August 14, 2014 Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe
The whole world is reeling over the suicide of Robin Williams. Everyone, everywhere is talking about it. Though I wanted to write a “light” blog this week, I feel compelled to chime in to the discussion, having lost two brothers, Scott and Stephen, to suicide. Suicide is that dirty little word nobody wants to talk about. But many, many families have been affected by it. I learned this after the deaths of both of my brothers, when numerous people disclosed to me that they had lost a loved one to suicide. So the bright side of the Robin Williams tragedy, if there is one, is that his death has brought the discussion about the “s” word into the mainstream.
Clearly, suicide is not limited to the unfunny, the poor or to people of lower intelligence. Stephen, like Robin Williams, was hysterically funny. In fact, he often had us in stiches. The truth is that suicide mainly destroys people who are struggling with a mental illness. In fact, the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that over 90 percent of people who commit suicide have been diagnosed with mental illness. Some of the mental illnesses most commonly associated with suicide include major depression and other mood disorders, substance use disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders. All of these qualify for what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “grave psychological disturbances… which diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”*
So what does that imply about the fate of those who commit suicide? The Catechism goes on to say that “we should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.”* One would assume that happens at the moment of death, when the poor, afflicted soul finally encounters the love and mercy of God in all of its fullness. And is finally set free from inner torment.
I believe that Robin Williams and my brothers--who all wrestled with serious substance abuse issues (at the very least)--rest in the love, mercy and peace of God. Only that eternal perspective can help diminish the sting of suicide. I remember well the day I was given the unexpected and much needed grace of such a perspective concerning Stephen’s death.
It happened this past March during a vacation to Cancun, Mexico, of all places. Though I had eagerly anticipated a “mini-moon” with my husband Mark, I couldn’t shake the feeling of heaviness when we arrived in Mexico. It took me a couple of days to connect the dots, which I did only after a wave of grief came charging up about Stephen. It finally occurred to me that the anniversary of Stephen’s death was fast approaching, and that I was experiencing grief connected to his traumatic death.
Mark and I decided to find a Catholic Church nearby so we could pray for Stephen’s soul in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We walked a mile to Resurrection Church, and lo and behold, found an adoration chapel! The minute I knelt down before Our Lord to pray the tears started flowing. I was thinking about how Stephen had called my parents moments before he died to insinuate that he was going to commit suicide. That information quickly arrived at my house, and we immediately prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary for him. As I wept and pondered these events, wondering what horrific scene had played itself out at the moment of his death, I heard the Lord speak clearly to me. “You think this was an unredeemable tragedy, but Stephen died in the embrace of my mercy with you praying a Rosary for his soul.”
In that moment of silent prayer, God reminded me not only of His extreme mercy, but also that He is eternal and not limited by time and space. As such, when prayers go before His throne they enter into the eternal realm, and can go forward and backwards in time to help a soul in need. He impressed upon me that the prayers I was praying for Stephen right there in Mexico, along with every prayer I’ve ever prayed for him, assisted him at the moment of his death. Just when he needed them the most. Suddenly, I saw the whole thing from a new perspective—from God’s perspective—and heavenly consolation filled my soul. I walked out of Resurrection chapel filled with peace, and I have not fretted about Stephen’s death since. I trust that he is in God’s merciful hands, along with Robin Williams and the legions of other desperate souls who have ended their lives due to severe mental affliction.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:7-9). Thank goodness that God’s mercy is not limited by my restricted understanding of reality and that His goodness, kindness and love know no bounds. Robin, Scott and Stephen know that now. Requiescant in pace.
*Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2282 and 2283