God helped me grieve when religion did not
Tue, 09/19/2023 – 11:04
Trigger warning: Suicide, depression
This blog reflects the author’s personal experience. MHA does not endorse or condone any viewpoints mentioned.
It’s been nine years since I lost someone I loved deeply to suicide. This person was kind, passionate, and gregarious. He also lacked basic coordination and often tripped over his own feet. For that, I’d add (un)intentionally funny to his long list of admirable traits. He also accepted, supported, and loved me in a way that was lacking in all my other relationships up to that point.
As a survivor of neglect and abuse, I often felt alone growing up. However, the night I was told about his sudden death, I stumbled into a deep cavern devoid of light and full of despair. The grief swallowed me whole, and my sobs stole all air from my lungs. It was the epitome of feeling alone.
The day before he passed, he hesitantly told me he struggled with depression. I expressed acceptance and support but was naïve and unprepared for the unimaginable grief and responsibility I would feel for his death the next day. During the first several months of grieving, I regularly thought, “Why would God allow this to happen?” followed by a second, more unsettling thought, “Is he in hell for killing himself?”
I was raised as a Catholic Christian, but after I moved from my childhood home, I distanced myself from the religious beliefs I’d been taught over eight years of private school education, four sacraments, and many Sunday Mass ceremonies. Accompanied by anger and grief, the deeply rooted belief that suicide was an unforgivable mortal sin managed to rear its ugly head at my most vulnerable moment.
Catholicism isn’t unique in its belief that suicide is a sin – in fact many major religions around the world view it in the same way. As I learned more about mental health in general and in my personal recovery journey, my beliefs also evolved.
I often pray to God in times of crisis. As a child, I prayed that my classmates would stop bullying me. I prayed my parents would find peace when I hid from their fights. I prayed that my first panic attack would be the last one. I prayed for relief when I lost to suicide the first person who ever understood me. Believing in God, or a force much more significant than myself, has helped me grieve the most harrowing moments of my life.
I also pray to God in times of calm. I prayed to the night sky, thanking God for the countless stars. I prayed while admiring the ocean’s enormity from the safety of a sandy beach. I prayed that my first date with this person would go well. Believing in God has helped me appreciate the most illuminating moments of my life, too.
As I grieved, I chose to believe in a god that helped me survive the difficult journey – a power that drastically differed from what I was taught to believe as a young person. I chose to believe in a power that supports love, kindness, forgiveness, and hope. I chose to believe in a power that helps me relinquish control in untenable life situations, removes the guilt and shame of feeling emotions, and allows me to feel rage in unfair life circumstances.
Having suicidal thoughts, attempting, or completing suicide does not make someone a bad person. Those feelings and behaviors likely indicate a larger mental health issue that should be addressed. Talking to a trusted person or seeking professional support can help individuals process complicated and scary emotions. If you are someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, find resources on how to cope here.
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. You can also reach Crisis Text Line by texting MHA to 741741.