Suicide. It is a word we avoid; spoken only when necessary and then in a hushed utterance because merely its mention evokes an uncomfortable feeling in both the speaker and the listener. Survivors languish in a lonely grief because society’s unenlightened view of suicide leaves them feeling marked. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is made to wear the letter “A” visibly upon her bodice in order to expose and shame her as punishment for adultery.
“It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.”
Suicide is an event that drains the color from your world except for the emblazoned “S” that shows itself bold upon your being. S for the social, moral and religious stigma that, whether perceived or real, leaves you feeling disgraced or stained. S for the shame and solitude of imposed guilt. S for the struggle between your love for the victim and your feeling of abandonment. S for the deafening silence we endure for fear that the mention of their name or the admission of your pain might foist on others a delicate uneasiness.
Whether the stigma is suppositious or substantive, its effects are the same. Its burden is yoked upon your shoulders and complicates the already wearisome toil of grief. The rugged path before you looks much like the path you have trekked since the journey began and the monotony of its incessant difficulty is exhausting.
As survivors, we need to throw off the yoke of stigma that encumbers us. Release yourself from its weight. There should be no disgrace. My son’s suicide was not an act of cowardice or selfishness. Whether your loved one had a history of depression or was engulfed in short-term darkness that led to an emotional stroke, at that moment there was no choosing. They were blinded by the lies that depression threw in their faces – It will never get better. I have disappointed. They are better off without me. Depression robbed them of the resiliency needed to live. Depression is not a lack of faith. It is an illness. Blame lies only in the illness, not in the victim. Let’s enlighten society to the truths of suicide. Let’s show others how to look for warning signs. Let’s teach others that survivors need to grieve without time limits and according to their own needs rather than a prescribed plan. Let’s show the world that we want our loved one to be known for the life they lived and not the manner in which they died.
As Christians, let the S which brands our lives be that of our Savior.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39
Let is stand for the Savior who knows our suffering. Let the S stand for salvation which one day reunites us. Let it stand for the shelter of His wings. Let it stand for the security of knowing our names and the names of our loved one are permanently etched on the palm of His hand and made visible by the blood from the nails.
Hawthorne says of Hester, “She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.” Grief is a path that is difficult to walk without the added weight of stigma. Release yourself from its burden. Find solace in Christ and strength from the many other survivors who understand your pain.
I’m praying for you,