Suicide - Redeeming the Memory of a Loved One

Ronald Rolheiser
July 30, 2017
Reproduced with Permission

One year ago, virtually everyone who knew him was stunned by the suicide death of the most prominent American Hispanic theologian that we have produced up to now, Virgilio Elizondo. Moreover, Virgil wasn't just a very gifted, pioneering theologian, he was also a beloved priest and a warm trusted friend to countless people. Everyone dies, and the death of a loved one is always hard, but it was the manner of his death that left so many people stunned and confused. Suicide! But he was such a faith-filled, sensitive man. How could this be possible?

And those questions, like the muddy waters of a flood, immediately began to seep into other emotional crevices, leaving most everyone who knew him with a huge, gnawing question: What does this do his work, to the gift that he left to the church and to the Hispanic community? Can we still honor his life and his contribution in the same way as we would have had he died of a heart attack or cancer? Indeed, had he died of a heart attack or cancer, his death, though sad, would undoubtedly have had about it an air of healthy closure, even of celebration, that we were saying farewell to a great man we had had the privilege to know, as opposed to the air of hush, unhealthy quiet, and unclean grief that permeated the air at his funeral.

Sadly, and this is generally the case when anyone dies by suicide, the manner of that death becomes a prism through which his or her life and work are now seen, colored, and permanently tainted. It shouldn't be so, and it's incumbent on us, the living who love them, to redeem their memories, to not take their photos off our walls, to not speak in guarded terms about their deaths, and to not let the particular manner of their deaths color and taint the goodness of their lives. Suicide is the least glamorous and most misunderstood of all deaths. We owe it to our loved ones, and to ourselves, to not further compound a tragedy.

So each year I write a column on suicide, hoping it might help produce more understanding around the issue and, in a small way perhaps, offer some consolation to those who have lost a loved one in this way. Essentially, I say the same things each year because they need to be said. As Margaret Atwood once put it, some things need to be said and said and said again, until they don't need to be said any more. Some things need still to be said about suicide.

What things? What needs to be said, and said again and again about suicide? For the sake of clarity, let me number the points: