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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sunday Meditation: After Suicide -- What Helps and What Doesn't

This post will share my own personal observations about what has been a help to us in our sorrow and what has not since our 18-year-old grandson, Brendan, committed suicide May 2nd. I can't speak for his parents whose grief is unimaginable to me or to the grief of my husband or our other children and grandchildren. Grief is very personal, I think, and how one struggles through it must vary depending on a person's age and maturity, their philosophy of life, their own way of dealing with suffering, etc.

But I can share what's been helpful to me personally and what hasn't. So let's start with what is NOT helpful.
  • Above all -- silence is NOT helpful. Larry and I have had the experience since Brendan's death of feeling invisible in what should be our closest community after our family. That has added to our pain. It's true people often don't know what to say or do at a time like this. However, being there is a way of speaking with or without words and that, in itself, is consoling. When you know people are aware of what's happened and those who should be the first at your door or on the phone make no effort, it is incredibly painful, hard to understand, and provokes temptations to bitterness. That's when you can only unite your pain to Christ's on the cross who was betrayed and abandoned by those closest to Him.
  • Some words can add to the burden. Saying things about "God's will" or "He's in a better place." may be true, but those in the depth of grief who are struggling for acceptance aren't ready to hear it. Sometimes a hug and "I love you." are enough. I reached out to a mental health organization for information about suicide survivors and support groups available in the area. I received this distressing reply:
I am so very sorry for your loss. Depression is hard and even harder when someone gets swallowed in that dark place. I pray he has found the peace that eluded him.
Some people say suicide is a sign of weakness. I personally disagree. It took great courage for him to end his life. My nephew killed himself 3 years ago. He was 32.... I am so very sorry for your loss. Depression is hard and even harder when someone gets swallowed in that dark place. I pray he has found the peace that eluded him.
I have no doubt this kind woman was trying to console me. Her words, however, especially in light of our culture's acceptance of assisted suicide, horrified me. I will not argue with her, because I do not have the energy and I know she meant well, but there is no way suicide reflects "great courage" -- desperation yes, despair yes, mental illness yes-- courage? Absolutely not! If it did, suicide would be a virtue! That's a heresy -- Donatism!

What has been helpful?

  • The fact that some words are not helpful, doesn't mean one should not speak. My own experience with words that console? People said things like this at the wake while we cried together. "I can't even imagine your grief, but we are praying for Brendan and for your family." "I'm so sorry." "We love you and are praying for you." "What a terrible loss for you." "When you feel up to it, let's get together." 
    Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing and indoor
    Brendan and "Hammie"
  • The phone message that says, "I am thinking about you and if you'd like to talk I'm a good listener." The text and emails of love and friendship. If we don't answer understand that we can't. That doesn't mean we don't appreciate your concern. 
  • The other acts of support: The couple bringing a meal to our daughter's saying, "We loved Brendan and he and your whole family are in our prayers." Brendan's classmates coming to the door with letters to Brendan's parents that they took to the gravesite to read. That gesture was consoling to me as I witnessed it. The person who left the stuffed hamster at the grave reminding us all of Brendan's photo on the funeral Mass program holding "Hammie," the family pet. The boxes filled with games and goodies mailed to Brendan's siblings which was immediately opened and enjoyed. The school blowing up the graduation ad Brendan's parents put in the yearbook.
  • If you can't be there in person, a note can mean a lot. Not only that, but if it consoles it can be read over and over. The two most consoling notes I received came from the Poor Clare Sister in Alexandria who have been praying for our family for years and from a priest friend, Fr. Tom Collins:
It is difficult to find words to address the profound sorrow you and your family are  with the death of your grandson, Brendan. All words will fall short and be insufficient. Only the Word of God has the power and the ability to address the situation and that one Word is, "Jesus." We cling to this Word of infinite mercy and majesty, trusting that He will not let any harm come to a soul that was suffering a sorrow which he could not express. God knows all and we think perhaps that Brendan's last heartbeat might have been strong in realizing how powerfully he is loved by Love Himself and filled with a desire to surrender fully to that love. May he now rest in the peace of that love forever. Your are all very close to us in prayer these days.              In our Savior,                                                                                                               Your Poor Clare Sisters
I am so sorry to hear about Brendan’s death.
One consolation in this time of profound grief is the fact that, since Jesus is God, and thus eternal, He and His gracious mercy transcend all the limitations of space and time. Thus, even now, through our living communion with Him, our prayers for Brendan can draw down upon him, at the moment of his death, the grace of final penitence and, upon us, the graces of consolation and peace in the midst of our grief.
We cannot change the fact that he has died, but our prayers in Christ can transform the spiritual condition, in which he died. As Mary noted at Fatima, many souls are lost because no one prays or makes sacrifices for their salvation. As we continue humbly praying for him, may the hope of salvation for him and of reconciliation for all of us grow ever brighter and more fruitful in our hearts and our homes.
May the peace of Christ, which goes beyond all comprehension, embrace all of you into a more profound appreciation of the graciousness of His mercy and love, so that you may come to share more deeply with each other the consolation offered through His Holy Spirit.
In His love,
Fr. Tom
Little hamster left at the gravesite
  • The Mass and sympathy cards (even from strangers who read about Brendan's death on Facebook or on the blog), the meals, the visits, the phone calls, emails, and texts -- most with promises of prayer -- they all remind us we are not alone .
I cannot compare the grief that comes from suicide to other forms of grief at the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. They are all terrible! And I would not in the least minimize the pain of any death whatever the reason. But there is an additional element with which suicide survivors have to deal -- guilt and blame. How did my actions or inactions contribute to this person's decision? There is such a temptation to plunge into that labyrinth and never find a way out. And so I keep telling myself. Brendan's decision was Brendan's decision. It's not anyone else's "fault." Not his parents, not his siblings, not mine or my husband's, not any of our immediate or extended family. We are all struggling in this valley of tears, most of the time trying to do our "lousy best" as my sister often says.

