Love Is Stronger Then Death
Uncovering Hope After Suicide
On Monday, September 23, 2013 we celebrated Monday Night Liturgy for the souls of people who took their own lives as well as for their family and friends.
Father Martin welcomed our guests who lost loved ones. He explained that suicide did not kill their loved ones. Depression killed our loved ones. Alcoholism killed our loved ones. Mental illness killed our loved ones. He encouraged people not to be brought down by guilt. Often we blame ourselves or struggle with the…if only…I should have…or other thoughts.
He reminded the community that every 15 minutes someone commits suicide in the U.S.
He shared about a recent cursillista who is struggling with cancer. The brother was struggling with depression and intended to take his life. His witness is printed below with his permission.
Fr. thanked those in attendance who allowed us to share in their grief. He reminded us Bishop John Elya’s maxim: “When we share joys, we double them. When we share struggles, we cut them in half.”
This story is given in the form of an address that was to be delivered at men’s religious retreat. Keep that in mind as you read.
First, let me introduce myself, I am —. I attended a earlier retreat; a first-time experience for me. At that time, I only met a few attendees in person because I am basically a wallflower, so some of you might know me by sight only, but let me say, briefly, that I have been suffering from pancreatic cancer for the last 3 years. As many of you know, it is a very serious condition and I’ve undergone a number of treatments over the years, all of which worked for a time, and then gradually did not. I was given the opportunity to join a clinical trial using experimental drugs, but had to go for a time without treatment in order to clean out my system to participate.
At the time I didn’t realize what was happening, but the cancer started to grow. I filled up with fluid, experienced great pain, and was always sick to my stomach and constantly depressed. During the progression of the disease and its treatment I did very little but sit around and sleep or stare into space, very much out of character for who I am.
After a time I was able to summon up enough initiative to try something that would cheer me up, so I decided to go somewhere I have always been ©happy, which for me would be one of the beaches along the Atlantic coast. Up here the one probably best known to you, I’m sure, is Cape Cod, but for me the Atlantic shore has always meant the Long Island beaches or the Jersey Shore. Whenever I go there I am always transformed in my mind; the impatient, short tempered man becomes placid and peaceful; the crowds do not annoy me and I don’t mind standing in line for an ice cream. The transformation is so profound that I make it a point to go only once a year. I don’t want to break the spell. But now my situation was more extreme and I decided to go very early in the morning once a week. I got a permit as a fisherman so I could enter very early in the morning and try to catch the sunrise. My routine was to sit for about 15 minutes, wait for the sunrise and then go home. Each morning I would walk along a jetty, go a few yards out in the sand, unfold my blanket, sit and watch the sunrise and try to meditate or pray.
Prayer was especially hard for me. I was angry, angry at God and He knew it, but I couldn’t speak to him anymore. I did the best I could. And yet, it’s hard to stay mad at God in the face of the great expanse of the ocean, the sands and the sky and the cry of the gulls. This is a place where God unfolds his majesty, and one cannot help being awed and respectful.
Every day the routine was the same. I’d go to the same spot, open up my blanket and sit there. Occasionally I might see a fisherman off in the distance and I’d wave. Early in the morning it doesn’t hurt to be neighborly. Otherwise I was totally alone.
I should mention that each morning I carried a backpack with exactly the same things in it: a thermos of coffee, which I was mostly too sick to drink, a banana for a snack, which I usually gave to the gulls, a bottle of water, a towel and an extra sweat shirt. Because I am a dull man, the routine never varied. I’d set up and take off my backpack, with its thermos of coffee, towel, and extra sweat shirt, but this morning the routine was slightly different. In the bottom of my back pack, carefully wrapped in a plastic bag, was my .38 loaded with hollow points.
I decided that I couldn’t win against the cancer and I had given up trying. So, being of rational mind, I had thought out what I would do. I decided to follow the Code of the Warrior. When a brave warrior finds himself defeated and in a corner, he has two choices: He can surrender to an enemy, whose motives are uncertain to say the least, or, he can fall on his sword. I chose the latter option which has an honorable history going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, is mentioned in the Bible and is a practice of Japanese Samurai. So I calmed myself and prepared to do what I had to do.
