On August 11, 2014 news outlets broke the story that stunned us all with the seemingly inexplicable loss of the brilliant actor and comedian, Robin Williams. Reflecting upon this monumental career, one can scarcely fathom how he might make the choice to end it all, by his own hand. And yet, it happened. Mr. Williams’ private pain continued to darken and eventually, overtook the accolades of millions of admirers from around the world. Fans have grieved his passing in their own way, imagining some reason or perhaps a justification for why, in order to bring personal consolation to the unthinkable and unexpected. Additionally, the tragic back-loop that often occurs after a celebrity makes a choice in private that becomes overtly public, tacitly invites many to follow him into their own demise. Some even replicate the very method of choice.
The staggering, earth-shaking results of a “successful” suicide jars friends and family into a mind-numbing quest for answers. But the wounded suicidal mind, perhaps lacking adequate brain chemical balance, which affects more than 350 million people by some estimations, leaves many wondering what they could possibly have done to help. There is little solace in the knowledge that this is pandemic.
The fact that their loved one made a “choice” pulls the surviving friends and family into the unrelenting, deep abyss of what ifs. What if they had been kinder to them; more understanding or perhaps, firmer or persistent with a solution. The brokenhearted loved ones are left to struggle, perhaps a lifetime with the darkness and isolation that hits them like an anvil. The loss of their loved one echoes in them every day of their life, forcing them to live with their own kind of hopelessness and grief that is palpable. Without dismissing the responsibility of self-preservation and the sanctity of life itself, one must at least consider the state that grips the wounded mind. It is a space that few truly perceive completely.
One may feel compelled to say something, as though anything that could be said would actually be significant. Some may believe that this is their cue to deliver the strong message of right from wrong, the unmitigated black and white of reality. Please understand that truth, God’s Truth does matter. However, though I may know all Truth, but deliver it with thoughtlessness of speech, devoid of love, I only deepen the already cavernous wound I am trying to heal. Paul was clear in stating that love loves Truth (1 Corinthians 3:5), but when it is spoken, it must be spoken in love or it falls on deaf ears; and authentic love knows when to be silent. As followers of Christ, we have a Blessed Hope that provides us all, the depressed and those who love them, with a comfort that exceeds understanding. It is a love that is equal to the pain. But this is not a wholesale commodity that one casually slips into the conversation, while foisting an agenda upon the survivors. Rather, it is an actual way to love in real time. We must not speak where God has remained silent. Words can come much later, “To speak a word in due time, is like apples of gold on beds of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) But now… right now we are just there… unpretentiously there. It is then that less is actually more.
Well-meaning friends who, like Job’s friends, desiring to bring some comfort and make sense out of the chaos, engage in blanket statements. (Job 4-7) They speak to the issues and loss, as though they have full comprehension of the precipitating events. Instead, they deliver additional pain and confusion to the survivors, yet produce nothing of worth. I am reminded of a line from the song made famous by the late Keith Whitley, who was himself, a tortured soul, “You say it best when you say nothing at all.” This is a time for vicarious empathy…this is a time for love… a love that “does not dishonor others” by speaking out of turn. (1 Corinthians 13:5) It is a time to help them cry, not to make declarations or pontificate. The depth of loss extends past intellectual grasp, and perhaps no human being can appreciate the encumbrance of death entirely. But as Paul wrote, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4) There is only One who fully comprehends the brokenness of any of us. And so we each, fall upon His mercies that are new every morning (Lam. 3:23), lean into Him for comfort, humbly show others where comfort may be found, and pray for the morning to come.