The tragic suicide of the young nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, who was caught up in the phone hoax perpetrated by two Australian DJs, gaining access to information about Kate Middleton, reminded me of how difficult and distasteful the subject of suicide is.
When Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, and then committed suicide in front of his coach, I read some of the comments posted on a story about the unfortunate incident…and most of the comments were harsh, calling Jovan a coward.
I wonder what comments are circulating about Ms. Saldanha. I have no idea of what her religious affiliation is, but as a Christian, I know suicide is frowned upon. One of my most glaring failures was a sermon I preached at the funeral of one of my members who had committed suicide. I preached that God surely could not be condemning her; that God knew her pain and God, being a loving deity, surely received her into heaven. I asked the people present to celebrate her life. She had been a brilliant scholar, and a woman who loved to dance. She would dance in the pews during Sunday service, her spirit seemingly taken up by and with the power of the music played and sung during worship.
So, I reminded people of those apparently brief spurts of joy in her life. I asked them to remember her moving. I asked them to remember some of the questions she had asked during Bible studies; they always stumped me. She was a lesbian, trying to find peace and the presence of God in her life. Surely, I could not say at her funeral that this God had abandoned her and would not let her in His/Her presence because she had committed suicide
It didn’t go over well for many of the people in attendance.
She was tired of being in despair, my member, and I imagine that this nurse who committed suicide must have known despair by name as well. I suspect she was hard on herself, demanding perfection, and this being “taken” by a prank call affecting such important people must have soiled the cloth of perfection she demanded of herself. I can only imagine…but I would again say that this woman knew despair, just like my member did. I cannot believe suicide comes because of one bad moment. Suicide comes when there are too many bad moments, stacked upon each other, which becomes a burden too heavy to carry after a while. Heavy despair weighs the human soul down, sinking it like tires sink in mud. I believe the nurse, as well as my member, were sunk in mud.
Someone asked me, in the matter of my member, why she didn’t take her meds. I thought the question was out of line and invasive and didn’t answer; how could this person know that my member hadn’t taken her meds. The fact of the matter was, though, that she did take her meds and was always looking for the right medicine and the right dose of the medicine, to ease her spiritual and mental pain. Mental illness, mental despair, is still such a taboo that many of us who need to take medicine to make us well will not. We will not even go see someone who might be able to help us. To say that you are “mentally ill” is to put a yoke around your neck, and nobody does that on purpose…
And yet, to NOT admit disease and deep despair produces such horrific and sad results.
I am not sure what role religion plays in alleviating the despair of mental illness. I don’t think my member had much faith in religion, though she was working to change that. Religion had rejected her because she was a Lesbian. She had found little love and less acceptance. Paul Tillich wrote a sermon, entitled, “The Yoke of Religion,” in which he posits that religion is a burden. He cites Jesus saying, “Come unto me, all you who are weak and heavy laden…” and asks, “with what are people heavy?” What is burdening people? Tillich says it isn’t sin and guilt, and it isn’t the daily struggles of life. The burden of which Jesus wants to relieve us, writes Tillich, is the burden of religion. “It is the yoke of the law imposed on people of His time by the religious teachers…Those who are sighing are signing under the yoke of religious law.”
I don’t know if religion helped or hurt my member, Jovan Belcher or Jacintha Saldanha. I find myself unable to call any of them cowards, however. I find myself praying that fewer and fewer people are burdened by despair, in spite of religion…
We need to do better than that.
A candid observation…