But in one sense the "fault" is universal. It began in the garden of Eden with the original sin and grows every time we commit a personal sin, either of commission or omission. Sin is the cause of all unhappiness. I believe all that burden of sin from the first sin until now, my sins and the sins of others, all contributed to Brendan's decision to kill himself.  That realization adds to my deep grief. The only way out of that pit is to unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ.

I also believe Brendan's act was less a decision than an impulsive choice made in a moment of desperation fleeing from the dark monster looming over him. That monster is the father of lies, Satan himself who worked on Brendan for a long time to convince him that life isn't worth living.

Some may say the monster won when Brendan died. What I say is that Brendan met God face to face in that terrible hour and, I am confident, surrendered to God's love through the grace showered on him by all our prayers and sacrifices. If he suffers now in Purgatory it is with the knowledge of the deep suffering he caused all those who love him and he is praying for us in atonement. If he is in heaven already, that suffering is over forever and he is praying for our consolation and salvation.

I continue to ask Brendan to seek God's permission, through the intercession of Mary that loving Mother, to allow him to visit his parents through a dream, a memory, hearing his voice, finding something they interpret as a message, etc. -- anything that will give them consolation and the confidence that Brendan is well and whole and resting in the hollow of God's hand.

I look forward to the day when Brendan and I will meet again merrily in heaven and worship Love together forever.


Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Via Email

Dear Mary Ann, I have tried two times to comment on your blog and couldn't get thru. I have a google account, but it will not let me get thru.
That said.
As a fellow Grammy, I am very very sorry for the pain you are going thru. I looked at Brendan's picture and thought of my grandson, who has the same innocent smile, and my heart just breaks for you. I know my tears for you will be used for God's good purpose.
When this first happened I added Brendan to my A to Z list of people I pray for. He will be in my prayers as long as I am able to pray. I say A to Z because they are in alphabetical order. That's the only way I can remember all.
Know that there are probably a lot like me praying for Brendan and your family. That your never alone. We know God will use your sorrow and He will console you. We don't when or how.
God bless you for being the person you are and sharing so much of yourself. You help us see reality.

Joan of Arc
J. E., Salem, NH

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thank you so much, Joan. What a blessing to me it is to know that so many people are praying for our darling boy. He was a joy to our hearts and we will miss him very much.

Jamie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catechist Kev said...

Dear Mary Ann,

I have been praying for Brendan as well as your whole family.

Count me as one of those who should have contacted you earlier. You all have my sympathies.

While grilling last evening I phoned two friends who are "prayer warriors" and asked them to pray for Brendan and your family. (which was before seeing this post)

We have an 18 year old son. I cannot imagine your grief.

God love you and yours,

~ M. Catt said...

Dear Mary Ann,
So sorry for your loss of your beautiful grandson. I don't want to pry, but wanted to make you aware of link to suicide in young people and anti-depressant meds. Prayers to You all. God Bless you. You don't need to publish this.


Janness Abraham said...

Mary Ann - through all of your profound grief, you are thinking of others by posting this. It will help those of us reading this if, God forbid, this happens to someone we know. I’ve never figured out how people can be silent and avoid people who suffer a loss. A hug, “we love you and are praying” is enough and not hard to do.

I’m putting you, your family and Brendan on our prayer list at my church’s Marion Movement of Priests Prayer Cenacle. We meet every Thursday. Very powerful prayer warriors with the help of our Blessed Mother.
Prayers and hugs, Mary Ann.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thanks Janness,

The prayers are keeping us going. We are especially grateful for all the people all over the world who are praying for Brendan. I know God is applying the graces to that moment when Brendan took that desperate way out. I'm confident in God's mercy and know we will meet our beloved grandson again.

Leslie Sholly said...

I am so sorry for your family's loss. I am praying for Brendan and for all of you.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thank you, Kevin and Leslie. So many people we've never met are praying for our Brendan and for our family. It means so much to us and I pray every day that God will reward you for your kindness. I'm reading a biography of G.K. Chesterton called "Defiant Joy" and that's what I'm determined to have. Despite all the suffering in life we can thumb our noses at the Father of Lies and embrace St. Paul's message to "rejoice in all things." Nobody ever said it would be easy, but I trust that Brendan is not lost to us, only separated from us for a time.