Suicide shouldn’t taint a life

When I had my first job in a newsroom many years ago, the editor asked me if I wanted to write a column.

I thought it sounded like a fun idea, so I accepted.

The next thing he asked me was what I wanted to name the column, and so I polled my children for ideas.

After barely getting the question out, our daughter, Tracy, said, “Mom, it’s got to be ‘Deep Thoughts!’”

For those who are “Saturday Night Live” fans, “Deep Thoughts” was silly quotes created by humorist Jack Handey. An example of Handey’s quotes went something like:

As the light changed from red to green to yellow to red again, I sat there thinking about life. Was it nothing more than a bunch of honking and yelling? Sometimes it seemed that way.

That was the beginning of my own “Deep Thoughts.”

The reason I brought this up is because I tend to overthink things.

One of the most recent issues I’ve been overthinking continues to be with our son, Joey, and not just him, but others who have died from suicide.

For some people—and I don’t know how many are out there—in the case of suicide, the person’s death becomes a prism through which their life and work are seen colored and permanently tainted. This shouldn’t be.

Joey volunteered time to tutor students in math and English who were here from other countries. He enjoyed helping people and solving problems.

Recently, I ran into a friend who worked with Joey here in Hillsboro. She told me a document he created to organize assignments, tests, completion dates and is still being used.

She said his work in coming up with this way of arranging structure into the curriculum has been accepted each year and with each new person who oversees the department.

It meant a lot to me that she is keeping his memory alive.

Joey’s best friend from grade school through high school, through college and into adulthood, texted me to ask where his grave was. After the cremation and funeral, we waited about nine months before having a graveside service to bury Joey’s ashes.

Only the Catholic priest, Randy, me and Joey’s beloved, Christina, attended, which is why his friend had no idea of the location.

About a week after he visited, I went to Joey’s grave, and while I was there, I noticed a bright, shiny quarter laying near the headstone.

It could have accidentally fallen out of his friend’s pocket or maybe someone else dropped it, but my curiosity got the best of me so I checked it out on Internet.

One explanation about leaving a coin is that when any coin is left on a headstone or at the grave, it’s meant as a message to the deceased soldier’s family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respects.

Leaving a penny at the grave means someone visited. There are legends as to why coins are left on graves.

In fact, there are even superstitions with many believing a dead loved one will grant a wish if a penny is left on the headstone. Or another is that the loved one will watch over them and bring good luck.

Until our son died by suicide, I would say things about somebody else’s suicide, such as, “This person’s suicide was the ultimate cry for attention,” or “What a waste, he had everything going for him.”

But here are some things needing to be said about suicide.

• In most cases, suicide is the result of a disease, a sickness, an illness, a tragic breakdown within the emotional immune system or simply a mortal biochemical illness.

• For most suicides, the person dies, as does the victim of any terminal illness or fatal accident, not by his or her own choice. When people die from heart attacks, strokes, cancer and accidents, they die against their will. The same is true in suicide.

• We should not worry unduly about the eternal salvation of a suicide victim, believing—as we used to—that suicide is the ultimate act of despair. God’s hands are infinitely more understanding and gentler than our own. God’s understanding and compassion exceed our own.

• We should not unduly second-guess ourselves when we lose a loved one to suicide: What might I have done? Where did I let this person down? If only I’d been there at the right time.

Rarely would this have made a difference. Most of the time, we weren’t there for the very reason the person who fell victim to this disease did not want us to be there. He or she picked the moment, the spot and the means precisely so we wouldn’t be there.

• Finally, it’s incumbent upon us, the loved ones who remain here, to redeem the memory of those who die in this way so as to not let the particular manner of their deaths become a false prism through which their lives are remembered. A good person is a good person and a sad death does not change that.

Joey lives now, still, inside our love, heart and affection, and God-willing, inside a peace and security that so much eluded him in this life.

Patty Decker writes news and features for the Free Press. You can reach her at patty@hillsborofreepress.com.