Whether or not you’ve ever watched anything that the late Caroline Flack presented, it’s unlikely that you won’t have heard that over the weekend, Caroline died by suicide.
News of her death has filled column inches, clickbait articles and provoked debate around everything from the existence of shows such as “Love Island”, to press intrusion, the worth of mental health awareness and the need for more kindness.
Every ninety minutes someone dies by suicide. Every other hour a life is lost which leaves unimaginable pain, unanswerable questions and grief in its wake.
But in the course of everyday life, very few of us consider this, we are simply getting through our own days, so when suicide pushes itself so forcefully back into the public consciousness, we are astounded yet again by the scale and the pain of it.
The loss of someone so prominent on TV screens up and down the country brings the tragedy of suicide into our own living rooms. We are forced to conceive of that which is inconceivable. It raises age old questions:
“How could they do it?”
As Kay Redfield Jamieson, a psychiatrist and author writes in her book Night Falls Fast:
“Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of a life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete.”
For those of us who have experienced suicidal thoughts; considered, however briefly, taking our own lives there is a sharp edge to these questions. A sharp edge to the passing judgements of strangers online which declare that suicide is “selfish” or “stupid”, because it is a very real reminder that some have been unable to stay in the world.
Suicide cannot be considered in those terms; it is unspeakable for so many, both because of the pain it leaves with those whose lives are claimed, and for those who have lived in spite of a pull toward an abrupt ending.
Suicide is not selfish, because for the most part, the people who die by suicide believe themselves to be relieving others of a great burden. Caroline herself wrote on Instagram in the months before her death that she feared “being a burden”, it can be an impossibly high barrier to reach across to ask for help.
It is not stupid; because it is often seen as the only course of action for those who have reached past their tether.
Suicide is a tragedy. Over the past thirteen years as I’ve both battled with suicidality, studied it and written about it, tragedy is the only word that even begins to do justice to the enormity and pain of it – for those who lose their lives, those who lose their loved ones and those who live through it.
For the christian, there are more questions. Is it the unforgivable sin? Can they be saved?
And all I can do is to look to scripture, and to lean on the character of the God I have known and trusted for almost twenty-five years. The only unforgivable sin recorded in the Bible is that of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – which is nothing to do with suicide, and the idea that those who take their own lives being unable to enter glory because of their inability to repent renders the gospel of grace obsolete. Not one of us dies having confessed and repented every sin!
But more than this; we see how God responds to those who consider suicide in the Bible and we are presented with a picture of care and grace, help and hope.
There are a number of completed suicides and considered suicides in the Bible; from King Saul falling on his sword, to Elijah begging for death on Mount Horeb, from Judas’ death to the desperate philippian jailer. In these accounts, there is no moral judgement made. There is prohibition of taking life, yes, in many places in the Bible; but the responses the scriptures record to those considering suicide speak volumes to me.
Elijah is ministered to with food, drink and rest.
The philippian jailer is drawn from harming himself – to hearing the gospel and being baptised.
These passages do not encourage suicide, but they do widen the angle of our viewing to see that when people are desperate they can be ministered to and helped. There is hope.
So that is what I think we need to do, to widen our angle of viewing to consider not just what things look like at face value, to minister to the hurting and hold out hope for those whose view is blurred by tears, until they can hope for themselves once more, drawing from the infinite kindness of our God.