Thursday, July 28. 2011
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There are so very many people who suffer, and those family members of someone who has committed suicide are part of the suffering, therefore I think it most appropriate to create prayers of consolation for these bereaved families. This is a wise and most compassionate step and I am thankful for it.
#1 Sean O'Clare on 2011-07-28 16:41
Finally someone in the Orthodox Church got off their asses! Great! Now, maybe the oca can clean itself??? Huh??? maybe??? like aaahhh before hell freezes over??
(Editor's note: Clearly you have not been paying attention. Try to get beyond your anger and focus, friend. What do you think the OCA has been doing for the past six years but "cleaning" itself? The Church teaches transformation, which implies time and effort. If you are looking for instant, magical, and complete change in one magical act, read a Harry Potter book. Oh wait, the defeat of Voldemort took time and effort too. But then, all good things are worth fighting for.)
#2 Captain Autocephaly on 2011-07-28 20:24
I've never had this tragedy affect me. I'm glad there is pastoral thinking on it, I'd also like to see some prayers that address just garden variety bereavement. Maybe there are and I haven't seen them. I sure hope there is another way of saying things than "Have mercy, O Lord, if it is possible..." for a person. IF? It seems to me that IF God can have mercy on me then almost anyone has a possibility. Why the if?? It starts out inviting me to judge the person, not for God to be God. That isn't consoling to me.
#3 Bob Koch on 2011-07-28 21:16
I believe that the "pastors" of the Church (Bishops, & clergy in the OCA) have been providing pastoral care and liturgical burial services in these situations. At least this is what I have heard from clergy (for the last 30 years).
#4 anonymous on 2011-07-29 07:10
SCOBA issued a 'Pastoral Letter on Suicide' (http://www.scoba.us/articles/2007-05-25-letter-on-suicide.html) in 2007 which affirms liturgical services at the discretion of the local bishop.
#4.1 Rachel Andreyev on 2011-07-29 15:29
"Have mercy, O Lord, if it is possible, " ? If it is possible??????? So much for a God of infinite Mercy and Love.
(Editor's note: If one can only understand this prayer as asking God to violate his own "rules" your complaint merits consideration -- but is there more than one way to understand this prayer? Is this really what St. Leo had in mind?
I once heard a Rabbi speaking on 3rd commandment ("Honor your father and mother..." ) stating that God did not write it for children ( ?!?!?!?!) but to parents (!!!!?!) He claimed God was not telling anything to children in that commandment, but telling parents only to act in ways that their children could always honor them...
I would encourage you to look at this prayer again from all angles - and perhaps you will answer your own complaint - confident as was St. Leo, that God is the Father of infinite Mercy and Love.)
#5 ANON on 2011-08-01 05:21
My two older children lost their father to suicide. Parental suicide is very painful for children; I guess I don't understand what is so novel about the matter, but I'm glad to see the church recognizes how horrible a tragedy suicide can be for families and the person lost.
#6 Daniel E. Fall on 2011-08-02 16:15
[The thoughts on Parental Suicide resulted from my correspondence with the author. I have subsequently received other responses from people whose relatives committed suicide. Nina]
The news that a rite of consolation for the survivors of a suicide was welcome to me, a now middle-aged child of a suicide which happened when I was a toddler. The surviving parent and 3 siblings, however, were not toddlers, and years later, the surviving parent would still talk about the pain felt when the parish priest refused any type of service, consolation for the survivors or otherwise; eventually, a priest from a nearby parish offered some kind of prayer after the suicide had been buried, coming to the cemetery to conduct it privately for just the family, probably in contravention of Church doctrine, but yielding to Fr. Schmemann's implied notion that kindness (towards the survivors) should take priority over virtue.
I found the SCOBA statement,
[ http://www.scoba.us/articles/2007-05-25-letter-on-suicide.html ]
a copy of which I received yesterday (August 8), on the subject to be missing a key point, however. I think the modern Church is not seeing the ancient Church's intuition regarding this point. Suicide is the penultimately selfish act. As a person's final act, it tells a suicide's nearest and dearest: "I feel nothing but my misery (I cannot think about you)," or "I am so angry - I'll show them!" [And for those familiar with the infamous, "They'll be better off without me," let me point out: this supposed thought is a rationalization of the suicide's intention to abandon their loved ones - it is not the first thought they have but comes after their misery or anger.] In either case, it is all about the self, and the damage it causes to families makes it clear that the suicide has absolutely no concern for anyone around them - their focus is purely on themselves. As an adult, I realized that the Church's stance on condemning suicide was, therefore, not at all unreasonable, and the fact that depression, organically caused or not, has been so well-publicized as a disease in this day and age makes the act that much more willful, not less so.
