When There Are No Words

Sometimes, there are just no words to explain the “now.”

This was the week of the horrid earthquake in Haiti. No words…

And it was also the week that a vibrant, intelligent 24 year old grad student who was a member of my church shot herself to death. There…are …no… words.

Damn if it isn’t painful enough on its own. This young woman left no note to anyone, said nothing about what she was about to do. In fact, she appeared to be doing well. She had plans to do things with friends later in the week.

I have heard that when a person is serious about committing suicide, he or she says nothing. They have crossed a line, and seldom go back. Once they have decided that things are so bad, that their pain is so deep that nobody can really understand and help, they say nothing. They become living Nike mottoes: they just do it.

And so, my member left her house early Wednesday morning, said to her partner she’d see her later, and left. I don’t know where else she went that day, but she wound up at a local shooting range, to learn how to use a gun.

She learned … and then she turned in on herself and shot herself in the chest.

Goodness mercy! There are no words, and the lump will not leave my throat, nor will my heart come up from the depths of hell. I am asking myself where I failed her, but I am not alone. All who loved her are asking the same thing. There are no words. There are no answers.

The only thing I can do is try to be “the good pastor” and help my members, the people left behind, deal with this loss. I can do that. Maybe that will help lessen the weight of this burden.

My mother used to say that suicide is selfish. I was mad at her for saying that because the statement seemed devoid of compassion.

But if “selfish” means that one is concerned only with one’s self, my mother was right. It is the people who are left behind who are left wandering in a wilderness of confusion, pain and loss.

But maybe this wilderness experience could have been avoided had we done more, seen more, reached out more, …something.

I don’t know.

There are no words.

A candid observation, for sure.

7 thoughts on “When There Are No Words

  1. Susan, I am so sorry to learn of this tragedy. I am thrilled with you, however, for sharing it with the world in the way that you have. Suicide, I am sure you know, has been on the rise for quite some time in the Black community. While it sounds as though this young woman had a good life and loving family and every reason to have hope, in my view there is a correlation between the increasing suicide rate and the ascent of the me-spirited, every man for himself mentality we have seen play out in the world over the last three decades. We will never know the particular reasons this beautiful woman elected to take her life, but in a world determined to solidify our sense of powerlessness, suicide remains one area where we may feel some control over our destiny. Mental health issues abound in the world, especially in the Black community. I thank you for bringing this issue to light and making an effort to engage the community in real dialogue about the reality of our lives. Traditionally, I am sure you know, we have found reasons to avoid seeking mental health care. This must stop.

  2. Pastor,
    I have had the same feelings. I sat the day I was informed and ask myself over and over again “what didn’t I do, could I have hug her more, should I have had more candid conversations with her, What , What What?
    I could not understand why her death hit me so hard and friend said it was the suddenness of it.
    I had just had a conversation the day before this about inviting her once again to the Dance Ministry and maybe even seeing if she wanted to work the youth. But just like when my Son went home I did get that chance and that leaves a void that it takes a long to fill.
    But, I see a lesson in this for all us and it is to really look at what we are doing with our lives, are we reaching out to those that we see, or are we just passing them by. See hurt and pain and letting it remain. One of the things that I would to see come out of this tragedy is a grief ministry and pray chain.
    We can not just roam in this wilderness we must see what God has before,( a pliar of fire by night). We must use the lose of this life to help make sure that there are no more. For one is one to many.

  3. First I want to say that I’m truly sorry for everyone’s loss; family, friends, church members and pastor. I cant imagine what it must be like for you as a Pastor who’s natural desire is to help the members of her church.

    I was not close with this young lady but, I know who she is and have spoken to her on several occasions.

    She was a very beautiful, intelligent young lady who was ALWAYS on her feet during praise and worship. This is why it’s so shocking. No one- at least no one looking from outside- really knew that she had issues so deep she felt they could not get better.

    Personally, I’ve been trying to not think or speak about this tragedy for several reasons.. It hits too close to home and I did not want to make it about my personal feelings towards suicide.

    But, I have to say this. There have been many times that even I myself have contemplated suicide. At one point I even went as far as to plan it out. I’ve been in so much pain that just the thought of not being here anymore seemed so …peaceful. However, there has always been this place in me that is reserved in the fact that things will get better (I now call it the Holy Spirit).

    It scares me to think about what would happen if that reserved place is no longer enough to sustain me as it was no longer enough for this beautiful young woman. It was obvious by the reports of what happened that she had crossed the line of no return. And while what she did may have been selfish; I understand the need, the desire to end suffering.

    I think, what if, what if she felt comfortable enough to go to someone about what she was feeling, before she got to the place of no return? She had to be suffering for a while.. People just don’t wake up one day, get a hang nail and say “I’m done”. Getting to that point is usually a gradual process.

    What was she afraid of? I don’t know.. I know for me, I was afraid of being dismissed as crazy and not holding up to the persona of the “strong black female” .

    African Americans lock ourselves into these little vessels of what we think life should be, how we should behave, who we marry, what religion to choose and how to deal with adversity. I say that this mentality is killing us…especially us women. A lot of us are suffering with depression and other mental illnesses but we are too scared to get help because of the judgment of others.

    Some of us, will get help regardless but there are others that are just too afraid… I wish we could all understand that not only does the depression need to be dealt with but, it’s just as important to deal with the judgment and stigma as well.

  4. Susan. Thank you for sharing this. There was a journalist I once worked with at the Chicago Tribune, who committed suicide. Her name was Leanita McClin. When I left the paper there were no visible black women. She was promoted I felt to fill that void. iShe was talented, beautiful and compassionate, but she was the quite type, not a guerilla fighter like I was. When she killed herself I always felt maybe if I had mentored her reached out to her maybe it would have made a difference. But from other sources, her friends, husband all said she was suffering from depression and she could not see herself as the wonderful person she was. If a person is clinical depressed unless they are taking medication and have specialized counselors working with them, their prognosis is not good. You are a good pastor and a good friend to all who needs one or both. There is nothing you could have done.

    1. Thank you, Barbara. I cannot believe how difficult this is…and if it’s this difficult for me, I can’t even get close to what her family is going through. Thanks again!

  5. I am so sorry for this young womens family, friends, partner and her church family at Advent. I did not know this young women well, only that she was full of life and energy every Sunday morning at chuch. While it is painful to imagine someone getting to a point where they feel there is nothing left for life to offer them, it does being a very important point into the light.

    It is so true that black people look down upon others for getting help for mental illnesses. My question is why? We would not look down upon others for being treated for physical illness, so why should mental illness be any different? We as a community need to do our best to raise awareness about mental illness and therefore riase acceptance of people who struggle with it. I truely hope that in the future people becoming more educated and accepting of mental illness can make a difference in someones life. Rev. Sue thank you for writting this.

    1. Thanks, Rebekah. We in the black community really do have to let go of looking the other way when someone is hurting emotionally or mentally. You are right: there is no reason for it. Too many people die needlessly because we hide behind false pride.

      Take care! And thanks for your singing the other night. You are quite talented!!

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