This guest post on suicide was submitted by Arlene. If anyone wants to talk to Arlene she is happy for me to give out her telephone number. Please email me at ronan at jhu dot edu. No-one need suffer alone.
This is a sensitive subject: the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on suicide represents the latest (compassionate) Mormon view on the subject. In short, suicide is a sin (in that mortality is part of God’s plan for us), but one for which some people may not be fully culpable. Only God can judge these matters, not us.
I’ve always been a suicidal person. I was the product of several generations of alcoholism, poverty, abuse, and depression and I passed it on. 1991 was a particularly hard year.
My four younger sisters, who are my best friends and the people I love most after my husband and kids, began to remember sexual abuse at the hands of my father. I didn’t remember anything and didn’t care what happened to me, but the guilt was overwhelming because I hadn’t protected my baby sisters.
I decided to take my life and set a date. Then I had what I call a vision. I had taken my life, but of course was still alive and conscious. I could see my family, in particular my five year old daughter, in deep anguish and grief. Worse, I could feel her grief, all their grief as if I were experiencing it. I longed to cross that gulf and comfort her, but I couldn’t. It was the most helpless feeling. I changed my mind and thank God for his mercy in allowing me to know what would have happened had I carried out my plan.
Two months later, my 18 year old son, serving in the Marine Corps in Silverdale, Washington shot himself. After years of speculation and searching, I know this was in part because I’d destroyed his self confidence and his resilience because of my alcoholic/abusive personality, which persisted in sobriety. There were other challenges in his life, the possibility of testicular cancer and a hold-up on his security clearance which made him think he might be sent home, but basically I know I failed my child.
I knew that day when those two Marines came to my door what my son was experiencing on the other side of the veil as I collapsed in agony. I knew he was sorry, that he regretted his act, that he loved me, despite my faults. It wasn’t enough to stop my pain, but I did know what he was going through.
I wrote in his obituary that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I wrote that we believed that his existence still had purpose and validity and he was beloved of God, not a sinner. Because I know how much pain a person can carry and how that longing for it to end can overwhelm one, I never felt angry with him.
A year after his death, his best friend did his temple work, just before he left for his mission. That same friend now has two beautiful little girls. There are poignant reminders, but I rejoice with my friends and family at their milestones. I don’t begrudge them. I drink them in.
Still, I cannot describe the pain, which persists fourteen years later. I was in survival mode for a long time. The eighteen month mark after James’ death was the hardest point, but I now have come to a point that I know I have to use my sorrow to help others.
One thing I did was lobby for a book on suicide for Mormons. I called Carol Lyn Pearson, who softly and lovingly told me it was my story to tell, then Deanna Edwards, who gave valuable advice and support. It took years, but finally I found a woman named Margie Holmes, who did a great deal of work. Margie eventually teamed up with Jaynann Payne and the Hidden Treasures Institute to put out a book called “Where is Our Hope for Peace.” This book contains stories, scriptural references, and input from Dr. Richard Ferre. Deseret Book declined to publish it because they said it wouldn’t be marketable due to the depressing subject matter; nevertheless, I have given away countless copies. Many people have been helped as they deal with the suicide of their loved one.
I know I will never be the same, this pain will be with me till I die. But I am learning–with the help of a merciful God, who has put up with my bellyaching all these years–to enjoy life and find fulfillment. There have been compensatory blessings. And at last, this year, I have been able to let myself feel my son, smiling and strong and happy–and let his love in without the awful regret. Sometimes.