Monday, April 15, 2013
Suicide Is Painless?
On March 7, my mother, whom I care for as best I can, went into the hospital. It wasn't anything serious other than something she has become accustomed to doing---seeking comfort in medicine for her chronic aches and pains. Sadly, my mother is one of the 26% of the elderly population in the United States that misuses or abuses prescription medication, particularly pain medications. Unfortunately for my mother, this recent hospital stay was almost her final one. She was over-medicated which led to other serious conditions that nearly cost her life. While it was an incredibly difficult time for me, I suspect, in many ways, my mother was almost relieved to be unconscious and confused. Since she also suffers from chronic depression, her recovery from her hospital near-death-experience has been incredibly challenging. In fact, it's been so difficult for her that the poor woman crawled into her bed and withdrew from reality. Unfortunately, it's nothing new.
My mother has suffered from depression for a very long time. She probably has had bouts with depression her entire adult life, and quite possibly while she was a young girl. Life changes cripple her. Temporary setbacks or unexpected events become overwhelmingly tragic. Her only coping mechanisms are sleep and avoidance, neither of which help and often times cause more problems. It becomes a vicious cycle of tragedy brought on by personal sorrow and despair.
For the last decade, my mother has lived with our family. It has been a time of great reward for us and great trial. It has been a test for me, for my patience, my strength, my resolve, and my forgiveness. And while I am not always good at passing this test, my greatest challenge has been loving my mother through her depression, mood swings, and drug dependence. You see, I have been depressed. There have been a few occasions in my life where I was completely overwhelmed with my living conditions, my loneliness, my responsibilities, my doubts, and my limitations. At times, I have found it incredibly difficult to get off the couch or out of bed. I have even, in times of utmost despair, considered that I couldn't handle the sadness, sorrow, pain, or misery anymore. So when my mother pulls the covers over her head and mumbles that she wishes God would take her, I understand.
It is excruciating for me to watch my mother suffer this mental anguish. Yet, I know there is not much I can do to help her. I believe very strongly, that if she had access to pills, like she did recently in the hospital, that she would end her own life. As shocking as that may seem, elder suicide is a growing problem in this country, often attributed to depression, failing health, and loneliness. In my mother's case, the life she had planned for herself, her nursing career at the center, working well into her 70s, was abruptly interrupted when she lost her job and had a disabling stroke over a decade ago. She has struggled to make sense of it all ever since.
So when news broke, last week, regarding the suicide of the son of the evangelical leader Pastor Rick Warren, I was neither shocked or surprised. Some were, of course, because Pastor Rick Warren has made quite a name for himself in the Christian community, especially since the publication of his book The Purpose Driven Life. While there was an online outpouring of support for the Warren family, there were also the obvious questions. Why would a Christian kill himself? Was it his depression that drove him to take his own life? What is the condition of this poor man's soul? Without becoming judgmental, I think it's perfectly fair and incredibly important to consider all these questions honestly and truthfully.
Most people who kill themselves suffer from some form of depression or drug and alcohol abuse. This is a sad fact resulting from prolonged feelings of hopelessness and despair. Interestingly though, while Christians experience bouts of depression like everyone else, they don't actually commit suicide as much as non-believers. Why? Because traditionally they have some really strong deterrent fact that actually prevents them from taking their own life. And that deterrent is the belief that they will spend all eternity burning in the fires of Hell.
So what of Pastor Warren's son, Matthew? He was obviously a Christian. I think the answer to why he decided to end his life after suffering so long from depression can be found in his own words. "Dad, I know I am going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?" In a phrase---Once Saved, Always Saved. This is what Matthew Warren believed. This is what his father taught him and his whole congregation. It is what my mother, a self-proclaimed Southern Baptist, believes. The Perseverance of the Saints, as the idea is officially called, is a fundamental tenet of several Protestant sects, and it is a lie. It is, in fact, a heresy that has caused many souls to face eternal damnation.
The whole idea of the Perseverance of the Saints began with the grand heretic, John Calvin. In the 1500s, Calvin, with very little theological education, rejected all the doctrines that the Church had taught and came up with his own! His contribution to the attack against Our Lord and His Church was Calvin's Five Points, or TULIP. The P in this acronym is Perseverance of the Saints, commonly called Predestination, or Once Saved, Always Saved. Simply put, Calvin suggested and taught that God, for reasons known only to Him, determined beforehand who would be sent to Heaven and who would be sent to Hell. Those people whom God has chosen, then, will go immediately to Heaven, even if they commit acts that are evil. Those people whom God has destined for Hell can, ultimately, do absolutely no good works to merit Heaven. For modern Protestants who hold the OSAS belief, this basically means a person, once they accept Jesus Christ, cannot lose his or her salvation. Calvin's crazy idea is a central tenet in the Southern Baptist church, of which my mother aligns herself, and also of most of the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
Just like Matthew Warren, my mother believes there is absolutely nothing she could do to lose her salvation. And because she suffers on a daily basis, there is then absolutely no deterrent, no fear of Hell, no fear of God's wrath, to stop her from taking an overdose of pills or admitting herself into the hospital and just checking out.
This time, my mother almost died. In the aftermath, my husband and I considered it might be best for my mother to leave our home for the nursing home. In my anguish over having to make that decision, I talked to my priest. I want to do what is best for my mother, but I first and foremost want to please God. Sensing my guilt, my priest informed me that my first and foremost duty to my mother was concern for her eternal soul. It was a shocking consideration, indeed. As such, he insisted that I speak to her about conversion. It was a hard subject to approach, but when she appeared to be fairly coherent, I asked her the question. "Do you want to become a Catholic?" She answered, of course, the only way she could, "I don't see much purpose in that." My mother's Once Saved, Always Saved heart is hard. It will be truly an act of God's grace and mercy for her to convert. And I will constantly live wondering if one day my mother will do like Matthew Warren and end her suffering so she can "just go on to Heaven."
What are we to make of Matthew Warren's death? His poor soul will never see Heaven, in spite of what he took his life believing. It is a sad, but terrible truth. I don't doubt Mr. Warren's life was filled with sadness and suffering. But that is what this life is, a valley of tears. Our Lord was born into this world to die for our salvation. He opened the gates of Heaven for us. Unfortunately, very few of us will ever get to share the Beatific Vision. The Devil will see to that.
St. Dymphna, ora pro nobis.
Our Lady of Fatima, ora pro nobis.