I was raised in a deeply religious, black-or-white kind of world where it was made clear that suicide is a mortal sin. Suicide simply explained, is self-murder and therefore, it is wrong. But is it really a mortal sin? I am faced with the question of whether God is entirely unambiguous with His rules, or could there perhaps be extenuating circumstances? Are there differences or are they unerringly the same when someone commits suicide for egotistical reasons; someone who may want to escape prison or financial ruin, or when a devastated mother who can no longer function in this world without her child, commits suicide?
A little over a year ago, a friend of ours had lost her fourteen year old son in a fishing accident off the coast. Although, he was presumed to have perished in the waters, the authorities failed to recover his body or provide her with any distinct proof that he had passed away. The weeks that followed that fateful day which occurred only three days before Christmas, led her to believe that he may have survived. As any grieving mother, she clung to any little bit of hope that he would return to her unscathed. Even when she was asked to contribute to his funeral letter, she passed it on to me to “finalize,” not quite convinced that he was gone. But, as the months passed and as there continued to be no sign of him, she began losing confidence which led her to increased feelings of hopelessness and despair as each day passed, before it finally overpowered and entirely consumed her. Her close circle of friends, myself included, knew of her struggle and although we did not say it, we knew that suicide would eventually claim her. Our friend Genna was relentless in her desperation to try and save her … subtly, yet overwhelmed by her fear of “what-if?” She would follow her actions on Facebook and do her best to keep a watchful eye on her. Even though Genna lived in another town almost 500 km’s away, she was massively present in our friend’s life. Not only did she offer emotional support to the best of her ability, but she relieved much of her financial pressures when it was needed. Our friend Anne, on the other hand, regularly checked up on her while taking much needed meals for her. She had long stopped eating properly and she no longer attempted to care for herself. I, on the other hand, began unashamedly distancing myself from her. It felt hopeless to me and it felt as though all we were trying to do for her, was for nothing. I stopped taking her 2 am calls and I no longer responded to her messages as timeously as I once did. I no longer wanted to hear her say that she was sure he was waiting for her in the cave, 50 m below water level. I didn’t want to hear her tell me about the t-shirt he was wearing that was spotted in a cave somewhere. I no longer wanted her to try and convince me that she saw him on the news, in the background between the crowd. I did not want her to beg me to help her find him by asking the news stations for the recordings of the previous night. On her last night in what I imagine to have been an utterly distressing moment, she ended her life after sending me a blank text. Nothing written and nothing said. Just blank. I was irritated when I read the nothingness that she sent me and I was angry that she would dare text me nothing in the middle of the night. It must have been her last text … one I received only after Genna called to let me know that she had passed. In an instant, I realized that her sorrow had become insufferable and a life without her child, was inconceivable for her. She did not want to die; she just could not function normally in this world without her son. Over and above having lost her son, she was riddled with illness which left her in excruciating pain. She suffered from debilitating Lupus and was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. Her chemo treatments were equally devastating and had little to no effect on her physical pain.
Does God understand this? Does God appreciate her suffering and her incapacity to cope with her loss? For fourteen months she was desperate to survive for God, because that is what He would expect her to do. For fourteen months, she survived purely because she wanted to be reunited with her child someday; in God’s time.
Genna and I have discussed this to great lengths and we like to think that God did understand the torment that she was going through. We like to believe that there are extenuating circumstances that God knows and pardons. Perhaps, she was not permitted to enter Heaven but I am reserved when I consider that He would simply banish her to hell. We then wondered whether we might come back here, back to this world? Will she be sent back to earth instead of being reunited with her child? Would He perhaps allow a swift reunion with her child before God asks her to do it all over again? What if He offered her another chance to do her life over; or what if He had commanded her to return into the same circumstances; only now she would be better equipped because her soul had lived this once before?
We should not presume to take authority upon ourselves to end our own lives, yet given the circumstances, I would like to believe that God too, understands. In my view, she did not intend to flout the Will of God. I am in no doubt of the fact that suicide is an awful tragedy; not only for the person who commits suicide, but for those left behind.
We are left behind wondering what we could have done differently? I know that Genna did all she could. I know that she too, saw this coming, but because she had hope, she stepped up to try and change what I thought was inevitable. I know Genna can sleep at night. She should … she did all she could. I know that Anne did her bit in her own way to keep her fed and healthy; to listen and to offer comfort. But, I gave up on her before she even considered giving up on herself while flung into immense grief. There is much I would have done otherwise; I would take those 2 am calls, I would respond to each of her texts and I would have paid closer attention when she became silent. I would have been a Genna or an Annie. Could we have changed the outcome? No, but the lesson cost us much.