In addition to the obsession with self that the act reveals, a suicide most directly makes the meaning of the "sins of the father" expression clear (admittedly, the expression is a distortion of the Bible's text on which it is based) . The one parent's suicide destroyed my family, introducing a level of dysfunction in my siblings' relationships with each other and with the surviving parent which had to be witnessed first-hand to be believed. I grew up with the damage [e.g., outbreaks of extreme behavior when my siblings' would come for a visit (two were graduating at the same time, and another attended boarding school)] the suicide caused which still occurs today, 42 years later.
At the moment of these momentous events in the Church with regard to suicide, I am still reeling from another long-lasting effect of my parent's suicide. Right inbetween the announcement of the Russian Synod's Rite of Prayer for Families and SCOBA's announcement on the subject, I spoke to a sibling about a contentious issue. During our conversation, I discovered that in their memory, I had not worked for a period of over 2 years. However, this was the same sibling who had come, during this period of imagined unemployment, for a visit during a family emergency and had picked me up at my workplace where I had made arrangements to take the afternoon off so that we and other family members could deal with the family emergency.
I noticed, growing up in the aftermath of my parent's suicide, this pattern of dysfunctional perception/memory distortion. It is caused by the guilt/blame that the surviving family members have to deal with; their "guilt" is overwhelming and finds an outlet in choosing another family member to "blame", creating a need to forget/invent "facts" related as memories. (In families with a history of abuse, it is termed, 'scapegoating'). In my family's case, apparently, this has become a pattern which is now generally applied in many relationships, and I suspect that my "laziness/irresponsibility/whatever" is now the glue holding the 3 older siblings' relationship together. Then again, since they used to blame the surviving parent for all sorts of things (some of which, even as a youngster, I could tell were patently untrue), I may simply have inherited the role of guilt-venting "glue" upon that parent's demise, in which case what my flaws are, according to my siblings, will change depending on the emotional needs of the moment.
As for the "to the 3rd and 4th generation" of children, my siblings had their own children, and the dysfunctional coping-with-stress methods the parent-suicide caused is probably being passed down to their children. As for myself, the toddler who does not even remember the suicide (the person or the event), the disconnect between my and my sibling's memories was so stark that I went into a type of shock and began questioning whether I was delusional and had imagined working when I had been unemployed - I had to reach out to a co-worker and confirm that I am who I think I am and that my memory is true. The effects of the suicide, again, 42 years later, on a child who wasn't even truly conscious are that deep because of the suicide's selfishness in not considering those around them, leaving survivors to bear such a load of undeserved guilt that they cannot manage normal family issues without an element of insanity.
What really makes the situation even worse is that the surviving parent and my siblings portrayed the suicide as virtually a saint. Yet, based on a few "real life" details, I have strong suspicions that the suicide had a rather unsympathetic and dictatorial demeanor. Again, it must be the guilt they feel dictating a distortion of their memory. All I know is that an adult I never really knew made my family . . . not a family, and while I do not have the guilt issues the older siblings have, the poor coping mechanisms for stress I learned as a child make me at times just as bizarre as the rest of them.
I do not know for sure which parent I take after - the suicide or the survivor who bore the guilt to the grave. However, I do know this: no matter how unhappy I may be (and there have been times . . .), I will never, ever be so selfish as to put my release from misery or anger ahead of the love I receive from those nearest me - I will not hurt them the way my parent hurt their family.
Suicide is the act of the most selfish and self-absorbed among us - the fact that it is a possible outcome of a disease known as depression should make it incumbent on those suffering from that disease to get help to overcome (or at least manage) it. If, in this day and age, they do not, they merely confirm the sinfulness which the early Church first intuited as belonging to suicide.
[The author of the above wishes to remain anonymous.]
#6.1 Nina Dimas on 2011-08-12 09:27
Very sorry for your loss, and the trauma it caused your family. But I disagree w/nearly everything stated here.
The very nature of the disease of depression is that it can prevent the sufferer from seeking treatment. Moreover, as with other illnesses, the treatment is not always successful.
