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Life after suicide

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By David Whitlock

Neither of my high school friends let me in on their secret: they planned to commit suicide. They succeeded.

Not at the same time. And by then we were miles and years apart. But it still shook me to the core when I heard the news. “Death by suicide.” My friends, they were, at least for some fun years. Football. Friday night school dances. Parties. Cruising. Hanging out.

Back then, now years ago, when I learned of their demise, I couldn’t help but think: “What if I had only?  When did the turn happen? Why didn’t I?”  Some questions beg for the unanswerable.

That’s why I couldn’t imagine the pain that Marie Osmond, or any parent, experiences when their child commits suicide. Michael Blosil, Osmond’s son, was a first-year student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, when he took his own life by jumping from his highrise apartment building in downtown Los Angeles.  He was an outstanding student who like most teenagers, had experienced some trials. For years he had battled depression.

Depression is a common symptom among those who commit suicide. But, it’s not just depression (often indicated by changes in sleep patterns, diet, or difficulty in focusing) but the severity of those behavior changes that make predicting suicidal tendencies problematic.

What’s severe for one may not be for another. It’s much easier when a child tells the parent (as did one of ours), “I’m feeling sad.”  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

Any parent can miss it. It’s virtually impossible to discern what is in the child’s mind. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the third leading cause of death among older teenagers. And boys are four times more likely to commit suicide than girls. Family therapist Tony Real, author of “I Don’t Want To Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression,” says in regard to youth suicide, “It just makes you shake your head…It’s very hard to predict.”

Difficult to predict, indeed. We miss it. And it’s not just in older teenagers. According to the National Institute of Heath, senior adults accounted for 16 percent of the suicides in 2004.

The Apostles missed it in their comrade, Judas. Even their suspicions of him didn’t sensitize them to his piercing question, “Rabbi, am I the one?” How could they have missed it?

But they did. It’s easy to see it from the after-side, the too-late side, the grief side. And what we miss haunts us. As Swiss physician and philosopher Paul Tournier said, “There is no grave beside which a flood of guilty feelings does not assail the mind.”

Life and death are hard to predict; they are so closely attached. Where one discovers life, another is caught by death; where one embraces death, another finds life. Where does one end and another begin? Jesus reminds us that we truly live life by dying to it; we find it by losing it: “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it,” he said.

Centuries ago, when monks chose to come to the Scottish island of Iona, before making their final vows, they were required to build their own coffin. It was a way of coming to terms with death, not someone else’s death, but their own. They were not truly ready to live until they had died. As one of their monks said, sometime in the 8th or 9th Century, “If death should be my fate/merciful would be that taking/I know not beneath blue heaven/a better spot for death.”

A better spot for death? Ahh, beneath blue heaven.  In that suicide of death—this side of eternity — we find life, and in it our hope for those who ended their life is kindled, those whose lives and deaths  too often catch us by sad surprise, a surprise that may invite us, in another realm of time, to another life — with them, in that blue heaven.

David B. Whitlock’s “Life Matters,” is published weekly. You can visit Dr. Whitlock at his website, www.davidbwhitlock.com or email him at doctordavid@windstream.net.