Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life, Death, Sex and the Nature of God

A lot to cover in one post, but I'm going to try. So just a few weeks ago, I lost a close relative to suicide (well, I shouldn't say lost--it isn't as if he's been misplaced or forgotten--but that's the best word I can think of at the moment). Now, most of my life I've assumed that the reason suicide is such a heart-rending way to lose someone is because of the stigma involved; if cousin Rick had a heart attack, you'd feel perfectly comfortable saying, "It was his heart." In this case, however, it just didn't seem right to say, "He shot himself in the head," or even the less graphic variant, "He committed suicide." It is that, in part; but another source of the pain is the fact that you question yourself--how you interacted with the person, whether you could have (by calling more often, offering some words of encouragement, somehow being more clued in to their state of mind) averted the catastrophe that occurred.

When my uncle killed himself, he left a package of his papers (including a DNR--do not resuscitate--order) for another member of our family to find. As I was running in Forest Park a few days ago, I started going over the ethical implications in my mind. If someone had found him in time to perform resuscitation, would his DNR stand? Ostensibly, if he was not of sound mind when it was drafted and signed, it shouldn't, and power should revert to his healthcare proxy. What if it was signed months ago? Some evidence (the person who told me didn't elaborate, and I honestly didn't want to know) suggested that he'd been planning this final denouement for the better part of a year. Had he been unremittingly suicidal all that time? "Merely" depressed? Can a person make a rational decision to die as an escape from psychological or existential pain?

Flash forward to the funeral/"memorial service." I'm in one of the front rows, listening skeptically as the sermon begins. I'm hoping that, despite the fact that the service was arranged by my more...evangelical family members, the overall message will be comforting and uplifting. And at first, it seemed to be. It's part of the human experience to wish for death from time to time, the pastor said, pulling up examples from Scripture: Moses, chafed by the complaints of the Israelites in the desert, asked God to put him to death. Jonah did much the same thing. Even the holiest among us at times feel so bad that death looks like a respite, he said. I breathed a sigh of relief. BUT, he said--and at this point I knew we were in for it--to act upon that wish is a mortal sin. There was some more exposition (which I could barely hear over the sound of my blood boiling in my ears), but the take home message was that my uncle, because he was not a professed Christian, and because he killed himself, was now writhing in the fires of hell. I walked out shortly after this statement was made (largely because I didn't trust myself not to stand up and attack both the pastor's parentage and exegesis in phrases thick with four-letter words) and didn't hear the rest of the sermon.

I called my other uncle a few nights ago, to ask him some questions that have been plaguing me, and just generally to build a better relationship with what remains of my family. He was the one that found the suicide note; I wanted to know what it said, and to check on how he was doing, and try to discover what exactly happened (my parents told me part of what happened several days after the fact, once I'd 1. taken my Boards and 2. had driven to KC, so I wouldn't be alone). We talked a long time. He emphasized that my uncle had been struggling with severe depression for a very long time--this is true--and that ultimately it was just too much for him to bear. That's what I wanted to yell at the pastor, to tell my relatives, to have emblazoned in skywriting above the church. My father, and every single one of his siblings, has a mood disorder (either major depression or bipolar disorder), an anxiety disorder, or both. Lucky girl that I am, I--through some combination of genetics and circumstance--have been blessed with both as well. We, of all people, should know better.
As one of my friends with depression (and an Episcopal priest) said when I told her about the service, "I hate smug sane people." Exactly. Because having been on the other side of suicidality, and more that cursorily, I can say it's not about 'presumption of God's mercy,' or 'willfulness,' or hurting those left behind. These are the furthest things from your mind. It's about the pain: the incessant, bone-crushing, soul-rending, heart-shattering pain, and the animal instinct to escape from it by any means possible. At the moment I'm doing pretty well, but I know that I am always at risk for relapse; my uncle had so many happy times, but he also ultimately killed himself. Depression, while not a sentence to a life of unhappiness, is not something to take lightly. I guess his death has made me more aware of my vulnerabilities, and more dedicated to vigilance in the face of this disease.

And then what of God? My definition of that word, even, is difficult to pin down; but as my uncle said to me on the phone (and I thought this was a very good point), what sense does it make to hold Ward Cleaver to a higher standard of compassion and forgiveness than the Creator of the Universe? Because what did Ward do when Wally or The Beav screwed up majorly? He sternly advised them to fix whatever it was they'd effed up, made sure they followed through on fixing their friend's bike/got the bandaids off the cat/ never hotwired a car again...and then tousled their hair and told them they were forgiven and loved (and also to make him a whiskey on the rocks...because, hey, it WAS 1950). Yet The Lord God, Creator of all that is, Seen and Unseen, gets so pissed off at disobedience/sin or a creature's disbelief that eternal damnation and torment is the answer? No chance for reprieve? No. Not my God.

1 comment:

Tracy Crowe Jones said...

First off, I'm so sorry for what you've been through. Somehow I missed your original post and wasn't aware this had happened.

Secondly, I'm with you, "No, not my God." When I saw the service was at an E-Free church I thought, "Oh, no."

Thirdly, and I'm sure this is something you already know, but speaking from experience, if someone is hell-bent on killing him or herself there isn't much that can be done to stop that person except for 24 hour survelence (sp?) and therapy. When I tried to kill myself four years ago the first thing I said when I woke up at the hospital was, I"m not supposed to be here," and I was pissed for months that someone found me.

Of course, know, with the help of lots of therapy, medication, and support from family and friends I am stable, but you're right, that it can come back and haunt us in a split second.

Be good to yourself and know you aren't alone.

"And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?" -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu