The Shame of Suicide

14 Aug

Robin Williams’ death has suicide at center stage.  The internets are flooded with reflections on suicide prevention, whether or not suicide is selfish, how to recognize a call for help, and many other thoughts on suicide.

One thing that’s held my attention is the family of Robin.  Robin left behind a family.  This family is grieving at the loss of a best friend, a husband, a father, a funny-man, a man full of life.  This family is dealing with the publicity of his death.  This family is dealing with the aftermath of suicide in a very public forum.  They cannot hide the circumstances of his death.

I could.

You see last March, my father committed suicide and I’ve been wrapped up in the shame of it all.  My father committed suicide.  That sounds so outrageous.  Robin Williams’ death was eerily familiar.  How could such a sweet man with so much to live for take his own life?

There is such a stigma with suicide.  There is no glory in it.


If I shared the circumstances of my dad’s death with someone–be it the local coffee shop owner as I showed up at 6:15 am and uncontrollably burst into tears or a well-meaning friend–I would often be faced with “Was he depressed?”  As if a “Yes” answer would give him reason to take his life.  As if a “Yes” answer would wash away my despair and make me the selfish one for grieving his loss.  He was suffering and you couldn’t expect him to live like that forever.  

To this question I would offer a “No.  Not really.”  Much like Robin Williams he a happy man.  A smart man.  A genuine, gentle, loving man who could strike up a conversation with anyone and make him feel special.  He lived life out of the box and was spontaneous.  He was full of life, joy, and zeal.  However, there was the side of him that appeared in the days before he took his life.  A man with struggles, worries, and feelings of inadequacy and insignificance.

My shame gave the answer “No. Not really,”  It’s hard to reconcile that the man who brought me to life decided that his life was not worth living any more.  It breaks my heart.  I don’t want anyone to define my dad by his final moments.  Please don’t let that be how you remember him!

As I reflect on my shame and the shame other suicide survivors may experience I remember the story of the bleeding woman in Luke 8.  She had been hemorrhaging for 12 years and no medical treatment she sought had helped, but only left her broke.  She knew Jesus could heal her.  So one day when Jesus was surrounded with a crowd of people she approached him and touched the hem of his garment.  She was hopeful that she could touch him without anyone seeing her. Shame.  She felt shame in her ailment.  Immediately she was healed!

But then Jesus asked “Who was it that touched me?”  What would she do?  She didn’t want the attention!  She was hoping to quietly receive the healing without anyone seeing.  Jesus was addressing her shame.

Embarrassed she says “I touched you.  It was me.”  She poured out her shame in front of everyone.  Jesus responds sweetly to her “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”  

What Jesus was exposing in that moment was not her weakness and shame. What he was exposing was her faith. He wanted her faith visible so that everyone who carries a secret shame — which is every one of us — might have hope.  -Jon Bloom.

God can take the shame we feel in the aftermath of suicide and turn it into a “showcase for His grace.”


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