In late 2015, I received a call that changed my life. It was from my mother, her voice barely audible. She was sobbing on the other end of the line. “Your grandfather,” she finally said. He had died hours before, but we didn’t know it as we lived in Wellington, twelve hours away from their side of the world.
For those first few disorienting minutes, scenario after scenario blurred my mind. What happened? A car accident? A robbery gone wildly wrong? A heart attack? That last one was the most likely. He was 60 years old, a chain smoker and hard alcoholic.
That’s what my mother believed at first too. The easiest explanation to swallow. He was loved, the patriarch of our family. The funny guy of our brood, Granddad jokes and all. I still hear his throaty laughter when I close my eyes.
That’s why I couldn’t believe it when I learned of his suicide.
It doesn’t make sense
My grandfather was religious in a sense of: he went to a catholic church on Sundays, he had a favourite bible, and had a rosary hanging from the rear-view mirror of his car. The same could be said for most of my traditionally catholic family in the Philippines.
After my grandfather died—killed himself—there was confusion as to how to remember him. As the jolly man we all saw him to be, or the sufferer he really was inside? It was hard to reconcile the two.
We are taught that suicide is one of the worst sins imaginable. Can you imagine, taking your life as if it were your own, as if you had any claim to it? As if you have more authority than God over your soul, your destiny?
For a long time since his suicide, I struggled with coming to terms with the reality of suicide. I read and listened to conflicting arguments: it is an act of bravery— “only those strong enough could do it”; an act of depravity— “letting the Devil win another soul”. It’s been called the Unforgivable Sin.
I couldn’t understand why. Was my grandfather’s life truly that horrible? Was being with his beloved wife unbearable? Seeing his grandchildren grow up into adults wasn’t enough motive to stay alive?
Whispers came about his drinking problem, and a little something called ‘depression’.
In striving to learn more about Christianity, I was faced with other questions about my grandfather, and his place in heaven after his death. Can we call any person who kills themselves as Christian? After all, the very act of suicide goes against everything we believe in. Murder, selfishness, and anger all in one… such undeniable blasphemy.
Is he in heaven? Has he wrapped his arms around his parents, my great-grandparents? Or has he been condemned to Hell all eternity for what he’s done? I wanted to know if I was allowed to love him, even then, after leaving us behind prematurely, eschewing all his beliefs, spitting on the gift of his God-given life.
Halfway through this year, another suicide shook our family. My younger cousin. When the shock and grief and hysteria subsided, I was left confused all over again.
She was the daughter of religious parents, a Christian family. Her social media accounts showed little hint of the battles she was facing within. Unlike my grandfather, she was neither a smoker nor a heavy drinker.
Provided, loved, and cared for. It made no sense.
My own experience
Three years after my grandfather’s suicide, and weeks after my cousin’s, I was attacked by the Enemy myself. Stuck in a job I hated, unhappy with the turn of events in my life, months and months of suffocating depression crept on me. Sleepless nights. Terrible nights, with terrible visions.
I began to hear whispers in my ear. Kill yourself—deceptions. Your life means nothing—lies. Pictures flashed before me: me jumping off a roof; me bleeding from wrist to wrist; a noose wrapped around my neck.
There was never a time during my depression that I considered myself a non-Christian. I believed in God and Jesus, despite the pain I was going through. Yet those visions came anyway. The idea of suicide—even briefly, even shallowly—entered my mind, left, then visited all over again. Without prompt or invite, they came.
And with strength given to me from God, I fought. With the help of church friends, I was rescued. I was able to mature in my faith, open my life and surrender my sufferings to God. I left open the door to all the darkness in my mind and I let Him take it.
There is an emphasis in our churches for prayer, the power of which cannot be denied. Our prayers are powerful, and God’s hand can heal all things. Sometimes in church, I see a young adult with distant eyes and a broken smile. I see the face of depression. I say a prayer in my mind, too scared to approach. Someday, perhaps, I will.
I wish that churches approached depression the way we treat cancer. Recognizing the help of medicine and therapy; the psychology, science of it all, while acknowledging the power of our prayers. I would like to see an unflinching conversation one day in my church. To remind those people that they are not alone.
Though the pictures still come and go, it’s easier for me to block them. A prayer, a whisper of praise. A recognition that He is stronger than all the enemy’s deceptions.
Megan Fermo is a student of Creative Writing, who dreams of publishing a novel one day. She is learning and growing her faith every day.