Excerpts from the New Book, After Suicide

To mark World Suicide Prevention Day Sept. 10, we share reason for hope - for the salvation of those who've died by their own hand and for the healing of those left behind. Read excepts from the new Marian Press book, After Suicide: There's Hope for Them and for You, by Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, and Jason Lewis, MIC.

Two years in the making, the new book honestly and pastorally addresses the hard issue of suicide (or death by any means) and draws from the teachings of the Church, the message of Divine Mercy, and Fr. Chris Alar's own experience of losing his grandmother to suicide.


On the root cause of the suicide crisis ...
As I looked into some of the specific and varied reasons for the suicide problem today, they all seemed to underscore Pope St. John Paul II's spot-on diagnosis that we are living in "a culture of death," a phrase from his papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). I was troubled when I reflected on this reality.

Does Christ not bring us the "Gospel of Life"? Has He not conquered sin and death and set the human spirit free for abundant life? ...

After much thought and prayer, I came to the conclusion that there is one fundamental root cause of our modern suicide crisis: a lack of faith in God. Coupled with this primary cause, there are also secondary factors that contribute to the lack of faith in our individual and communal lives - namely, a disordered attachment to "the world" and the influence of the demonic.

Is suicide necessarily damnable? ...
As a priest, in saying that there's hope for those who have taken their own lives, I want to emphasize that suicide is never the answer. In this life, it's a permanent response to temporary problems. Furthermore, it hurts the people who are left behind, causing all sorts of heartache and harm in ways the deceased would never have imagined.

I also want to emphasize that while what I'm about to explain reveals that there certainly is hope after suicide, there is no guarantee of salvation for anyone. There is often great cost to the souls of those who die in this way. It's more than likely that they will have to at least suffer great pains in Purgatory, including remorse over having cut their own lives short and the knowledge that they've hurt those who love them. As we'll soon see, however, there's something you and I can do that's very effective for shortening, or even eliminating, that suffering. And so the hope remains. ...

[Which] brings us to the central question of this chapter: If suicide (and assisting anyone in suicide) is a serious sin and should never be considered the answer to any problematic situation, why isn't it necessarily damnable? Expanding on the idea above, there's a difference between committing a wrong act and being fully culpable, or guilty, of that wrong act. ...

When we consider the particular case of my own grandmother - and by extension, of the many who have died by their own hand - we must keep a few things in mind regarding whether or not her sin is "damnable": (1) We know that the act of suicide is objectively grave matter and a truly serious offense against love of God, neighbor, and self. (2) She may or may not have had full knowledge of the gravity of her action. (There is no way for us to know for certain.) But (3) did she really commit the act with full freedom of her will? Did she really want to take her own life apart from any undue influence and burden? I believe not. If this is the case, her sin was not damnable - and the same points apply to anyone else who has completed suicide.

Likewise, the Church teaches that "although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God" (CCC, 1861). In other words, we can know that an act is objectively grave, but we cannot know if it is actually "mortal," because we don't know exactly what someone knew or didn't know about the seriousness of the act, or if their will was entirely free when committing it ...

The Catechism addresses this question directly, saying, "Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide" (2282). Read that again. Please, read and reread this declaration of Mother Church. Let it sink into your heart, as if coming from the lips of a tender, loving, and understanding mother. Our beloved's culpability, the responsibility for their action, may be reduced if they experienced "grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture." In the case of suicide, one could even argue that "torture" could apply to mental, not just physical, duress.

I believe that most suicides happen as a result of one or more of those conditions. It seems that my grandmother's did. ...

Reading the words of Jesus to Faustina about the depths of His mercy for the souls of the dying, we can come to one conclusion: There's hope. No matter how someone died, no matter how far beyond hope they seem to be now or at the hour of their death, there's still hope for their salvation!