All of a sudden, from the direction of the jetty I heard a voice call out “Hi!” I started, because every morning I went, I never saw anyone close by. I turned in the direction of the jetty and I saw a fisherman ambling up in my direction. He smiled and said to me, ” I didn’t mean to startle you. I see you here occasionally. It looks like you come here in the mornings to meditate or pray.” I said to him, “Yes, that’s what I do. I come here to meditate and try to pray.” The fisherman said, ” I have a lot of porgies here. We can’t eat them all. I’m on my way home. Do you eat fish? Would you like to have one?” And I said “We like fish at home. I’d be happy to take one.” “Oh good, here’s a nice one for you.” And he reached into his bag and took out a package wrapped in the NY Daily News. He opened it up, and there was a beautiful fish, big and fat. The sunlight glistened off the scales, all gold and silver. And I stood there and I stared at it. Then suddenly I fell to my knees. Tears streamed from my eyes and I must have crossed myself six times. Naturally the fisherman, who was just an ordinary working man like myself, was taken aback. He gave a nervous laugh and said “Hey man, it’s only a fish. If I knew it would upset you I wouldn’t have brought it over here.” And I said, ” No my friend, it’s a very generous gesture on your part, but I have to explain. You’re right, I come here mornings to meditate and pray, but this particular morning I came with a heart that was black with sin. You opened that package and showed me the symbol of Christ and I was overcome. Please forgive my bad behavior. I’m grateful for your gift. Thank you very much.”
I could see he was anxious to get away from me as soon as possible, so he said, “Here, I’m going to wrap it up again. Put it in your cooler and take it home.” When I said, “I don’t have a cooler, but what I’ll do is I’ll pack up and go home now and I’ll stop at the deli on the way and buy some ice and the fish will be fine.” He said, “Yeah good idea, take It easy”. I thanked him again and he turned and quickly ambled off. I stood there stunned, unable to move, unable to think, unable to do anything for a few minutes.
When I came to my senses I thought the obvious, that this might be a messenger, but I said no, because things like that don’t happen in the modern world. This is the 21st century. He had to have been just an ordinary man. Nevertheless, I turned and I ran toward the jetty to look for footprints in the sand, but that was impossible because there had been a storm and the sand was covered with debris. I couldn’t discern anything like footprints. Then I started running down the jetty as fast as I could, but because I’d been sick I could not run very fast. I thought if I could just catch sight of him, I would recognize his gait and I would be satisfied, but I saw no one.
Then I ran off the jetty and down to the shore. I figured if I saw his silhouette, it would be enough, but there was no one there. Finally I figured he must have just have climbed the dune and gone to his car . He said he was on his way home and that made sense to me, that he was a real man and not some heavenly visitor.
I walked back to my blanket, packed up all my gear and went to my own car and headed home. On the way I stopped for a bag of ice for the fish. When I got home I opened the refrigerator and put the fish in it. Then I went upstairs to the kitchen table where my wife and I frequently leave each other notes. On the table I had placed a 10 page letter to my wife of 32 years, typed single spaced. On the first page I explained to her what I had done. We had discussed it before, but I wanted her to get over the shock, so I told her that after she was more in control of her grief there were certain things that had to be done. She had some time because I carried no identification. My car was registered to a Long Island address, so it would take some time to identify me, but then ultimately the police would come to the door, with sad faces, caps in hand, to tell her what had happened. As a precaution I advised her stand in the doorway, not to let them in and not to step outside. They would ask a lot of questions: Was he depressed? Did he talk of suicide? Was he violent? Did he possess firearms? And so on. The instructions were to answer these types of questions politely but in the negative: “No, I don’t know, I don’t remember” I said ultimately they will go away and you are to call our lawyer and at some point might have to go down and identify the body.
That was the first page and a half. What was on the remaining 8 1/2 pages? I told her all the things in writing that I never could say in words even though I am a man of words. I told her how much I loved her and how much she meant to me and how blessed I was with over 30 years of marriage and what a precious gift we shared. And lots more in that vein. I simply poured my heart out. Warriors don’t say “I love you”–but they should. I picked up the note and I was tempted to tear it up, but parts of it were just too beautiful to destroy and so I put it downstairs in my desk drawer where no one goes.
Then I went back upstairs, sat in my chair and fell asleep. Around lunch time my wife called as she always does to check on me and see that I’m not too terribly depressed. I answered the phone and said I was fine and I had a nice surprise. A kind fisherman had given me a fresh fish to fry up for supper and it would be delicious. That’s what I did, and it was. I never mentioned what I had planned to do that morning. And this brings us right up to the present time.
What did I get that day? A fish, my life and a story. Thank you very much for listening to it.