Suicide in the Church Part 1
By Michael Tummillo
In a town the size of mine - about 16,000 - can a few suicides within a 90-day period be considered an epidemic? I'd say so. Quite a few Christians have contacted me since these tragedies have occurred, people struggling with the in's and out's of suicide and its effect on one's eternal reward, among other concerns. These included the wife of one of the recent suicide victims. As a certified Workplace Chaplain, I receive various ministerial and counseling materials in the mail and one recent article presented some jarring statistics about suicide and its effects on those left behind.
For instance, there are 30,000 suicides in America each year, leaving 118,000 survivors per year. There are currently 4.5 MILLION survivors living in the US alone. There are 750,000 emergency room treatments per year as a result of suicide attempts. One-third of all Jr. High and High School kids are considering suicide. 24to 30 kids die by suicide daily. every 2 minutes, someone in the US attempts suicide; every 18 minutes, someone succeeds. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people 15 to 24 years old. Suicide rates increase with age, the highest rate being found among white American males 65 and over.
Eighty percent of those Christians left behind wind up changing their churches or stop attending services all together. I can recall, as a youth, a woman in our church whose husband passed away and how, even as a kid, I noticed how rarely I observed the widow engaged in any conversations with other church members before or after services. Eventually, she was gone. There's a great deal of ignorance in the Church - a feeling of inadequacy - that keeps the average person from stepping up and comforting those left behind. fact is, they want to talk. They NEED to. Some are mad at God or mad at the church. They're confused. They're loved one wasn't killed. No, they CHOSE death without apparent consideration of the feelings and needs of those they'd soon be leaving behind. Those who grieve contend with the same stages of grief as those facing other kinds of death only with greater intensity and in a cycle that generally continues about a full year.
Those who actually see the dead body require counseling and prayer in an effort to "stop the movie' they see re-playing in their minds as they instinctively try and come up with a different ending. They often wrestle with guilt, feelings of failure, anger, even rejection...and its often so devastating that it shuts down the normal coping mechanisms, resulting in frightening "What's wrong with me?" feelings.
Sadly, it's very common that a survivor's friends and family reject them. Long-term friendships, needed now more than ever, are often severed. Some will avoid and even blame the survivor, openly or with subtle accusations. Immediate family members sometimes turn on and blame each other and entire family structures may change and may never be reconciled.
Unresolved grief can lead to health issues and some survivors who suffer from what's called "graphic issues" (they were unfortunate enough to have actually seen the dead body, often in a horrible state), become suicidal themselves. Nightmares, loss of sleep, the movie plays over and over, day and night. Good support groups are necessary. There's an elephant in the living room that we cannot - MUST NOT - dance around. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders, the level of stress resulting from suicide is rated at the level of Catastrophe, equivalent to that of a concentration camp experience! Often, suicide is seen as being undesirable, even "dirty." It's seen as a cowardly way out by many.
We must encourage the survivors among us to reclaim their lives! Suicide is not a permanent thing. like every trauma, it becomes a thing of the past with each passing second. We must not "build a camp there," as one preacher said. After all, as the Good Book says, "It came to pass."
Healing is a process and we must allow it to run its course. In supporting roles, we must not let the survivors endure this process all alone. Survivors cannot make the ending change by re-living the moment. Though one cannot erase their memories, they can certainly dilute them, diminishing their debilitating impact. How? By filling their calendar with service towards others and by reading positive, uplifting, encouraging literature. Work a crossword puzzle. Volunteer. Mind your input! Sad movies are a no-no!
We may never know the answer to all the 'WHY?' questions and we must accept that as fact. The fact is - and this is from those who have been there - one day you will look back at the progress you've made and you'll stand amazed. the day you were thrust into this nightmare, you became victims. You had no say in the matter. No choice. To remain a victim IS a choice.
We're human BE-ings, not human DO-ings. You must learn to BE a Survivor, not merely TRY to survive while feeling like the living dead yourself. As one Survivor said, "You can do this. It's a hrd battle, but life is hard, so what's new? hard doesn't mean impossible."
Pastor Michael has been broadcasting messages of Discipleship & Encouragement to the Body of Christ by email since 1999. Since then these messages have been published on numerous other sites, reprinted in paper newsletters belonging to other ministries, have been used as a source of teaching and preaching by ministers and Bible teachers worldwide, and have ministered to the Body of Christ of nearly every major denomination.