Recently I lost a cousin to depression. I’m comfortable with the word suicide, but my family has correctly pointed out that the stigma attached to that word demands that we more accurately name his death. He was sad, depressed by a soul-searing, life-sucking darkness that I don’t understand. He took an action that defies all logic and everything that anyone ever knew about him. We needed him and now he’s gone. I can’t believe that he knew what he was doing and then selfishly took his own life because death is unknown and scary. Who goes to death willingly? I can believe that a person goes to death because there is nothing else, no other answer. But, I can’t believe that anyone goes to death by choice.
As a Catholic, I’ve read about saints being happy to die and I can understand that attitude, even whilst knowing I’m too much of a coward, or too lacking in faith to meet death with open arms. However, none of them ever “chose” to die the way my cousin “did.” No, they comforted their executioners, prayed for their tormentors, happily awaited the natural end of tuberculosis, cancer, or leprosy. But, those deaths were marked by hope. My poor cousin’s was not. It was marked only by pain and that is what makes his death so grievous. That is why I understand my family’s wish not to call it suicide, for that word implies that there was some choice in the matter and it does not seem like any choice was attached to his death. His death was the ultimate process of his disease. His disease was depression.
I have barely felt the right to be as grieved as I am. I haven’t been close to him as an adult. How can I pour out any of my own anguish when his family is in such pain? It seems wrong. Selfish. Yet, I cannot stop crying about it. Dear Lord, why did he have to be in such pain? Why can’t I man up and comfort his family? Why was he alone at the end? Why?
His sister whispered at the funeral, “It just doesn’t make any sense.” No, it doesn’t. Is this what causes my grief? How can I feel as if some part of me was violently ripped away when he died? I do not have that right. He has a daughter, a wife, a mother and father, sisters and a brother. These are the thoughts that have swirled through my mind as I’ve fought back tears for more than a week. Dear Lord, why?
And yet, he is so worth grieving in this way. Not only I, but the whole, wide world should be injured by his death. Why shouldn’t we all fall in anguish, mourning the loss of a golden-haired boy in his prime? He blessed the earth with his smile. His blue eyes were essential. His voice was an important note in the whole, harmonious song of humanity. And it is gone because of depression. I should be broken-hearted forever because this one was precious, irreplaceable and he did not seem to know it.
Cousin, you are so important. You are needed. The loss of you rends a gaping hole in the gossamer weave that holds us all together. How could you not see this? How could you ever have become convinced that you were not crucial? How could we ever have allowed darkness to so overwhelm you? Dear Lord, why?
There are no answers. The world and my family will continue. We will feel the ache. I know this so well. My own dear, daughter who died as an infant grows each year in my mind. I see her shadowy presence in our photographs. “She would be taller than my son.” “Her hair was going to be dark.” He will be the same. When our family gathers for holidays, there will be one boy less. One goofy smile gone. Yet, we will move down our own trajectories, loving, laughing, failing, sinning, fighting, falling, hoping, and living until the day we die. It will all seem very ordinary, even mundane. But, dear world, know that while you are doing all of this living, banal though it may seem, you are essential. When you go, you leave a void, so don’t leave too soon.
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