Friday, December 05, 2008

Remembrance Services, Suicide and Genius

(if you do nothing else read the block quote)

As I have mentioned on occasion I rarely mention my job on this blog. The serious nature of what I do for a living is one of the reasons I tend to write little about theology, the emerging church or religion in general, while others focus on those issues. While I love to read, write and discuss such issues, I have no context presently for more than theoretical ramblings. My job, while spiritual in nature lives in a different universe than those things I have been involved in during the past 10+ years. When I get a chance to write, my mind ventures to light, frothy topics that I can get keyed up for in a few moments (it is why I hardly ever write about the justice issues which consume my mind- plus everyone else, especially those more earnest than I, write about them).

In fact, my job revolves around thinking of death, dying and other happy thoughts. If I shared what I do on a daily basis you would never return to this blog (but maybe I could get a few more readers interested in Hospice work).

As Director of Spiritual Care for a large local group of hospices, I work directly with Chaplains, but rarely get to see the people we work with on a daily basis. However, last night afforded me the occasion to be with 100 or so family and friends of those that have died while in hospice care. The ceremony, Lights of Love, is a time of reflection and remembrance. My job was quite simple, just a give the invocation/ blessing in a non-sectarian, yet meaningful manner. Then sit down and say a name of a loved one that has died when lighting a candle.

I did not who to mention. Most of deaths of loved ones have been in the not recent past. I have not lost a close family member or friend in a few years. So, I decided to say the name of a friend from High School that committed suicide earlier this year. I had blogged about him and the return to my home for his funeral in July and not given much thought to him or his family the past few months. However, last night I took the time to pray for his widow and their children.

As I did this, my mind went back to the news of his suicide and the reaction of some friends. The things said were quite typical, focusing on his lack of faith, his lack of guts, his cowardly and selfish act. They said that they thought he was happy and that life seemed to be going okay. They guessed the reasons why. The same things people say all the time and no one questions. Why? It is conventional wisdom. Yet, it always strikes me as shallow, callous and without meaning.

We are trying to make sense of the senseless, so we return to these preconditioned ideas not taking into account the complexities, the pain, the fear, the years in the making nature of such an act and the hopelessness that a person feels. We focus on the former, not the latter because it makes us feel better to lash out when we should attempt to understand. I cannot tell you if Shawn was depressed or anything else, and I have no right to ask or assume.

I have been thinking about this because I lost another “friend” to suicide in the fall. I had never met him and only occasionally thought about him, usually while reading an essay, book or piece of journalism. When I heard he had committed suicide, I remembered that I liked his work and went back to read some of his works and listen to a book on tape of his voice, one that I had forgotten about.

David Foster Wallace, a true American genius, was the most brilliant writer of his generation, yet that was not enough. He also suffered from severe depression, which he was never able to recover from. Rolling Stone had a devastatingly sad profile of his life, especially his last days in the October 30 issue, one that haunts me on this day.

Years before his suicide, DFW wrote about depression and suicide. It is those words I pass along today, as I think about the death of my friend and my lack of understanding when it comes to the severe depression that often leads to suicide. They are most poignant words I have ever read on the subject (thanks Rolling Stone for publishing them):

“You are the sickness yourself… You realize all this… when you look at the black hole and it’s wearing your face. That’s when the Bad Thing just absolutely eats you up, or rather when you just eat yourself up. When you kill yourself. All this business about people committing suicide when they’re ‘severely depressed;’ we say, ‘Holy cow, we must do something to stop them from killing themselves!’ That’s wrong. Because all these people have, you see, by this time already killed themselves, where it really counts… When they ‘commit suicide,’ they’re just being orderly.”

He never had a chance. My wife thinks I have been obsessed with DFW for the past month or so. Maybe I have. However, as a minister I want to get a glimpse of what people really go through, beautiful people with a darkness that is destroying them that the words of our training and Holy Book cannot seem to penetrate. Easy, simple answers are not, and have never been, enough.

Read the article, especially the last few paragraphs to get a glimpse of how being the best at something, and a great guy, may were not enough to overcome depression, even with years of therapy and drugs.

Sorry to bring you down- if you are crazy enough to be reading right now.

1 comment:

Steb said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Our internal darkness can be the source of vital creativity and yet crushing vacuity. To understand such realities is a curse of fellow sufferers, but to befriend them is an obligation of hope.