A Note to a Grieving Father

People shuffled around me as I attempted to offer condolences to a man whose committed suicide.  I didn’t know the man; he’s a friend of my wife’s and I had never met him before his son’s funeral.  But in his hurt, I felt a connection: He sobbed with that abyss-sob that’s so guttural that it can only come from the most primal places of humanity.  My own heart ached as it absorbed the pain the man’s sob carried.

From all the murmurs that float around a funeral, I picked up that the son suffered from Depression.  The night he died, he had been drinking alcohol, which I’m certain exacerbated his hurt.  I also gathered that his Depression was untreated and had progressed to the point at which he couldn’t take any more.  Like Cristina Ricci’s character noted on Prozac Nation, Depression hits gradually, then suddenly.  I’m certain this young man illness developed gradually, then suddenly.

But it wasn’t enough that the father’s hurt was palpable.  The man was struggling with a spiritual issue that no one seemed to answer.  As he hugged people, he asked them, “Is my son going to Heaven?”

No one would answer him.  At least, no one would give him a straight answer.  Most responses were more bromides than anything else.

I understood that the man was a strong Christian and believed that suicide was among those sins for which damnation was a consequence.  I also understood that most people in attendance shared that belief on some level.  But until someone is faced with a situation that others may judge, there’s no way to know what someone really believes.  The man may have believed that suicide is wrong, but faced with the damnation of his son’s soul; he hoped he had been wrong.

One by one people couldn’t comfort him.  Really, who among us can speak to anyone else’s salvation?  However, though he didn’t ask me, I do have an answer for him.

I’m no expert on Christian beliefs and I can’t say what happens to anyone’s soul upon death, but I can say that Depression is an insidious and crippling disease that, like addiction, strips body, mind, and soul from the afflicted.  I also know that severe depressive episodes carry suicidal thoughts; not because the person suffering wants to die, but because Depression has blinded him or her from any other options to face their pain.  Therefore, ending the pain seems to be the only potential for hope.

Suicidal thoughts are a hallmark symptom of severe depressive episodes.  The Father may hear this and say, “Why couldn’t he ask for help?” and to that I would say: Because there’s too much shame associated with Depression.  I would speculate that the son felt that he was being weak in recognizing his disorder.  Or perhaps the son thought he couldn’t be helped.  Regardless of my speculations, though, the Father struggled to understand that his son died, not from suicide, but as a result of a disease.

Like I said, I’m no expert on God’s mind, but I wouldn’t allow myself to believe in a God that would condemn someone for dying of a terminal disease.  Depression kills when left untreated and I can’t believe God would want someone to suffer forever.  So, to a grieving father: From my perspective, your son is basking in God’s light. To everyone who is suffering from Depression: Please, get help. God’s light exists here on Earth. You just have to let yourself see it.