What pastoral wisdom can we offer in the face of suicide?
Suicide is newsworthy these days. It has been on ‘The Late Late’; ‘Today with Pat Kenny,’ ‘Liveline’, ‘2FM’ and ‘Frontline’. The recent statistics have contributed to this discussion. I was even mentioned in dispatches myself on Lifeline recently following the funeral of a 20 year-old. Paulette O Connor (researcher with Frontline) and myself were also in discussion the past week. I decided not to join the Frontline programme Monday night. Why? I am fearful of the clichés taking over and it seemed too crowded a studio to allow any real comment on the issues. What I might have to say would hardly be popular but it would ask why.
I make a distinction between those who suffer for a long time and decide to end this suffering. I recall one mother sitting on a sofa one very sad morning. Her son had hanged himself. All she could say to me was this: “I have tried for years to die and there he has gone and done it. “ It was true what she said. Her poor little mind was very sore for years. Her own death wasn’t very natural either. But the son had found an instant answer to an immediate question. My questions are primarily around the young men who die by suicide and the devastation they leave behind.
I think our writers and readers on this web-site might have something to say from their experience. I have buried 18 people who were murdered and probably a very similar number who died by suicide. Those statistics I am sure can be multiplied across the country and by the readership of the website. Can we share our pastoral experiences? The days around a funeral are difficult but the months and years afterwards leave deep scars that never heal. In ways that is where we have to be: Listening and being there.
1. My most serious observation is with the apparent impulsiveness of many young men who die by suicide. How many young fellows now have a row with the girlfriend and then go off and kill themselves. I find that brutal and scary. Sometimes suicide seems like the action of a spoilt child and is like a tantrum. ‘I want something and I want it now and if I don’t get it. I will show you.’ And then I wonder.
2. I want to whisper: Does the ‘absence’ of God in our society and among the young, create a vacuum?
3. And I want to whisper again: What replaces God and Religion as a system of values and beliefs to define life? Is there something ‘missing’ in how we present God and Religion in our society? And what kind of God do we present?
4. I am also concerned about our Instant Society. We have instant coffee; vegetables all the year around; the values of the Celtic Tiger (‘you can have anything you want and now); do we pander to the children – giving them all they want; sound bites in the Media (even around the murdered garda, Adrian O Donohoe – a reporter on Morning Ireland, asking ‘how does his wife feel?’); instant pills for every problem; a cure for every need.
5. But life isn’t like that. Has society become impulsive? Do we expect an immediate answer to every question and now? We saw the same idea with the Frontline programme on the Presidential election. We saw it with the utter craziness in Anglo-Irish and the stupidity of our political system that didn’t see or bother to look at the long term effects of their short-term policies. The short-termism in politics and the superficiality of the Media can infect and affect us all. The now-now; me-me philosophy doesn’t work.
6. I watch some of these funerals. It sometimes seems as if this is High Drama. The youngsters come along dressed in their uniform (black trousers, black ties, white shirts); they write up the tributes on Facebook; they want the favorite music; they may even throw the ties into the grave. It almost makes the Drama attractive and glamorous. But this person is dead. This family is shattered. There is no future and no tomorrow. The moment (funeral) of the death becomes a peak moment of life. But it isn’t. How do get any of this across to young people? How do we stop the imitators?
7. I buried a much loved older woman some weeks ago. She used to use the cant “it isn’t all about you, you know.” She would throw that at her daughter-in-law in jest and it was always great fun. But somehow young people have to begin to see this: “It isn’t all about them. “ Life is bigger than now and bigger than them. The whole Christian outlook is one of love and regard for others and for God. How do we instil the values of ‘gratitude’ and ‘appreciation’ in these young ones? They can be so caught up in growing up; in smelling right; in dressing in the latest; in having all mod cons; in doing their own thing.
8. But my extra fear is this one: I see parents worrying now, if they are demanding or if anything goes wrong or if the youngsters are out late – wondering what might happen. There is almost an unspoken blackmail around. What can we do about any of this?
Are there any conclusions? We may want to shout and ask the youngsters to toughen up (we may wish to ask the Brian Codys of this world to do a job for us!); to face up to life’s obstacles; to be given less and to appreciate more; to be better parented and educated. Is Education a story of achievement of qualification or is it a Preparation for Life? What do we do as a Society to help? What do we do as a Christian culture or as a Church? What is our Catechesis like in our Schools or what do we think it should be like? Even our Sacraments now are so often Moments for Celebrating rather than Launching Occasions into a Community (and a way of life) where people commit to work together for the betterment of life and the celebration of God among us.
Have we as a Christian Community something to say and to offer?
Seamus Ahearne osa, Rivermount, Finglas South, D11. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)