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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 08_29_2014
08/28/2014 05:09 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
August 29, 2014

 

It didn’t begin with Robin Williams and it won’t end with him, either; but, Williams’ suicide highlighted the pain and suffering that always follows the survivors. In Jewish history, suicide was considered an affront to God-given life. Suicides were buried on the perimeter of the cemetery and no eulogy was offered. Today, suicide is understood as a crisis that is physically, emotionally and psychologically complex. Suicides are treated as people who suffered unexplainably. Suicides are buried respectfully within the cemetery and eulogies are given.

                Songs and poets have described suicidal feelings as “living on the outside while dying on the inside.” To some extent, it explains why it’s impossible to know until after the fact that our loved ones were in so much pain. It also helps explain why despite all outward appearances their condition was much worse than it seemed.

                Though suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, the problem persists in the crushing pain and confusion that survivors are left to bear. Such pain is undeserved and unnecessary. Solace is difficult to offer relatives and friends whose souls are tortured. At such times all that we say to one other can hardly offer us the comfort that would help us understand what happened. In Judaism, we accept that tragedy is sometimes part of life. So we don’t ask “why,” because we can’t necessarily know. Rather, Judaism teaches us to ask “how?” How can we learn from the life our loved one lived? How can we help each other retrieve from death that which will never die? How can we assure each other that in the midst of our own pain we will choose life?

                We begin by acknowledging that, without knowing the real depth of their pain, there was little more we could have done for our loved ones. Did we care enough? Did we listen and love enough? Of course we did. Part of the sadness and pain is in knowing how willing we would have been to do anything more for them. In the course of our own life when pain and loss visit us, let’s remember that none of us will be truly alone; not when we have family, friends and a caring synagogue community. We can care more deeply for others, reach out more quickly than we have done before, and we can remember that God’s love extends to us when we are up and when we are down, and especially when we are down.

                 In a Danish proverb we learn, “Even a small star shines in the darkness.” All of us are small stars shining in a vast background. Victims of suicide are small stars that glow for a while and then shutter. In the midst of the darkness in which they believed they lived, we can call to heart and mind memories of their better days, the times when their lights did shine on us and on the deeds they performed for others. Then we might find that the painful incident of their respective deaths will be mitigated by the comforting memory of their days in life.

                Spare others the pain of suicidal thoughts and the aftermath of its consequences by taking this message to heart and sharing it with family and friends. Nothing is that bad, and no one is that alone. If you or someone you know might be living on the outside and dying on the inside, guide them to a rabbi, a priest or minister. Beyond therapy and prescriptions, spiritual validation of one’s suffering and hopefulness can provide a bridge from deep despair to abiding hope. Hope is connected to the future.

                May days of darkness be illuminated by hope that memories of loved ones now gone will brighten our way.

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