Robin Williams, who played the role of Genie in Aladdin,
died by suicide on August 11, 2014
The story of Anastasia: The daily news bared all the painful details of her death. She drank turpentine. It didn’t work. She slashed her wrist but the blade was not sharp enough to completely sever the veins. She made a lasso and tied the rope on the lone chandelier. With the aid of a chair, she stood right under the chandelier, wrapped the knot around her neck and made a quick leaping motion to destabilize the chair. She died after ten minutes. It was her third attempt. No one in her family suspected the torment she was going through. In the end, her only means of coping was to take her life.
The story of Dante: He was suffering from schizophrenia. His family tried everything to make him well. Hypnotism, group therapy, drugs, and the controversial and the cruelest of clinical procedures, the electric shock treatment.
He would come out of the treatment dazed, glassy-eyed and thirsty but calm and placid. This would be followed by good days when his mind seemed to bounce back to his creative, productive self. He could work. He was lucid. He could laugh, interact and be gentle with his wife and his son. He was again the man of the house. But as quick as it came, it would disappear and he would revert to a state of limbo where he could not form any opinion much less decipher one. That’s when sleep eluded him. He would throw the sleeping pills in frustration. The voices would come back and dominate him. They taunted, tormented and despised him. In the end, they became too much for him to bear. He put a gun in his mouth and shot himself. He suffered for 23 years.
The story of Adolfo: He was packing up to migrate. He saw an old, unlicensed gun in one of the top drawers and was surprised to see that it was hidden there all these years. He made up his mind to sell it but first he thought of giving it a good buff. Pulling out a polishing cloth, he rubbed it vigorously when suddenly the gun went off. It sounded like a thunderclap. He trembled uncontrollably at the thought that the gun was loaded. Whirling from the shock, he turned to his wife, Teresa, who was sleeping in their bed. Horror gripped him when he saw blood oozing from her head. His mind went blank. Another shot was heard and he fell lifeless on the floor.
Anastasia, Dante and Adolfo committed suicide. They were people we knew and in each tragedy, we saw the anguish etched in the faces of those they left behind.
How does one handle pain of this magnitude?
Anastasia’s mother was a mirror of sorrow. Being a pious and devoted Catholic, she only asked one question, “Would God take pity on my daughter and give her rest; will she see heaven?”
Dante’s family lived with the fear that he would someday take his own life. It was an ordeal his wife and son faced every day and when it finally happened, their spirits were so broken that there was nothing left to feel.
At the wake of Adolfo and his wife, Teresa, they were dressed in the same barong tagalog and piña gown they wore at their wedding. Even in death they were inseparable.
There was a time when suicide in the family was handled under a veil of darkness. We were not equipped to deal with death this way because we were more comfortable to follow a de kahon, well laid out and predictable life line: marriage, birth, milestones, sickness and lastly, death. A pat phrase like “she lived a good, long life” was easier to understand and accept.
In suicide, the family suffers double grief: Losing a loved one and coping with the cruel and baseless talks on the circumstances surrounding the death. Where will they find comfort? Who could throw some light into this dark abyss of grief?
At a recent memorial service, the priest seemed to shed some light on this mystery. He said, “We should not burden ourselves with the circumstances of how our beloved departed left their mortal bodies. It wouldn’t matter to God. What is important is He promised us the forgiveness of our sins and that someday, He will lift us up to our permanent home where there is no pain, no sorrow, only joy and clemency.” He went on to say that man has no control over the manner of his death. It could happen by accident, by a sudden and fatal heart attack, a prolonged suffering, even by violent death or suicide. While there will be those who would peacefully and easily give up the ghost, there will be those who would suffer until their last breath. The important thing is God’s promise that He will not abandon us. He closed his homily by urging the mourners to leave their dearly beloved in the hands of God. “There, he will be safe.”
I was clearly surprised and appeased by what the priest said. If we view death in this manner, it could ease the tension and remove the stigma associated with it. Painful questions could be laid to rest and more importantly, those left behind could find the road to forgiveness, healing and acceptance.
The next time you pray The Apostle’s Creed, pray slowly and reflect on each line. When you reach that part that says, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” Take it to heart and believe.
Postscript to Anastasia’s story: Palo Alto, California. Sixteen years had passed and one day, Anastasia’s mother ran excitedly to her husband, “Anastasia is in heaven!” “How do you know that?” asked her husband. She replied, “You know how I’ve never stopped praying to Mama Mary? This morning, I prayed again and I asked her to heal the pain that is in my heart. If Anastasia has been forgiven and is now with God, I asked Mama Mary to send me a sign: white roses and a dozen of them.”
That day, Anastasia’s mother went about her daily chores. While busy in the kitchen, the doorbell rang. “Can someone please get the door?” she yelled. No one responded so she rushed to open it with her mind still preoccupied with the boiling pot in the kitchen.
Before her stood an awkward, harassed young man scratching his head and stammering, “Madam, ah, I’m sorry to bother you. You will find this hard to believe but I am the delivery boy of the florist shop next to the town plaza. I found an extra order of long-stemmed roses in my van but I could not find the delivery receipt. This has been a particularly tiring, long and hot day; the roses will simply wilt if I returned them back to the shop. Can I give them to you for free?”
Anastasia’s mother was clearly in doubt. She asked, “Why did you ring my doorbell and not the other ones in the complex?” The boy answered, “Again, you won’t believe this but your door was the first one I saw and I thought, “Hey, who wouldn’t want to be surprised with flowers?’”
Still worrying about her pot of boiling stew, she smiled and opened her arms to accept the roses. Placing them down near the foyer, she rushed back to the kitchen to switch the flame to low. With her face all steamed up from the cooking pot, it suddenly occurred to her, “Wait a minute, did I just receive roses? Could this be a sign?”
She hesitated and thought, “Oh, but that’s impossible. I asked for white roses and they are definitely not in bloom this time of the year.”
Being convinced that she was probably getting excited over nothing, she began to ascend the stairs. She felt her heart skip a beat before it began to thump faster and faster. She turned on her heels and ran down to the foyer.
The bundle of flowers was there, still tied up with ruffia, in white cellophane with butterfly prints. Trembling now, she slowly unwrapped the package…the roses were white, all 12 pieces of them.
A Prayer When A Loved One Dies By Suicide
By Naomi Levy
(From her book entitled Talking to God, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002)
Help me God. Give me strength to carry on. Heal my anger and shame. Ease the burden in my heart. Teach me to believe that I am not to blame. Lead me back to life and hope and joy. I know the pain became too much for him. Death was his only hope for release from his suffering. Life offered him no such promise, no relief.
Let him rest now, God. Free from all that haunted him. Peace, at last. Watch over him. Be his comfort. Grant him the serenity that he so longed for in life. Let his death be his healing. Amen.