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One of the cards that I received on the occasion of my Mother’s death had a message that said, “When you lose your Mother you have lost the one person who loved you unconditionally.” I reflect on that message regularly and especially during the month of May when we celebrate Mother’s Day. This is an especially painful day for mothers who are grieving the death of a child from suicide or for those children who are grieving the death of a mother or grandmother from suicide. Mother’s love has been written and spoken about tirelessly and there have been songs written that depict a mother’s love as something that has characteristics akin to an unlimited and all powerful force. Nothing can diminish or overshadow the love of a mother. And yet when a child decides to take their life or when a mother or grandmother takes their life the question that survivors ask themselves is, “Wasn’t my love enough?” The response to that question is that a suicide has nothing to do with love. It has to do with pain.
During an argument we often hear people use the phrase, “You are comparing apples and oranges.” That phrase has a lot of meaning when people are talking about suicide and love. When a person takes their life that person is making a statement and that statement is that the pain in the person’s life has become intolerable and that person can no longer tolerate the pain. They have run out of steam and the pain has reached a level that the only way out is to end one’s life. In many instances there have been therapy and medication and all different types of interventions and nothing has worked. In that person’s estimation the only way out of the pain is to end their life. They cannot conceive of another solution. Suicide is the last resort. If there was another way to diminish the pain, these people would attempt to utilize this method. In their desperate state, they conclude that this is the only way to escape the pain. Unless someone has experienced this type of pain no one can imagine how awful the pain is that results from mental illness. The pain from mental illness is so powerful that it has the ability to distort reality, and suicide makes all the sense in the world. Survivors ask the question, “What could be so bad that someone wants to end their life?” The answer to that question is that the pain is so intense and unbearable that this person literally cannot tolerate it one moment longer. When survivors grapple with the aftermath of the suicide and touch on the subject of love they wonder if their loved one knew that they were loved, and loved with such intensity that this love knew no bounds. I am sure that people who complete suicide know that they are loved, but this love is incapable of piercing and healing the pain that has engulfed the soul of this loved one. There is no question that this loved one was loved and loved with great intensity, but our human love does have boundaries and limitations and one of those limitations is that human love cannot create peace of mind or heal a broken soul. Human love can enhance happiness and peace of soul but it is impossible to create happiness or heal a soul. Human love is very finite and limited.
If this loved one had died from cancer or from some other type of illness, would surviving family members question the love that they had for this deceased loved one? Probably not. If a person’s body is ravaged with cancer, all of the love in the world is not going to prevent that person from dying. The disease has run its course and the person is in a very weakened state and death is very imminent. In scenes like this family members gather around the bed and let this loved one know that it is ok to die. Sometimes they have battled the disease for years and now it is time to allow the person rest and comfort from the illness. The time has come to allow the person to die. This is a very sad moment but there is comfort knowing that the person is free from the struggles of cancer. The same scenario can be played out with a suicide. Sometimes the person has openly struggled for years with the ravages of mental illness and finally has succumbed to the illness. Other times, survivors have been unaware about the duration of this loved one’s struggle. This person could very well have suffered for a long time but suffered quietly and within the confines of their own soul. Very often people who suffer from mental illness do so very privately with no one really knowing the depth of the pain and despair. That is the real difference between an illness that affects someone physically and an illness that affects one’s mind or brain or soul. The important thing to point out is that both are illnesses that have brought on the death of a loved one. The only difference is that the illnesses have attacked different parts of the human person.
With a life-threatening illness that affects the body, survivors rarely, if ever, feel as if their love can heal the person from the illness, as if their love is all powerful and has the power to heal cancer or heart disease or any other physical illness. Human love has limits and boundaries and there are certain things that human love cannot accomplish, and one of those limitations is that human love alone cannot heal a person who is suffering from the ravages of a life-threatening illness. It is very important for survivors of a suicide to come to the conclusion that they loved this person but that their love alone could not keep this person alive. This person did not die because they were unloved. They died because their illness has ravaged them to such an extent that continued living had become an impossibility. They did not necessarily want to die but they could no longer live with the pain that took over their mind, brain or soul or a combination of the three.
Mother’s love for a child or a child’s love for a mother or grandmother is a wonderful experience and something that brings great satisfaction and joy. When that child or mother or grandmother succumbs to suicide, survivors hearts are broken and they are left with many unanswered questions and devastated feelings. The feelings need to be processed and healed. I hope that the feeling of love for this person can be understood in a way that is a comfort for those survivors who feel that they did not love this person enough. Anyone’s love is limited and fallible. No human has the capacity to love without limit. Only God has that capacity.
As always I want to assure each and every one of the LOSS family of my prayers and thoughts on a daily basis. I especially want to express prayers and support for those who will commemorate Mother’s Day as a day of painful memories. I encourage each and every one of the LOSS family to do the same for each other.
Keep On Keepin’ On,