Spiritual principles for healing ...
Now that we have discussed the nature of grief and some of the unique complexities of a suicide, drawing from resources offered by grief professionals, let's shift our focus to the critical spiritual approaches we can take in the healing process. Here are three spiritual principles that can assist you in your healing from bereavement and offer you real hope.

1) We admit that we are powerless over the loss of our loved one.

2) We come to trust that Jesus, the Divine Mercy, can restore our lives to manageability.

3) We make a decision to entrust our will, our lives, and our loved one to the loving care and protection of God.

One thing is for certain: If you are grieving the loss of a suicide, many things will not make sense about the circumstances in which you find yourself. It will be impossible to "figure out" the chain of events that has overwhelmed you. However, these three spiritual principles for coping with suicide bereavement can work together to help place you on more solid footing. Of course, the time it takes to return to "manageability" - to get things "back on track" - will vary for each person. It may be difficult to see right now, but the Father loves you and will not leave you orphaned in your anguish. He willl help you.

An act of entrustment to Jesus ...
If you are now ready to fully trust in Jesus' care and protection for you and your loved one, you can make your entrustment concrete by offering this prayer (or one that is similar):

Jesus, I trust in You. You are mercy and goodness itself. In this very moment and forevermore, I offer myself to You entirely to do with me as You will. Remove from me any obstacle that stands in the way of Your grace. I also offer and entrust to You my beloved ______ (name loved one). Take them fully into Your care and protection, now and for all eternity, and may I be fully reunited with them in Heaven. May Your will always be done in my life. Jesus, I trust in You!

... When you make this offering with a sincere heart, you can think of it as planting a "mustard seed" of hope, with the anticipation of growth. Growth in what? A sense of peace and harmony. You may begin to feel relief from the deep-seated agony that has seized control of your daily life. The hopelessness that pervaded your mind will begin to fade away. You will grow more confident in Jesus' care for the one you lost. A new sense of power and strength may emerge, along with love and gratitude for the nearness of Jesus and His loving mercy. These are all consequences of the integrated grief stage, whereby new strength and understanding often begin to take hold.

A mother's thoughts following her daughter's suicide ...

Earlier, I mentioned the spiritual bond I'd forged with Sammie Wood. ...

I asked her two tough questions. I asked, "How is life five years later after the loss of Clare?" And much more awkwardly, with a lump in my throat, I asked, "Can you see any 'greater good' from this experience?"

Let's listen to how Sammie answered these questions in a way that only she could:

... We will always, always, always miss her. I tell her many times a day in my heart that I love her and that I miss her. I pray for her always, especially the Chaplet. ...
We will never see her live out her vocation. All our joys have the added color of missing her, but maybe we also have a deeper appreciation for those joys. We certainly don't take as much for granted as we once did. ...
I know losing Clare has changed all of us. It has changed me. I'm not as naive as I used to be, and I've lost some of my innocence. I never dreamed something like this could happen. I hope and pray I'm more compassionate, but I'm not sure if I am. I think for sure my faith is stronger. I'm sure (and rightly so) that losing Clare has humbled me. I used to think I had things figured out, and now I'm absolutely certain I don't know much at all. Thankfully, I do know God is in control - I do know that He has it figured out! I'm thankful for the great gift of eternity and thankful for His Infinite Mercy.

On the 'prescription of hope'...
The mustard tree of hope will blossom through our continued trust in Christ's loving mercy, sometimes quickly, sometimes gradually.

When times of doubt, heartache, and grief reemerge - as they undoubtedly will - seek to renew trust in Jesus, and recall your decision to offer yourself and your departed loved one to His care and protection. Repeat the words of our "prescription of hope" - Jesus, I trust in You. He has proven Himself in countless ways and will unfailingly come to you in His mercy again and again. He cannot and will not deny your plea, even if you don't clearly see His response or fully understand how He is present. In time, you will again rest securely in the hope of His never-ending love.

Visit ShopMercy.org/hope to order After Suicide: There's Hope for Them and for You.

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