A few months ago, I shared a story of a tragic suicide. Sadly, as preoccupied and short-sighted humans, we often momentarily mourn over the loss of a passing associate but then maybe forget about those who are left behind and the long-lasting effect the death–and the causes of it–has on them. Below is a follow-up on the dear mother of the deceased: Christine Burton. She offers some important insights of one who has been left to suffer mostly alone:
“It has now been six months since my son Michael’s tragic and untimely death. What has transpired during this time frame, has been mind altering, eye opening, and heart rending! The tsunami waves of grief that have periodically engulfed me have often caused such desperate struggles, that at times, I felt like giving up and just allowing the undertow to swallow me. No one would know the extent of this suffering unless they have experienced first hand the loss of a beloved child. Even so, each person’s journey is unique depending on the individual circumstance. This agony has, for me, been compounded by the fact that Michael deliberately took his own life.
“I strongly feel that when someone dies by suicide an extra dimension comes into play. It may seem to others to be a ‘choice’ and therefore, somehow, not as devastating. It also may seem to some to be extremely selfish, as so many people who are ‘really’ ill are still living and having to deal with horrendous pain and suffering! This, tragically, shows a lack of understanding and compassion about the dynamics and severity of depression and the mental anguish those who take their own lives are experiencing. Add to that the onus of being homosexual, and a ‘double whammy’ occurs! Again, a blaming judgment raises it’s ugly head, especially when a religious component is added to the mix.
“Sadly, I have been the recipient of this type of reaction during these months since my dearest son’s death. Not only have I experienced unfathomable agony, I have felt the wariness of others (most who are active Church members) to engage with me even on a superficial level. Their silence has been stark and glaring. Many attended the memorial service we held, but that was the extent of it. There was no follow through, nor expressions of sorrow and sadness (after the fact), and this included even close family members! Most did not even bring cards, or send them later. A very reliable source (I have chosen not to reveal his\her name), told me that many Church members still feel that the life of a person who is gay is less valuable than someone else’s! When suicide is added, then the ‘sin’ is doubly damning! I have heard, through the grapevine, that others were uncomfortable and just didn’t know what to say, so they chose not to say or do anything. To me, silence is not only abusive, but dismissive of the person (the one who has passed, and the one going through the grief!) This lack of response and narrow minded bias and judgment, have caused me added grief and pain.
“In addition to the unspeakable anguish I am going through on a daily basis, I’m struggling with my anger against people in this Church who treated my son (and his eventual husband) in the most despicable manner. One need only to refer to the above story I wrote about his life to understand this. It’s so heart shattering to realize that this behavior contributed profoundly to both of their deaths. Of course, many other life experiences made their mark, but the underlying feelings that they were sinful, disgusting, reprehensible, revolting, etc. etc. took their toll, and eventually became the prime repository of self-hatred. When one hates oneself, it becomes nigh impossible to work through and change that core belief. Everything that comes after seems to fall into that crevice and abyss. As I wrote in Michael’s story, he told me not long before his death, that if he had been raised in an open environment of unconditional love and acceptance, no matter what the situation, he would have been a healthier, happier, stronger, and emotionally stable person! I have no doubt in my mind that if that had been the case, he would still be here to continue to make incredible contributions to the lives of others, as he was a phenomenal teacher and counselor! That fact is the truest and deepest of all tragedies!!
“That I have to now go through the rest of my life without this scintillating, compassionate, funny, and deeply caring person, is beyond what I can, at times, bear. There are so few people who really listen attentively and with concern for others; who validate their feelings and experiences without giving advice, interrupting, or making it about themselves. When one is found, he or she needs to be cherished and embraced and held onto tightly; for those qualities are indeed rare and of the deepest value. Michael was one of these unique individuals and he can never be replaced. I am forever changed because of his presence in my life, and forever bereft because a vibrant light and love have been extinguished! The world is darker and more chaotic because he is no longer in it.”
The deep tragedy in all this, as Christine points out, is the tendency humans have to box people up. Too often we seek to diminish people with our limited mental capacities. It is so much easier to explain people away until they are no longer human to us–until we can no longer “see” them. By so doing, it becomes easier to marginalize and dismiss those we might perceive to be “less than.” It is then easier to submit to the harsh instinct to crush those among us who are really just manifestations of our own reciprocal humanity. Because of our connected brokenness, we need to realize that we are actually perfect in our imperfections! By seeking this commonality and embracing it, we are better able to come to an understanding of ourselves and others and then begin to piece together the mystery and beauty of this human puzzle.
It is my hope that this story encourages us to try a little harder to have more love and mercy. May we take on the hurts, the injustices, the neglected, and the traumatized with greater joint ownership and compassion so that these tragedies and subsequent waves of grief can be replaced with increased empathy, validation, mercy, collective sight, and beautiful grace.