You never seem to be able to find the “right words” to express sorrow over the loss of someone you love. It is nearly impossible when you know that the person you lost took his or her own life. The question, “Why?” is a nagging reminder sometimes of how little we really know the condition of the soul of family members and friends, let alone neighbors. John Wesley used the question, “How goes it with your soul?” as a starting question in his small groups, believing that the covenantal discussions arising from that question propel us forward on our faith journey and growth in becoming disciples. Yet in so many cases the answer is, “I’m fine.” No more, no less. “After all,” we think, “does someone really want to know the extent of my personal anguish?”
When I heard the news that my good friend had hung himself, I can honestly say that I was deeply saddened in a way that is different from any other form of loss. And yet, there was a part of me that understood the depth of his struggle. Depression is an insidiously selfish condition. Every aspect of your being is viewed through the lens of a growing despair. The Greeks called it acedia, and it was poorly translated into sloth, one of the original deadly sins. But it isn’t laziness; it is spiritual inertia, apathy, not caring that you don’t care.
The vast majority of people who have or have had depression never attempt suicide, but most have had the thoughts. It is a permanent solution to temporary problems, and therein lays the rub. When you are in the cycle of depression, isolated, inwardly imploding, catastrophic thinking takes over, and the belief that this is what the rest of your life will be like becomes the norm. Day in and day out acedia. So there was a part of me that imagined what great relief must have come for my friend, but the price to pay for that relief was devastating. Foremost for my friend himself but secondarily for the family and friends who are scarred for life as we try in vain to make sense of something that clearly doesn’t. Anger, sadness and a feeling of complicity sets in. “What could I have done?” “How could we not have known?” “How could they be so selfish?” These are the common questions. The answers are far from easy. And in many cases we will never know.
What I do know is that depression and suicidal thoughts are serious. Professional help is an absolute. People don’t “snap out of it.” Those considering something like suicide are far from rational and are so inwardly trapped that the “I’m fine” response cannot be taken lightly from those we know are suffering. There is rarely a day or two that pass that I don’t think of my friend. I wish our love had been enough to ease his pain. I wish we could have understood.