He was a young man we knew well. He was part of a group of young people that were always around, always doing things together. The family moved away, but we stayed indirectly in touch, through others. A few years passed, and then came the word that he’d shot himself. The first reaction was disbelief. It simply didn’t compute. It made no sense. Even when we learned the supposed reason, it still made no sense.
Suicide does that. What was left for his family and his friends was the uncertainty of never knowing if something could have been done if we’d only known. But then, how do you know?
Roland Rolheiser has written a book that addresses these questions. Bruised & Wounded: Struggling to Understand Suicide is a small book about an awful subject. Someone taking their own life, no matter what the reason, ultimately leaves the survivors with questions, with doubt, with pain, and sometimes with self-recrimination. No book can or will stop any of those things from happening. “There is no pain like the one suicide inflicts,” he writes. But his book might be a step toward a healing, even if that healing will never really be completed.
The book is divided into six parts: a description of what leads to suicide, a proposal to remove the taboo associated with it, seeing despair as weakness instead of sin, how to reclaim the memory of a loved one, the pain of the survivors, and consolation. He writes with emotion and understanding, although I’m not sure if we can or even should remove the taboo associated with suicide, as it might be enough to stop some people from attempting it.
The real value of the book is the idea that suicide comes from pain, deep pain, pain so deep that ending one’s life becomes the way to stop the pain. What suicide really does, though, is to transfer the pain.
Rolheiser is a Catholic priest, speaker, spiritual writer of author of several books, including The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, Prayer: Our Deepest Longing, The Passion and the Cross, and several others. He also writes a weekly column, “In Exile,” published by more than 70 newspapers worldwide.
A thoughtful, compassionate book, Bruised & Wounded offers hope to those affected by suicide. It doesn’t minimize the difficulties and the pain, but it does offer hope.
Top photograph by Redd Angelo via Unsplash. Used with permission.