Q: Dear Rabbi, I met your good friend Father Tom Hartman many years ago, as he was a very good friend and spiritual adviser to my brother-in-law's family. I share your respect for him, as he was indeed an impressive man. I am writing today regarding the Catholic Church's view and stand on suicide and its repercussions, if any. I assume you will hold this letter in the strictest confidence. You may use any, or all of this, as you will — without my name, of course.
I'm a very disappointed Catholic who has left the organized religion, and all religions, but maintain mightily my Christianity. The suicide aspect of this letter is put forth as a cry for help for which I would have gone to Father Tom, if I had been so blessed to do so. I am in my eighth decade on this rock we live on, and six years ago I lost my only viable reason to continue.
While I still have an extremely large family, my contemporaries are all gone and some recent skirmishes and disrespectful brushes within my own family have only diminished my involvement in life in general. Strangely, I feel that taking one's life takes a good deal more courage than NOT taking it. I wish at this point in my life — I wish adamantly — to be with my beloved wife and all those close to me, who have left this mortal coil. I was taught as a child that committing suicide is the gravest of sins. Even so, the desire grows ever stronger to end my life due to my inability to cope with what life personally and the world generally has dealt me. I hope to hear from you, and I thank you, Rabbi. I hope I have not burdened you with an insoluble problem.
God bless you and the memory of Father Tom. Thank you. God help us all! — T
A: Dearest T, listen to me carefully. Stop reading this article right now and call 800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Welcome back, T. I hope your conversation with them was helpful. They are holy and helpful healers. Let me prayerfully share with you some of what I know Tommy would have said to you if you were able to contact him with the agony of your cri de coeur — your cry of the heart.
Let me begin with what Tommy believed. Christ loves you the way you are right now. Christ did not come to heal happy people. He came to heal broken people. By taking your own life you are turning your back on Christ's love and for someone who "mightily maintains" your Christianity, that ought not to be possible.
Let me add the most simple and obvious reasons for you to choose life. You want to die now but you might want to live tomorrow and killing yourself ends the chances for you to change your mind. The decision to live and not take your own life is a daily decision. If you were addicted to drugs, you would be encouraged to be sober and straight one day at a time. You can choose to live the same way.
I am sure your burdens are real, but so are your blessings. Spend five minutes listing all the miserable things you have to deal with, and THEN spend five minutes listing your blessings. You have a fractious family, but you have a family. You did not mention any outstanding health issues. I don't mean to be harsh with you in any way, but let me ask you, "Who gave you the idea that your life would be easy every day?" Life is messy, but it is always a gift. A big messy, glorious gift.
Finally, I want you to give thanks for your pain. Yes, that's right. I want you to give thanks for your pain. Your pain comes from loving someone deeply. That is life's greatest blessing, but we are all mortal and committing oneself to love also means that you have committed yourself to be in agony when love is ended by death. Pain is the price we pay for love. You knew that when you fell in love with your wife. Now the bill for that love is coming due. You are a broken, despairing man, but you are one lucky man.
Go out to a soup kitchen now and feed food to people who are sleeping in the dust. Then your blessings will rise from the depths of your grief and lighten your life. Find another church and a community of faith, and most of all talk to the people at the suicide hotline and do what they say.
The thing you need now is a hug from Tommy. Know this, I need one, too.
God bless you T.
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