While quoting statistics about suicide in teaching a course on medical ethics, my nursing students asked me to move from the abstract to the concrete, from general data to a concrete, specific example of the social effects of suicide. The following letter is one such example, revealing just how much a loved one’s suicide can hurt others, even possibly “wounding” them for life. For example, “Rachel” (whose real name has been disguised) was hurt emotionally and saw a therapist, because her husband “Mark” (whose real name has been disguised) ended his life. To express her deep pain and help her heal, the therapist had Rachel write Mark a letter, which reads, in part:
How could someone I know so well deceive me? Your note said, ‘I’m sorry, I am not well, I’m no good.’ This is what you left for a legacy for your loving wife of thirty-five years and three beautiful children who respected, adored, and loved you, a big brother who called you his best friend, and so many others I couldn’t begin to count. All the good you did in your life is now shadowed by the way you ended your life.
None of us understands what happened to the faith you had in the Lord. As your wife, I want you to know that I feel you threw away my love. I have no sense of belonging. I have no one. You have left me empty, with no desire to do anything but mourn and grieve. I have literally lost all the hair on my head due to the trauma and shock. I have been constantly sick because the stress has torn down my immune system. I have horrible nightmares and flashbacks of your body lying in a pool of blood, and I can’t sleep much of the time. I don’t cook and have no desire to eat. You have broken my heart and my spirit.
I want you to know that our first born was married almost a year ago, and it was so painful to sit in that first row without you. It was so horrible watching your son give his sister. The most important day in a young woman’s life and our beautiful daughter had to endure the pain of not having you there to hold her hand and give her hugs and encouragement. Your only son has been so brave and has given up his career as a basket ball coach just to be closer to our family. You had so much love and compassion for each of your children why did you do this to them? Our youngest daughter just graduated from college. It was so lonely watching her walk across the stage. I needed you to share this wonderful time in her life. I was angry and I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, ‘Why did you do this to your family?’
You gave us no warning. You hid your plan so well. I am shocked by your deceit. You knew that I would be the one to shoulder the burden of finding your body. It doesn’t make sense. Didn’t you know I and the children would suffer this tremendous pain and emptiness?
I am angry because you lied Pastor John and the psychiatrist asked you if you had considered suicide. Your response, ‘I thought of it but I would never do that to my family,’ made me trust in you. You lied and deceived all of us. I have forgiven you, Mark. I will end this letter by saying: ‘You were the love of my life as well as the greatest disappointment in my life.’
Your grieving wife,
There are many reasons for a person to stay alive, but there is no good reason for him or her to end his or her life, not even in a state of depression and despair, which can often be treated with psychotherapy and medication. The letter above is another good reason for a person to stay alive; and, in particular, to live for others, finding meaning in being loved and loving family, friends and other kinds of social relationships. As psychiatrist Viktor Frankl teaches, just as the clouds may hide the sun from shining, the sun, nevertheless, is still shining. Objectively, the sun still exists; it is really there. Likewise, meaning still exists; objectively, it is still there. Life is really worth living, even when the dark “clouds” of depression and despair may — at the moment or for a while — block a person from “seeing” or perceiving life’s meaning.
If you know someone in crisis, I suggest calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I have quoted excerpts of Rachel’s letter in the form of a complete letter. For the original letter in its entirety, see Gary P. Stewart, “Suicide’s Companion: A Trail of Tears,” in Suicide: A Christian Response – Crucial Considerations for Choosing Life, eds. Timothy J. Demy and Gary P. Stewart (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel Publications, 1998), pp. 430, 431, 432, 433. Italics are mine.