The following story appeared in the November 5 Idaho Catholic Register.
Editors Note: Shannon Decker, executive director of The Speedy Foundation, named after Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, a Boise native and Olympic skier, has requested the Idaho Catholic Register reprint the column below written by Father Ron Rohlheiser
in 2002. The article is reprinted in memory of Bridgit “Bear” Walsh, Ed-die Bush, and Danny Davis, members of the Class of 2001 at Bishop Kelly High School who died by suicide.
Father Ron’s column,“Too Bruised to Be Touched,” was sent to Decker by Bear Walsh’s father, Dr. Gary Walsh.
Each year, those who have lost a loved one to suicide gather at events all over the world on International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, which takes place this year on Saturday, Nov. 20.
“Virtual and in-person events help connect suicide loss survivors with others in their community to gain in-sight about healing, share stories, and find comfort and hope in the knowledge that they are not alone,” Decker said.
Additional resources for those who are grieving suicide loss can be found at thespeedyfoundation.org/loss.
“The Class of 2001 holds up our beloved classmates, each of whom was too bruised to be touched,” Decker said.
By Father Ron Rohlheiser
A few days ago, I was asked to visit a family who had, just that day, lost their 19-year-old son to suicide.
There isn’t much one can offer by way of consolation, even faith consolation, at a moment like this, when everyone is in shock and the pain is so raw. Few things can so devastate us as the suicide of a loved one, especially of one’s own child. There is the horrific shock of losing a loved one so suddenly which, just of itself, can bring us to our knees; but, with suicide, there are other soul-wrenching feelings too, confusion,
guilt, second-guessing, religious anxiety. Where did we fail this person? What might we still have done? What should we have noticed? What is this person’s state with God?
What needs to be said about all of this?
First, that suicide is a disease and the most misunderstood of all sicknesses. It takes a person out of life against his or her will, the emotional equivalent of cancer, a stroke, or a heart attack.
Second, we, those left behind, need not spend undue energy second-guessing as to how we might have failed that person, what we should have noticed, and what we might still have done to prevent the suicide. Suicide is an ill-ness and, as with any sickness, we can love someone and still not be able to save that person from death. God loved this person too and, like us, could not, this side of eternity, do anything either.
Finally, we shouldn’t worry too much about how God meets this per-son on the other side. God’s love, un-like ours, can go through locked doors and touch what will not allow itself to be touched by us.
Is this making light of suicide? Hard-ly. Anyone who has ever dealt with either the victim of a suicide before his or her death or with those grieving that death afterward knows that it is impossible to make light of it. There is no hell and there is no pain like the one suicide inflicts. No-body who is healthy wants to die and nobody who is healthy wants to burden his or her loved ones with this kind of pain. And that’s the point: This is only done when someone isn’t healthy. The fact that medication can often prevent suicide should tell us something.
Suicide is an illness, not a sin. No-body just calmly decides to commit suicide and burden his or her loved ones with that death any more than anyone calmly decides to die of cancer and cause pain. The victim of suicide (in all but rare cases) is a trapped per-son, caught up in a fiery, private chaos that has its roots both in his or her emotions and in his or her bio-chemistry. Suicide is a desperate attempt to end unendurable pain, akin to one throwing oneself through a window because one’s clothing is on fire.
Many of us have known victims of suicide and we know, too, that in almost every case that person was not full of ego, pride, haughtiness, or the desire to hurt someone. Generally, it’s the opposite. The victim has cancerous problems precisely because he or she is wounded, raw, and too bruised to have the necessary resiliency needed to deal with life. Those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide know that the problem is not one of strength but of weakness, the person is too bruised to be touched.
I remember a comment I overheard at a funeral for a suicide victim. The priest had preached badly, hinting that this suicide was somehow the man’s own fault and that suicide was always the ultimate act of despair. At the reception afterward, a neighbor of the victim expressed his displeasure at the priest’s homily: “There are a lot of people in this world who should kill themselves,” he lamented bitterly, “but those kind never do! This man is the last person who should have killed himself because he was one of the most sensitive people I’ve ever met!” A book could be written on that statement. Too often, it is precisely the meek who seem to lose the battle, at least in this world.
Finally, I submit that we shouldn’t worry too much about how God meets our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide. God, as Jesus assures us, has a special affection for those of us who are too bruised and wounded to be touched. Jesus assures us, also, that God’s love can go through locked doors and into broken places and free up what’s paralysed and help that which can no longer help itself. God is not blocked when we are. God can reach through.
And so our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide are now inside of God’s embrace, enjoying a freedom they could never quite enjoy here and being healed through a touch that they could never quite accept from us.
Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher, and award-winning author. He is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. See ronrolheiser.com or follow him on Facebook.
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