I have been holding the death of the famous comedian Robin Williams in my heart for the past few days. As a pastor, I can lament his passing on any number of levels. I have been pastor to parents who have lost children to suicide. I have been pastor to children who have lost siblings or parents to suicide. I have been pastor to spouses who have lost their partner to suicide.
There is one thing that all of these folks have in common: a pain in grief that is drawn from frustration, from loss and from shame. Even the most well-adjusted person knows that much of what leads to the aftermath of a suicide is too often mired in the shame and self-loathing fostered by depression, sometimes fed by addiction and always enmeshed with pain that laces the soul into isolation from even the most beloved of companions. Pain, and shame. They take us to the darkest corners of the valley of the shadow of death, and for many those hidden crevices wind up blocking out their ability to even allow the glimpse light of the love of God. It is the Pit. It is the Hollow. It is the Dark Place.
My heart breaks that a man who brought such joy into the world through his comedy should experience the end of his life in a manner of pain and despair that he perceived as the only "out" for his suffering. We could, and do, wonder over and over the "why he did that the way he did that...." And yet, we wind up discovering what those who lose someone they love to suicide know only too well....that there aren't answers waiting for us. There is only a hollow silence and the awareness that time and some therapy might help a little to assuage a wound that will probably never, fully, heal.
Into that rumination, I received a call today from a local funeral home director. He has asked me to perform a memorial service next week for a woman who died as a result of overdose due to addiction. She leave behind small children. She leaves behind a family. She follows friends who walked that path before her. She leave a hollow place in her community, and she was less than half the age Robin Williams was when he died earlier this week. It's wrong on so many levels, and yet her story is in no way unique.
These, like so many, are the lost souls of our community, ones we need to be aware of even while we have to acknowledge that we too often lack the tools, and they the reserves, to overcome and correct their downward spiral. It is such a sad horror....and yet one that is very commonplace in our society. It touches the famous and the obscure alike, exalted and humble are touched by these shadows. Eventually, it touches us all. No one is exempt.
What is left for us is to be the Body of Christ to them, to those who survive and to the world. In Christ, there is no shame. In Christ, there is love. In Christ, there is no death. In Christ, there is resurrection. In Christ, despair withers and fades from view when God's light shines. The challenge? To overcome shame with radical acceptance. To love even when wounded. To understand that death is a portal for us to new life. To remember that NO ONE is outside the boundaries of God's unconditional love for a broken world. For some, that lesson will come too late in this life. For us, we are called to remember, love, care and nurture those who survive the trauma of suicide. We are called to remind people struggling with addiction that they are no alone and are in fact part of a wider community of recovery than they could ever imagine.
When grace abounds, shame departs. Let's let it go, then....and perhaps one we might lose might find themselves held and lifted up before they put that needle in their arm, or place a noose around their neck. We can hope. We can pray...and we can remind each other that there is no pain or shame that can exist for long if we are willing to be a part of the Body of Christ offering radical love to every lost sheep and to every struggling shepherd.