints, the Apostles and Martyrs, the entire Church, works together for our joy.

It is easy to let our trials overcome us and our burdens overwhelm us. It is easy when everything seems to be collapsing around us or when we seem to be collapsing, to give up and to lose our peace and joy. Yet it is important that you “do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset [because] true progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice,” as St Francis de Sales says. In fact, as he also says,
The devil takes advantage of sadness to tempt the good, striving to make them sorrowful in their virtue as he strives to make the wicked rejoice in their sins, and as he can only tempt us to evil by making it appear attractive, so he can only tempt us away from what is good by making it appear unattractive. He delights to see us sad and despondent because he is such himself for all eternity and wishes everyone to be as he is.
It is so easy to despair while grieving, but our Faith teaches us that there is no reason to lose hope, neither for our selves nor for those who have died, even if by suicide.

I thank Him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord.


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