Monday, September 18, 2017

We are All Affected by Suicide

I drove down the highway last Friday evening, the memories tumbling through my head. Scenes from that All Soul's Day, November 2, so many years ago. The day when I bounced eagerly into my high school's chapel and was hit with the news that a man in my class had died the day before. If only I had gone to the Dead Theologians Society meeting on Sunday just a few days ago, I thought mournfully. Because this man was one of the few people who attended those meetings; in fact, he was one of the three other people I could always count on seeing at those Sunday night gatherings. While we weren't close friends, it was good to be in his presence. He seemed quirky and interesting, and was a pretty nice guy. We said "hi" in passing, and just a week earlier he and some other guys had been messing with my hat at lunch. 

Even though we weren't close friends, I was crushed by my classmate's death, and two days after his passing, I wrote: 
"...I will never see you in the hallway again. I will never see you in your Argyle sweater vest, or wearing your suspenders and bow tie. I'll never get to tell you how crazy you are for talking about distance running...And it breaks my heart to see so many of my friends who were really close to you. We are all heartbroken, because we all love you." 
This man was my brother in Christ, a classmate, and a fellow parishioner at our church. Even if we didn't talk much or know each other very well, we were still connected in the beautiful Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. In his death, I realized that suicide is not some statistic or distant event; rather, it is an event that affects us all. 

We are all connected. We all impact each other in ways large and small. 

These thoughts spiraled through my mind as I parked my car, hoisted my toddler onto my hip, and walked into the church. I scurried down the side aisle and into a pew, and took in the scene before my eyes. The Mass had not yet begun, and men and women were walking down the center aisle with unlit candles. Once they reached the front, the candles were lit and placed on the steps of the sanctuary, in memory of their loved ones whose lives were taken by suicide. 
On the opposite side of the altar, there were more candles
on the steps.
I looked at the flickering flames and realized that these were not just simple little candles standing before my eyes. They were tangible reminders of people who have lived and died. I tried to picture-instead of these candles-the people they represented standing there with us in the church. A small crowd! Who knows how all our lives would have changed if these individuals had continued going about their day-to-day lives? Who knows how we would have learned and prayed and grown in our communities and together? 

At church that night, Catholics and non-Catholics together remembered and prayed for these men and women who brightened our lives. Made in the image and likeness of God, they were-and still are-beloved by many. At church that night, we listened as my pastor encouraged us to trust in our merciful and loving God, and to honor the memory of our loved ones. He also encouraged us to grow in community with each other. "You are not alone," he said. Isolation, guilt, shame, and fear can all come crashing down on grief-stricken individuals when they are impacted by suicide. This Mass, he said, was a way for us to see that we can join with each other in solidarity. It was a beautiful, fitting way to commemorate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. 

The Mass of Remembrance in Memory of Those Lost to Suicide was a beautiful liturgy, and I am so grateful that our pastor and another parishioner worked to organize the evening. Following Mass, there was a light reception so that we could join in fellowship with each other. There was a table with resources about support groups and other related topics, and there were even two women with therapy dogs mingling in the group. It was an incredible opportunity for those who personally lost a loved one to pray and be supported, and it was also a great way for others in the parish or wider community to come support them and listen to their stories. This type of event needs to happen everywhere, and I highly encourage all of you to consider organizing and promoting one in your communities. 

We may not personally lose a sibling, parent, or child to suicide, but we are all affected by this horrific tragedy. 


  1. You are so right! This type of event needs to happen everywhere. Let us also all pray for those struggling with depression or any kind of mental illness, and reach out to those we know are struggling. So many are fighting the battle.

    1. Amen! It was so mindblowing (and sad) to see just how many people in my own church and community are faced with these realities. I definitely think we need to work on getting rid of the stigma that is commonly associated with mental illness, because there is so much benefit to having community and solidarity with each other!

  2. Thank you for sharing about this event, and may the soul of your classmate rest in peace. Even if we haven't had a family member or friend die from suicide, I think we all know of people not that far removed from us who have. It is tragic, and this sounds like such a good way for a parish to reach those loved ones. How great if more churches would do this!