Thursday, January 3, 2013

Suicide's Subtle Paradox, Redux

On Wednesday, July 11 of last year, I posted the essay below about suicide.

This past Saturday, the wife of a pastor at my church killed herself.  Her husband, Dr. Pete Deison, is, for all practical purposes, the Number Two pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian in Dallas, although he doesn't preach very often.  I don't - didn't - know either of them personally, having only chatted in the blandest of pleasantries with Dr. Deison, as many of the thousands of congregants at our large church do.  Knowing even less about Harriet Deison, learning of her violent and self-inflicted passing still came as quite a shock.

She seemed to have it all.  She was attractive, especially for her 65 years, always impeccably dressed, with her hair just so.  She and her husband had two children and five grandchildren.  She drove a Lexus, which I thought was weird for a pastor's wife, even one from as wealthy a congregation as ours is.  She came from an old-money family in Dallas, the Schoellkopfs, and was related to the Hunts, one of the city's legendary old-money oil families.  So to her, perhaps a Lexus was slumming it.  After all, wealth is relative.

Harriet was a longtime member of several prestigious social organizations in Dallas, a city known to grovel at the feet of anything that even remotely hints at exclusivity.  But she came by her status by not only birth, but integrity and, to hear others tell it, by genuine sincerity.  It's hard to imagine anybody with her pedigree and lifestyle having an inferiority complex.

Or worse, an inability to appreciate life.

Apparently, those close to her knew of her struggles, and from what I've heard, it probably wouldn't be inaccurate to say that, in addition to grief and sorrow, her loved ones have a certain peace about her finally being in eternal peace in Heaven.  Harriet's funeral is this afternoon, but as our congregation says "goodbye" to her, I can't help but wonder how many other people in our midst are just as close to mortal despair as she was.

Harriet had all the accoutrements our society says can make us happy, and she wasn't.

What does that tell you and me?

Here's my essay from last summer:

So very sad.

A friend of a friend killed himself today.  I didn't know him, but I know he leaves behind a wife and two young children.  He was a professing Christian, which makes his loss particularly tragic.

In a way, the faith we're told can save us from ourselves... couldn't.  Not mortally, at least.

Suicide has been erroneously called an unpardonable sin, because it involves the willful destruction of God's creation of life by the very benefactor of that creation.  But although suicide is bad, and may be a combination of sin or the result of sinful thoughts, it's not unpardonable.  The Bible tells us that the only unpardonable sin is denying what the Holy Spirit teaches about Christ.  In other words, when a person dies without ever professing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, they've committed the unpardonable sin.

Everything else in which we believers in Christ fail Him, including suicide, is pardonable through His grace.

That doesn't necessarily take away the pain of loss, though, does it?  Or the confusing aftermath of suicide?  Loved ones are usually left with so many unanswered questions and guilt that it's easy to become angry.  However hard it might have been to work through the problems that precipitate a suicide, those left behind to mourn a suicide victim's loss face an even more difficult path to some semblance of healing and reconciliation with their new reality.

Couldn't we have worked this out somehow?  Surely alternatives existed!

I once attended the funeral of a college student who killed himself, ostensibly after an argument with his girlfriend.  Some cryptic messages were discovered later, but nothing definitive regarding the victim's precise reasoning.  As I sat in the church sanctuary that day, I stared at the overflow crowd numbering close to 1,200 and wondered how somebody with this many friends and family members could feel so utterly alone and destitute.

A few years ago, I attended the funeral of a bubbly, energetic older man who had become a millionaire through his own entrepreneurship.  He'd had an eye for seeing the untapped potential in offbeat products and obscure industries.  Speaking of untapped potential, he had once offered me a job in one of his businesses.  A couple of years after that, however, some final engineering tests determined his latest and greatest product would not work the way he'd hoped it would.

He was already rich, influential, well-loved, and respected.  A longtime believer, he was a church elder, Bible Study Fellowship leader, and Prison Fellowship volunteer.  But it wasn't enough.  He was so distraught that what he'd hoped would be his grand legacy had been deemed unworkable, he gave up.  Literally.

His funeral was standing-room-only, too, only not with fellow college students, but with business executives and local politicians; a crowd just as unused to suicide in their accomplished ranks as young adults so full of anticipation for the future.

While I don't remember much from the funeral homily for my college student friend, I distinctly remember the sermon at my older friend's funeral.  Grappling with how to summarize the profound discrepancy between a life and faith so apparently well-lived and such deep discouragement despite it all, the pastor came to a remarkable conclusion.

This suicide victim had won the war, but lost the battle.

Indeed, our friend was now in Heaven with Christ, but his own demons that had been so well-hidden from most of us were more powerful than he realized.

Which begs the question:  in a moment of weakness, who among us can say with complete confidence that we could spurn our darkest enemy?  Who doesn't have a so-called Achilles heel, whether it's hereditary, an acquired habit, a chemical dependency or deficiency - but something that we learn to hide exceptionally well from just about everybody?  Maybe, even, sometimes... ourselves?

We cloak it with tenacity, hard work, or a cheerful disposition, no matter how forced.  We train ourselves to be amazingly productive and even self-sacrificing.  We tell ourselves that people with a stronger faith conquer these foes.  Or, we blatantly ignore them.

And yes, maybe a stronger faith proves victorious for many folks.  But what about those folks who science suggests have a chemical imbalance that undermines even the staunchest faith or the most determined will?  Those who may not even realize their vulnerability, because no doctor has ever diagnosed it?

Yes, our faith surely will save us.  Which is an eternally good thing, because sometimes, our bodies won't.

How we share our grief over those who lose that battle, however, is something experts tell us is best done more in silent kindnesses than chatty platitudes.  Not just because what we say while trying to be helpful may actually be ineffective.  But because crises like these tend to hold an unwieldy, disturbing paradox.

They can remind us of our own vulnerabilities.

Particularly when we ordinarily like to think we don't have any.


  1. Saw you yesterday at the service...from a great distance.

    I was reminded over and over again of the words of Peter, 'To whom shall we go?'. John 6:68. Facing the concrete wall of no answers, I was driven back to the feet of Christ. There are no alternatives.

  2. I was so sad to hear of Harriet's death. She sounded like a wonderful woman who was trapped by a public persona of perfection. Those prestigious social organizations, while not evil, are not known for their grace but for their appearances. I am sure Harriet was the exception, but I would think a hurting person suffering from depression in such circles, would not have the freedom to hurt openly without being seen as shamed, deficient and weak. I wish Harriet could have found solace in this life among her closest friends. But I am glad she was a Christian and is now with Jesus. My prayers go out to her family.


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