On April 4 2019, my 52 year-old mother committed suicide. She was an out-going, loving, family-orientated lady who had strong Christian faith. It was shocking, unexpected, and staunchly out of character.
I remember in December 2015 while I was home for Christmas in the USA with my husband at my mom and dad’s house – I discovered that one of my friends from university committed suicide. She had apparently driven with her children into a remote area, and shot herself. Even though I had not been especially close to her for years, the devastation was palpable to me. The destruction and pain that this act had caused her family and friends unspeakable. I recall sharing this act with my mother in 2015 on the day I found out – she lamented with me the horror of this situation for all involved. I can’t imagine she would have believed me if I would have told her that in just a short 3.5 years, she would face the same fate.
It was 11:30 PM in England, and I was with my husband in Cornwall, celebrating the penultimate day of our holiday, a break which was much-needed from my studies, work, and other pressures in life. My father called me to tell me my mother had passed away. Instantly I wondered whether she might have died in her sleep from sadness – given how difficult life had been for her lately. My first response was ‘how?’ to which my dad responded: ‘she killed herself.’
I had spoken to my mother earlier that week – sharing some images of the beautiful scenery in Cornwall, expressing how much I wished she was with us. She had been going through severe anxiety and panic attacks for the last couple of months, and I wished she could be with me to enjoy this serene solitude.
She misinterpreted my comments, and asked whether the respite I was experiencing was needed because of the burden she had placed upon me and my husband in the past month, due to her frequent mental health issues. I assured her otherwise, though this was frequently voiced by her in our conversations in the past month. Indeed, we believe that the concern of her burden in our family’s life was a partial contribution (in a complex array of many contributions) to her ultimate decision to take her life. While she believed she was a burden on us, she failed to realise the immeasurable burden we might face with her absence in our lives.
The complexity of her decision is great indeed – and while she did leave a very short note behind – it is insufficient to qualify exactly what was going on in her mind when she finally resolved to take her life. Indeed, part of my grief is imagining what she must have thought and felt in the hours before she committed this painful act. While I have no doubt she is now in heaven with Jesus – the ripples caused by her decision here on earth are palpable. Indeed, some of these will be covered in future blog posts – including the salience of Church teaching which recognises the complexity of mental illness. Mental illness, as noted in the ‘about me‘ section of this site, has a paucity of coverage in churches today. Not infrequently, churches misunderstand conditions such as anxiety or depression as solely spiritual – as though those who experience these issues should be able to simply ‘snap themselves out of it’. However, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones aptly stated, this is a gross error:
Another danger for a minister is to regard each case as spiritual and to approach it wholly on spiritual linesMartyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression
This idea that someone struggling with these issues ought to snap themselves out of it is dangerous. It is more likely to worsen the struggle than aid it. As I mentioned, this will be covered in more detail in a subsequent post.
I now contend with adjusting to a new norm, as a chapter on my life has closed – the one which included the presence of my mother, my best friend; now opens a new chapter in which she is absent. Me, my sisters, father, aunts, uncles, cousins, and myriad of friends have been ‘left behind’ as my mom chose to exit this world tragically, and ‘far before her time’.
My hope is that the Church may learn from this experience. Depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental issues will continue in this world. Suicide is also likely to continue; however, my hope is that a better understanding of the former will aid in a decrease in the latter. May this be so.