Suicide is a sin. That’s what I learned in Sunday School. Sitting on a floral patterned couch that looked like it belonged in a church basement, along with 6 other kids–teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17–we talked about the Bible. We’d pass around copies of the good book and we’d go ’round the room reading a passage each until we reached the end of whatever scripture was to lead the discussion that day.
We would talk about sin, and Heaven, and Hell, and God (of course). We’d talk about what it mean to be a good Christian. And then we’d pray. It was the same every Sunday and I hated it.
“Is suicide a sin?” Mrs. Paterson asked the group. It was a free-for-all, with everybody pitching in their answers. I guess according to the Bible, it is a sin. But the Bible is a story, open to interpretation, and maybe Christians have been getting it wrong all these years.
“Do you think someone who commits suicide goes to heaven?” Sinners go to Hell. Everybody knew that.
I was a socially anxious, self-conscious teenage girl then and I hardly ever spoke up. But that day for some reason I needed to make my voice heard.
“I hope they go to heaven,” I said. “Because they’ve probably been going through Hell on earth.”
My mum had a cousin who killed herself. Steph. I never knew her; I was too young when she died. So my memories of her are filtered through my mum, attached to a faded snapshot that stuck to the side of the fridge for as long as I can remember. A young girl in a yellow soccer jersey, with thick framed glasses and blunt bangs. She was 16 when she hung herself in her dad’s garage. I was 11 the first time my mum told me about her.
“I always bring Steph yellow roses,” we were visiting her grave on a family trip to Lethbridge.
“Who’s Steph?” I asked her.
“She was my cousin,” my mum looked out the car window at the gravesites passing by.
“How did she die?” I was too curious to be tactful.
My mum paused, “A car accident.” Her voice was stilted, false, lying. It was guilty. It wasn’t until 4 or 5 years later that I got the real story. My dad told me one night. A couple of weeks before she did it, Steph asked to come up and visit us. She’d always wanted to live with my mum, and she promised she wouldn’t eat too much and that she’d wear my older sister’s hand-me-downs. But she’d tried to take her own life and been put on suicide watch–not allowed to travel.
Not too long after that, she was gone.
Even talking about it now, my mum gets choked up. “It doesn’t ever stop hurting,” she says as she cuts the leaves off a bunch of radishes. “I think you just learn to deal with it.” Slice, slice, slice. She moves the knife through the crisp stems, focusing extra hard on the bottom of the kitchen sink. “I’ll always wonder if there’s something I could’ve done.”
I try to comfort her, but I never know the right thing to say.
“There’s nothing you could’ve done, mum,” I say. Maybe there is no right thing.
A man my brothers and Dad knew took his own life this past Friday. I don’t know why. But I don’t need to. I hardly knew Billy, but I know the struggle of mental health and I know how hellish this life can be. He is survived by his wife and three boys, and remembered fondly by all who knew him.
May he rest in peace.
Billy unfortunately did not have life insurance and his family is facing not only overwhelming grief, but financial stress as well. Any donations to cover funeral costs and future expenses are being welcomed here.