Q: My 20-year-old cousin took her own life this past Sunday. My heart is heavy in the loss. I’ve asked this question to a few people. Got different responses, too. Will my cousin be forgiven of this sin?

I know our God is a loving God and forgiving God. Would he have such an unforgiving heart for someone with mental illness, including depression, anxiety, etc.? I know God has our lives planned out, so He knew she would do this one day, anyway! I know he gives us free will to do what we want to do, whether it’s to live a sinful life, or trying to be as sinless as possible. I know we’re all sinners, and we will die in sin, too. But we have that chance, to have everlasting life, too. I’m going through so many different emotions at this time.

I’m a Christian, and so was my cousin. As a matter of fact, she graduated from a Christian school just a couple of years back. Thank you for taking this time to help me to make sense of something my mind can’t grasp. Blessing always.  — L


A: May God comfort you and your cousin’s entire family on this terrible loss. To answer your question directly, I believe that God will receive your cousin’s soul in the World to Come and restore in her soul the joy and hope that eluded her embodied life in the world that is. Even though taking innocent life is a sin, what she did was not a sin; it was the result of a fatal medical illness. Her ability to choose life with her free will was taken from her by a chemical imbalance in her brain or a genetic abnormality. The spiritual issue of her death is not whether she is guilty, but how can we help the next person on the brink of suicide choose life and live.

There is a phone number all people who struggle with suicidal thoughts should know — the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. This is big news; now all you have to remember are three numbers — 988. Call 988 and a sensitive, informed healer will pick up on the other end.

Since mental illness is an illness, it has treatment protocols, and people at risk should avail themselves of professional medical help without guilt or fear. We who love them must also be attentive to signs of suicide.

When a family member writes or speaks about harming themselves, we must immediately try to get them help, or check to see if they are taking medication, if it has already been prescribed. “I was just joking” is not an acceptable response to our interventions.

There are also spiritual responses to suicidal threats. Let me be clear: None of these replace the need for professional medical care for someone experiencing mental illness. However, they can add a layer of love, concern and compassion.

One of the great gifts of being a member of a church, synagogue, temple or masjid is that it surrounds us with a spiritual community. People who are not your family but care about you can often supplement or even replace dysfunctional families who have lost their bonds of love.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of suicides in the country because it increased the amount of isolation and loneliness in the country. Zoom services can connect us remotely but they cannot connect us truly. Together we thrive, but alone we wither.

We all need a “third place” to live a healthy happy life. We need home, we need work/ school, and we need a third place that embraces us because of a shared interest or belief.

Let us pray that we can embrace all the lonely people before they lose hope of ever being found. And remember 988!

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