The tragic death of Robin Williams this week is definitely the hot topic of conversation for many, and I don’t doubt that his name will find its way into many pulpits and sermons come Sunday.
I really had to think long and hard about this post before deciding to type. I’ve been deeply affected by this death. I saw Paulfg’s post this morning about the nature of being a “public figure” and how we… the “public”… tend to encroach on the private grief of family and friends who truly knew a celebrity who has passed away. There is a truth to that, yes.
On the other hand, “celebrities” (whatever that means), who earn their livings by moving us to identify with them, laugh with them, listen to them, cry with them, or otherwise enter in to an emotional (and therefore somewhat “intimate”) relationship with them… especially when they employ OTHERS (PR professionals and such) to bind together our lives and interests with those of their client… well, such people DO enter in to some form of “relationship” with us. Not that that relationship should give us access and entree to the private, family, personal environments of their lives and mourners, but it certainly explains (perhaps legitimizes) the true and heartfelt grief we feel at their passing.
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So, ever so briefly, I want to address the loss of Robin Williams, and the grief I feel at his passing…
But right here, right now, and as I hope his name will be mentioned among Christians, I choose to focus not on “death”, but on “Life”. There’s a ton of reporting, and speculation, and discussion surrounding the mode and manner of Mr. Williams’ death. which the sheriff’s department released as being caused by “asphyxia due to hanging”. I leave all that to others, as millions of words are being generated as we speak regarding depression, substance abuse, emotional distress, copy cat concerns, and social media.
Suicide is an ugly word. It is seldom heard in Church. It is seldom discussed by “good Christian folk”. It epitomizes “darkness” and somehow seems to negate the very Gospel and mission of Christ.
“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” [John 10:9-11]
I have no idea what was going on in Mr. Williams’ life, what was in his mind, what was in his heart, in his last days, hours, or moments on earth. It would be the height of presumption for me to address that. But I am deeply and passionately involved in ministry to others who struggle with the decision to end their lives, and with families and friends who seek to recover from the grief of such a loss. I speak, teach, counsel, belong to committees and organizations, aid survivor efforts… all of that. For more than 20 years, in God’s infinite wisdom, He has involved me with churches and people touched by suicide loss.
I want to take this moment to grasp and bring “Light” out of this Dark Moment.
Normal people, ordinary people, non-professional people, are being touched every day by friends and family recovering from a loss to suicide. You may have heard me mention before that in this county, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people between 10 and 25 years of age… and is staggering in its prevalence across many age groups. Suicide is the 7th leading cause of death overall in this country, last I looked.
There’s no “Jerry’s Kids” here. But there should be!
Normal people, normal families, normal churches, can have a positive impact in bringing life to people who struggle with that decision. There is community based training available for non-professionals that can take as little as 90 minutes. I am such a trainer, and I’ll make it public right here… I will come to any church or group that wants to bring me… to train folks in suicide prevention!
Two things I hope get discussed with Robin Williams this week:
(1) Hopelessness… the sense that “this pain” will never end, there is no relief for this… is a hallmark of the decision to end one’s life. A friend of mine observed this morning, as we discussed this, that Victor Frankl had this right… that people are capable of enduring unimaginable pain, as long as they cling to hope. The sense of hopelessness is perhaps the most oft-observed characteristic of the decision to end one’s own life.
Our BUSINESS!!! as the Bride of Christ… as an Holy and Royal Priesthood… is to communicate, affirm, and embrace people with HOPE! “Christ in you, the hope of glory”…. to Love one another, as He loves us… Life, and that more abundantly… these ARE the Gospel!
And I encourage EVERY Minister… clergy or lay… preacher/teacher or otherwise… boldly to proclaim that Life is filled with Hope… and Hope is central to Life Himself!
(2) To be Alone, Abandoned, Isolated… Some people have described it almost like a sort of numbness, like being emotionally wrapped in cotton wool… unable to feel others. There is the creeping conviction that the person is quite alone and isolated in their pain, and that no one else is touching them.
My friend noted a wonderful observation made in some posts he was reading on this today, from people who suffer from depression at times… who said these wonderful words (we both agreed).
Advice from a depressed person: “Please don’t try to ‘fix’ me, lecture me, or ‘cheer me up’. Just BE WITH me”
How wondrous and profound those words! For those of us who do shut in, or nursing home, or hospital ministry at times… how well we know that often our most powerful ministry — perhaps often our ONLY MEANINGFUL ministry — is simply the “Ministry of Presence”. There are times that no words are “right”. Simply to BE, to be in the presence of another, to be in the presence of their pain, and offer the tacit service of bearing part of it… yes, sometimes this is the most valuable thing one can do.
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We all know people, know stories, know churches… that have encountered the challenge of suicide recovery in the past few weeks, months, or years.
I encourage discussion on this. I encourage training on this… (QPR or ASIST are great programs readily available).
I encourage “judgment free” embrace of families grieving in recovery. (One great tragedy of the social stigma still associated with suicide is that churchgoing families who suffer such a loss, often feel so embarrassed and awkward that they cease fellowship. More tragic, their church family, often not knowing what to say or how to help, just watch them slip away to the margins of church life, then beyond… without embracing and accompanying them on their road of grief.)
And, naive and simplistic as this may sound… please pray as you feel led. For those in pain, for their families, for recovering families, and for those who help.
What to pray? Whatever your spirit leads… but for me, beyond all else… Light… that Light and Hope shine out and break through in dark and shadowy places where no one but God and grace can reach. Dying can be a very lonely business. Light and hope are wondrous things!
Grace to you — The Little Monk