To tell someone in the throes of depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or other mental illnesses to "get out of bed..think of your family..eat better, get some exercise" is akin to telling a cancer victim to stop creating damaging cells.' I've never heard of any priest refusing a church burial to a victim of uncontrolled diabetes, or any other deadly illness. In the end, as tragic as it is, mental illness is the cause of the victim's death..not selfishness.
#6.1.1 anonymous on 2011-08-15 16:42
After forwarding your message to my anonymous correspondent, I received the below:
Since their quoted expressions bear no relation to what I said, it is, to me, completely irrelevant. Depression and other mental illnesses don't start with suicide - they end with it. And selfishness does play into it in the form of pride - we've all heard about depression and other mental illnesses causing suicide; if you don't get help in the early phases, then yes, the disease will take you over. Not getting help in the early phases is the sin of pride (i.e., I can manage this on my own; I can't be weak, so I'll struggle on my own).
Oh, and I did say it's well-publicized as a disease. My closing of "overcome" or "manage" meant precisely that in these times, not getting help in the early stages is WILLFUL precisely because the suicidal impulse comes after a prolonged period of mental disorder - the thing with suicide is that everyone, including the suicide, is aware that they are no longer 'themselves'."
#18.104.22.168 Nina Dimas on 2011-08-16 19:58
Back when your parent was struggling, the stigma itself..or lack of knowledge about what was causing the distress could contribute to not getting help. Even if treatment was readily available, ..treatment isnt always successful.
Mental illness is a terrible, dreadful and cruel disease..admittedly, affecting the entire family. Again, I'm very sorry for your loss. You dont refer to the family member in terms of relationship ("my mom, my dad, sister, cousin, friend"), rather, by the word used to describe the act that robbed you of that person. Your pain is evident in your post. Sadly, despite all of the information and resources we have today, navigating the mental health system can still prove to be an insurmountable even to a healthy person.
#7 anonymous on 2011-08-17 13:16
The below response arrived after I forwarded the last response to my correspondent:
"The problem is that the surviving parent had received, supposedly (hard to know in my family what is actually fact and what is guilt/blame-induced imagined memory), mental health therapy approximately 8-10 years earlier. Granted, social stigma attached at the time of the suicide, but given that mental health treatment was being increasingly used even then (3 years later saw the publication of Survivors of Suicide by Albert Cain, a volume of edited papers covering the topic and studies from 1907-1969) and they lived near a (and the suicide worked in the same) city where a prestigious university had ongoing studies about depression and its rare outcome (even then with little to no treatment) of suicide, fear of social stigma and need to preserve a "strong" self-image (both beliefs rooted in pride) were the gateway to the obsession with one's own misery or anger. Unlike most families of that era, when the suicide occurred, no one tried to hide it (characteristic of suicide at that time), the usual cause of distorted/imagined memory (as family members lied to each other even when the other had witnessed the truth of the suicide) according to the literature of that era on the subject. Also, in our family the circumstances (a child's temper tantrum, the family sat down for dinner, I was put in my bed, shotgun blast - when the surviving parent explained to me upon my question as to why he committed suicide, she was clear that his attitude had been depressive since at least 1.5 years earlier, starting with concerns about social issues, followed by a difficult relationship with a co-worker, then family issues as my 2 older siblings began acting like maturing teenagers) was clearly an "I'll make a statement of anger and show them!" suicide.
Interestingly, even if you multiply the official suicide figure (cited in Cain's book as around 50,000) by 20, given the proportion of the population today which receives a diagnosis of depression (14 million per year according to Mt. Sinai's School of Medicine/Department of Psychiatry web page), and realize that most of people suffering depression did not get treatment in that era (and therapy had made great headway in decreasing the proportion of suicide in the depressed population - the figure is over 30,000 per year in the past decade per the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), one comes to the conclusion that suicides are the result of an interaction between the disease and something else. Even monozygotic twin pairs have not yet revealed why in most cases the other twin does not commit suicide. Perhaps science will eventually find that the interactions of various genes in differing "on"/"off" positions occurs in the twins, but until they do, I am free to believe that attitude and cognitive recognition of play a role in why one untreated depressed person will commit suicide, another will self-medicate and a third will simply keep going (albeit with rather idiosyncratic behavior from time to time)."
To reiterate: the above response is not mine, but that of my correspondent.
#7.1 Nina Dimas on 2011-08-18 09:51
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