During the summer of 2010, I was studying abroad in Spain as part of my undergraduate degree. Towards the end of the trip, I was in a bar in a coastal town somewhere between Salamanca and Barcelona watching the World Cup with several of my classmates and my three professors. Spain won the World Cup that summer, which made watching the games rather exciting. During the middle of the game, one of my professors walked over to my table and asked me to step aside so we could talk. I had no idea what she wanted to talk to me about–I thought I might be in trouble.
We walked outside and she motioned for me to get into a car that was parked on the side of the road. My professor’s husband was in the front seat and he handed me the phone, told me that I needed to call my mom. I dialed her number but it was the pastor of my home church who answered the phone. His voice was urgent and he said he was handing the phone over to my mom. That’s when I heard my mother, between sobs, say four words that changed life as I knew it: “Mollie, Daddy killed himself.”
Nothing can prepare you for hearing that your father, the man who was running for Congress just a few weeks earlier, the man you’d looked up to your entire life, the man you thought had all the answers…nothing can prepare you for hearing that he took is own life.
My head was spinning. After what seemed like forever the first thing I asked her was: “How did he do it?”
The answer came with more sobs: “With a gun. On our back porch.”
Although it’s been close to four years, I am still feeling the affects of this tragedy.
Before my dad’s death, I didn’t anyone who died by suicide. I heard about it on the news and through friends and family, but it was not something that I thought about a lot. This event has forever changed my perspective on suicide and my sensitivity to the topic. Specifically, I have become more aware of how often people make jokes about suicide without thinking twice about it. At a Christian seminary, I am surrounding by people who, when talking about a 30-page paper they have to write, will make a shooting motion to their heads, pretending to blow their brains out.
And just like that, I find myself picturing my father on the back porch during the final moments of his life. And I see a room full of my peers laughing about the way it ended.
Now I know that most people are not deliberately trying to make a mockery of suicide. I know deep down inside that if my peers had any idea how much this effects me they would feel awful. But for someone who has had a close family member shoot themselves, a loved one who they thought was healthy emotionally, a parent they never imagined would take their own life, suicide is not a laughing or trivial matter.
It’s saddening to me that we’ve become so sensitive to so many other issues in our society and yet this issue goes unaddressed. A joke at the expense of a minority is called racism, at the expense of a gender its called sexism. And rightly so. None of these things are joking matters. But it can astound me how people who raise a riot about these issues enjoy a good one-liner about people who are so ill that they take their own lives.
Seriously, I think to myself, that’s a good laugh? That’s a “Christian” joke?
These are the honest thoughts that often run through my head. Its difficult to voice my opinion about this because once I do, people feel awful, and more often than not they start walking on egg shells around me. I don’t want to be treated differently and I don’t need to talk about this pain in my past. I just don’t want to see it mocked.
Do I just need to lighten up?
Sometimes I ask this. But then I hear my mother over the phone sobbing the four words that forever changed my life. And I can’t get past the fact that when we trivialize suicide and make it something to laugh about, it just makes it that much easier for someone who is mentally ill to justify the act of killing him or herself.
It doesn’t seem like the topic of suicide is something I should need to remind my Christian peers not to joke about. Even if my father hadn’t killed himself; numerous people around the world are still ending their lives every single day; the stats are astounding. When people make casual comments like, “Oh my gosh, that was so boring that I literally wanted to shoot myself” they should know that some people see that as offensive and disrespectful.
Its not something to joke about and it should not just affect individuals like myself who have lost someone to suicide. It should be something that everyone notices; it should be something that is a serious issue and should not be looked at lightly. People need to become aware of the way that they unknowingly joke about it.
Particularly as Christians, we need to be aware of those around us who are struggling with thoughts of suicide or who have lost a loved one to suicide. We need to be sensitive to the fact that it is a serious issue that demands serious attention.
If we want to reduce the number of people who kill themselves each year, we need to stop trivializing it and in thus making it look like a viable option for someone who is truly considering ending their life.
So please. Don’t make a mockery of it. There are plenty of other things in life we can joke about. But next time you are having a rough day and you start to make a gesture about blowing your brains out or tying a noose around your neck, think about the message that this is sending and the affect that it has on people.
Don’t make a mockery of suicide; take a stand against it.
Mollie C. is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary studying counseling and religion. When she doesn’t have her nose in the books, she loves to hike and play tennis with her husband, go to coffee-shops with friends, and root for the Green Bay Packers.