stay “Suicide is the greatest of human freedoms, underwriting all the others, for it gives us the possibility of defying every thing and every one there is. The possibility of suicide is what makes life voluntary and each new day an act of will. No wonder the faith community gnash their teeth at suicide. God Himself, if He existed, would gnash His teeth at suicide: the supreme act of defiance, the final rasberry. The knowledge that I’m here by choice, that every breath I take I take by choice, injects into my soul a transcendent joy” (Matthew Parris)

If I choose to kill myself, then isn’t that my right?  Who can tell me to keep going; especially if every day seems meaningless and worse, actively painful?

Here’s one response:

‘You are not allowed to kill yourself. When a person kills himself, he does wrenching damage to the community. One of the best predictors of suicide is knowing a suicide. That means suicide is also delayed homicide. You have to stay.’

So wrote Jennifer Hecht, following the suicide of two friends, both within the space of a year.

Over the past 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. In 2010 alone, a US veteran killed himself every 65 minutes. (source Reuters). Culturally, we see suicide as a choice.  But as Hecht observes, it hasn’t always been that way. In her book, ‘Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It‘, she charts how we’ve moved from seeing self-killing as morally wrong, to an extension of the rights of the individual.  In the process, she argues, we’ve lost our shared intellectual and moral arguments against suicide.

Hecht is not a Christian.  But she is devastated and she is angry.  Angry at the two friends who left her behind and took, not only their lives, but part of hers as well.

She recognises that life can be overwhelmingly hard.  But she argues that ‘human beings contribute just by continuing to persist in life and rejecting suicide, despite anguish’.

‘When we cannot see our own worth and are tempted to leave life, we are doing a shining service to our community and to our future selves when we choose to stay.’

 We are part of a community.  And, Christian or no,  when we sever that link, the whole comes apart.




7 thoughts on “Stay

  1. As a youth worker I have often begged troubled young souls to stay on the planet long enough to access help, talk things through, see life improve. Most have. Some haven’t. Several close friends and family members have taken their own lives and dozens of suicides have taken place locally: in the woods (mostly young men hanging themselves) and on the railway line in our village which seems to be a favourite spot: probably recommended on some ghastly website somewhere. We have already had one this year. Last year there were about 6.
    A friend’s young son found his Dad’s lifeless body in their living room and he is so angry about it. And he’s right. His poor Dad was suffering terrible angst but his actions have potentially scarred his children, and his son in particular, for life. I pray they can forgive and learn to understand a little about his actions one day. Suicides leave massive damaging ripples of guilt, horror, helplessness, anger, bewilderment, grief even amongst strangers who witness the actions or the people who have to clear up afterwards or talk to bereaved family members.

  2. Hmm.

    1. Staying for the sake of other people IS a protective factor – to a degree. The reason I didn’t kill myself 3 months ago is my mum, I couldn’t do it to her. I couldn’t have her bury her daughter. Mum was my protective factor. But that didn’t come into play 5 months ago when I was painfully desperate to die, and took things into my own hands (turns out God didn’t fancy me coming up just yet). I was BEYOND caring about Mum, or anyone else for that matter. It had mattered before, but as things got worse and my state deteriorated, NOTHING was worth living for. That stands too for community, I’m afraid. Now, yes, it might be a protective factor, but not when you’ve gone beyond caring. ‘Community can stuff itself.’

    2. I never denied that my death would affect my loved ones; even though “they’re better off without me”, they would still miss me (a bit like chocolate – better without it but not having it is still hard). But I hoped that their grief would be shadowed by their relief, joy and thankfulness in knowing that I was at peace for the first time in what seems like forever.

    3. I hated the doctors, the nurses, my family, the law for sentencing me to life. It was immoral and unethical. There was no quality in life, only pain, and they were forcing me to experience it. There was an option to experience peace once and for all. I was more than willing to do the necessary. But they sentenced me to the pain, misery and struggle that came with every breath. THAT was selfish, not anything I was doing.

    It’s not 5 months ago any more. Thank goodness. But I’m still resentful that they stood in my way, and I still think they shouldn’t have had the right to keep me alive. Leave that to me and God to decide.

  3. Thanks Emma.

    Many of us have struggled with thoughts of the ultimate escape from life’s pain. Often we are unaware of the devastation we would create for our loved ones.

    A little over a year ago, I was at a particularly low time. Overcome with the hurt I had inflicted unwittingly upon my wife, and feeling a sense of overwhelming hopelessness, I planned my own escape from the pain. I convinced myself that this fate was what I deserved, that ultimately it would be better for everyone, even including my children.

    I wrote out a note to be found on my body explaining to my wife why I had done it, and why it was for the best. I then sobbed in the woods and waited for the train I would throw myself in front of. I kept waiting and wondering if God really loved me then why would he let me do this. This only fueled the sense of despair and strengthened my determination.

    As I waited, a family on snowmobiles came riding along the tracks and they wouldn’t go away. I knew I couldn’t do this deed in front of them and began to walk down the tracks away from them. Still they wouldn’t go and I began to feel conspicuous and out of place so I left the tracks and started back for home.

    On the way I read my note that had seemed so logical when I wrote it. I became embarrassed at what I had written. It was so filled with narcissism. Despite my attempts to make this action seem best for everyone, I could clearly see through my own reasoning a desire to simply escape the consequences of my own sin.

    I believe, at least in my case, I was angry at God for not loving me enough to take away my pain. I was angry because I actually believe(ed) I was god and I was going to have my way, to be rid of the suffering, no matter what. My pain was more real than anyone else’s, including my wife whom I hurt.

    Praise God for families on snow mobiles.

    If I had gone through with it, it would have been the ruin of my family. Beyond financial crippling, my children would have bore the shame, the bad example, and the question of whether they were somehow to blame. My wife would not have been set free at all, but left with the evidence that she wasn’t worth it and the burden of raising our children alone.

    No pain we suffer is equal to what God Himself suffers. He personally feels the pain of everyone. Unlike us, He is capable of carrying it all.

  4. Claire, J and C: Thank you so much for your honesty. These are powerful testimonies and a reminder of the pain and complexity surrounding this issue.

    Here’s a link to an earlier post on the same issue.

  5. Thank you so much for this post and the later one. Suicide is not a subject Christians generally feel comfortable talking about and there are so many misconceptions about it and thoughts that true Christians surely couldn’t…..could they? Five years ago, a brother in Christ who I had the privilege of leading to trust Christ, took his own life. It impacted me in ways I could never have imagined and still does. Leading the church through the grief, bewilderment and numerous questions and coping, myself with the guilt and a sense of failure was extremely painful. My observation, having grieved (and still grieving) over many “untimely deaths” is that there is something different about it grieving a suicide. I was also intrigued by the quote that “One of the best predictors of suicide is knowing a suicide.” I am sure that there is much evidence to support this but, for myself, in darker moments that I went through a couple of years back, it is true that knowledge of a suicide somehow makes it more do-able, but the knowledge of the consequences of leaving seem to make it actually more difficult.

  6. ‘knowledge of a suicide somehow makes it more do-able, but the knowledge of the consequences of leaving seem to make it actually more difficult’. A very powerful observation.
    Thank you D.

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