Ron Rolheiser's Writings on Suicide

Rolheiser's column touches on many issues connected with spirituality and our relationship with God. Each year, he writes one column on suicide, which he says is the single most gratifying pieces of work he does because of the feedback he receives from people who have lost loved ones and are grateful for the hope and consolation that his column has provided them..

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Below are a few quotes from selected articles on Suicide

Too-bruised to be touched - One of the causes of Suicide

Few things can so devastate us as the suicide of a loved one. There's the horrific shock of losing a loved one so suddenly which, just of itself, can bring us to our knees; but, with suicide, there are other soul-wrenching feelings too, confusion, guilt, second-guessing, religious anxiety. Where did we fail this person? What might we still have done? What is this person's state with God?

What needs to be said about this? First, that suicide is a disease and generally the most misunderstood of all sicknesses. It takes a person out of life against his or her will, the emotional equivalent of cancer, a stroke, or a heart attack. Second, we, those left behind, need not spend undue energy second-guessing as to how we might have failed that person, what we should have noticed, and what we might have done to prevent the suicide. Suicide is an illness and, as with any sickness, we can love someone and still not be able to save that person from death. God loved this person too and, like us, could not, this side of eternity, do anything either. Finally, we shouldn't worry too much about how God meets this person on the other side. God's love, unlike ours, can go through locked doors and touch what will not allow itself to be touched by us.... Read More

Our Misconceptions about Suicide

Sometimes things need to be said, and said, and said, until they don't need to be said any more. Margaret Atwood wrote that and its truth is the reason why, each year, I write a column on suicide. We still have too many misconceptions about suicide.

First, that suicide is an act of despair. Too common still is the belief that suicide is the ultimate act of despair - culpable and unforgivable. To commit suicide, it is too commonly believed, puts one under the judgement once pronounced on Judas Iscariot: Better to not have been born. Until recently, victims of suicide were often not even buried in church cemeteries.   Read More:

Understanding Suicide

Every year I write a column on suicide and each of those columns usually prompts a flood of mostly grateful letters. The gratitude comes from the fact that those columns suggest that, in most cases, suicide claims its victims in the same way as does a heart attack, a stroke, cancer, or an accident. There is no freedom not to die. Suicide victims are, like victims of sickness and accidents, not responsible for their own deaths and suicide should not be a matter of secrecy, shame, moral judgment, and second-guessing.

Since Styron is sharing, first-hand, the experience of suicidal depression, allow me to quote him extensively:

    "The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain. ... and for the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer. ...  Read More

Our Misunderstanding about Suicide

Each year I write an article on suicide because so many people have to live with the pain of losing a loved one in this way. When someone close to us falls victim to suicide we live with a pain that includes a lot of confusion ("Why?"), guilt ("What might we still have done? Why didn't we notice sooner?"), misunderstanding ("This is the ultimate form of despair") and, if we are believers, considerable religious anxiety as well ("How does God treat such a person? What's to be his or her eternal destiny?")  Read More

The Descent Into Hell

Several years ago, a young woman I knew attempted suicide. She was 23 years old and away from home. Her frightened, concerned family rushed to her side. They brought her home, got her the best medical and psychiatric attention available, and, most importantly, rallied around her, trying in every way to bring her out of suicidal depression.

They weren't successful. Two months later, she killed herself. She had descended into a place into which no human love, medicine, or psychiatry could penetrate, a private hell beyond human reach.

What hope do we have in situation like this?  Read More

Ultimate Consolation

Christ descended into hell. What is meant by that?

And we see this most clearly in Jesus' death: When we look at the way that Jesus died, we see that in his death he "descended into hell", that he went into a place and space of utter alienation and complete darkness where he was, outside of everything except raw faith, completely cut off from community, life, and God. There, in that place where he was so utterly alienated and alone, he was able to breath out the spirit of God and of life.

What does that mean for us? Let me try to explain by using a series of image: Read More

Several years ago, some family friends of mine had a 19 year-old daughter who became severely depressed and attempted suicide. They rallied round her, took her to the best doctors and psychiatrists, and tried every possible way of having their love break through the shell of her sickness and alienation. It didn't work. Eventually she killed herself. All the love in the world and all the best medicine and psychiatry could not any more penetrate inside her private hell. Her family could not "descend into hell" and open up for her the gates of life and community. They were helpless before her darkness, her hell.

But Christ can descent into that, and into every hell that can be created. That's what the descent into hell means. There is no hell that Christ cannot penetrate, no locked door he cannot go through. When this young woman woke up on the other side of this life, I am certain that she found Christ standing in the middle of her huddled fear and loneliness breathing out the spirit of community and joy and saying: "Do not be afraid. Peace with you!"

Sometimes you don't have to open the door!   Read More



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