Letters to Peregrinus #1 - On the Suicide of Your Younger Sister

Dear Peregrinus (Monday, 15 August 2015; 12:20 PM):

It is one of the beautiful things about good people that they feel deeply the effects of difficult, even grindingly hard, experiences happening to those whom they love. And often, it appears that such friends grieve more intensely than him or her into whose life came suddenly terrible news and incomprehensible sorrow. This capacity for empathy is one of the signal proofs, I believe, for the existence of the soul, and how the soul has its source in God.

And so it was that your dear friend wrote to me on May 2nd, telling me about the death of your younger sister. She did this not that your privacy be intruded upon, and especially by someone like me whom you do not know that well, but so that there may grow a community of friends around you made up of people whom you know, and those you do not know – all of us aware and attentive; all of us praying for you and for your family.

She invited me to be among this group.

You are now a week away from the death-day of your sister. Perhaps you are surprised that a day so stark - and your feelings experienced on that day so intense - can within a week’s time begin to feel remote, almost as if this had happened to someone else’s family. Or you may have now begun to feel desolate (though everyone goes through a process of grief in his or her own way, and according to his or her own interior rhythm), desolate as a swath of earth must feel after the open-pit miners have abandoned the site and moved on to another piece of land: an enormous hole; things precious scraped out and hauled away; an eerie silence and a cold wind blowing.

It is into this inner place of emptiness that I am writing to you.

I write not to be so crass as to “explain” anything to you, but simply to stumble about in verbs and nouns, so that you will know that I, and many others, are praying for you, wanting to “be there” for you and for your family. We are perhaps like poorly trained singers, who are given a song that is beyond our skill to sing well, but who sing it with all the love we can. Even a poorly sung song can communicate the wholehearted desire of him or her who sings.

What I do know is that every person, and this includes those also who have taken their lives, does the best that he or she can here, in this life filled with mystery and confusion, glories, and sometimes profound difficulties.

The Italian poet Dante in Canto 1 of his famous Inferno writes powerfully of the fear and confusion and lostness he felt at one point in his life. He wrote:

Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.

Ah, how hard it is to tell
the nature of that wood, savage, dense, and harsh -
the very thought of it renews my fear!

It is so bitter that death is hardly more so.

But to set forth the good that I found
I will recount the other things that I saw.[1]

 Even Aristotle was clear that the human soul is incapable of choosing its own death, either for oneself or for others. Death must somehow be understood as a good, or good for someone other than she. People can only choose what they believe is a good, or what they judge is better, or what they have come to believe is a good solution to some terrible riddle that has vexed them for a long time. And, very often, they choose what they have come to believe will be a blessing to those who worry about them. Your sister, I am certain, did the best she could ... as do you; as do I.

 And because of this truth, I know that God must show very special attentiveness to those who could find no solution other than the one your sister chose (if “choosing” is really the proper word). Does not your own heart go out so strongly to a person whom you knew had struggled with such thoughts?

 And so, I see in my mind's eye, and through a well-tested faith in God, how Christ's first move towards your sister coming towards Him in Heaven will be to say aloud, “Come here, dear one.” I see Him put his mighty arms around her, holding her tight, feeling her fear and the shaking of her limbs, and quietly speaking to her of His happiness at having her close. He will say her name as only one who knows and loves her can voice it.

 Then, when she has calmed enough, and is confident enough to look up into His deep and clear eyes, He can begin to speak to her about how He wants her to take responsibility for the hurt she unknowingly inflicted on those who loved her here.

 And He will show her how she, even now in Heaven, may begin to work with Him to heal those broken relationships. The divine solution to sorrow we cause others by our actions is to make it possible for us to see and grasp a means of taking responsibility for what we have caused of damage to others, showing us a way to make all things right.

 What a magnificent courtesy it is – or as one author spoke of it, “a severe mercy” – that God gives us a way to take responsibility for, and to participate in, the extending of His healing mercy to those whom we have hurt!

 Be assured that up here in Portland, Oregon there are those mindful of you and of your family, and who all and each have suffered sorrows unexpected and damaging. But because there came around us friends in the Lord, we, in time, found peace, and we experienced a deepening of our wisdom.

 Your friend in Christ the Pilgrim,

 Father Ganz


[1] These opening lines of Canto 1 are from the Princeton Dante Project, which is the Hollander translation.

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