Fonticulus Fides

Sunday, February 08, 2004

A Tragic End...

My maternal grandfather was married twice. His first wife, Mary, died suddenly when they were still practically newlyweds with a baby daughter. She had some sort of genetic heart ailment, and she was only something like 23 or 24 years old when her heart gave out while she was mixing a chocolate cake for my grandfather's supper. He lost not only his wife at that point -- her family swooped in and carried off his little girl, reasoning that he could not possibly raise a daughter alone. That was my mom's half-sister, Diane. (Mom was born several years later, when my grandfather married my grandmother in hopes of regaining custody of Diane, but that didn't work out.)

I found out a couple weeks ago that my aunt Diane was dying of pancreatic cancer. It's not uncommon for me to not hear of such things from that side of the family until the end is in sight. They're fairly reticent people who just don't share that kind of information.

Well, this evening, my cousin Susan called my mom to let her know that both Diane and her husband Bob were found dead at home today and there is a criminal investigation because it looks as though Bob killed Diane and then committed suicide. We won't know much until the investigation is complete -- it is entirely possible that Diane died a natural death and then Bob committed suicide out of his own despair. Which would be tragedy enough, of course. Susan did not reveal any of the details, so I don't know if there was a gun involved or not -- Bob was an avid gun collector, though, so my initial thought would be that a gun would be his first choice in such an endeavor.

I have been blind-sighted by so many different feelings I had to blog about it. I can't quite figure out how I should think or pray about the whole thing. My husband gently points out to me that all I can do is pray for their souls, and indeed I understand that and I have tried to pray accordingly. There is no way to be certain of their eternal fate, one way or another, and that is very sad. One can only rely on the fact that God is loving and merciful and incapable of making a mistake in regards to either victim. And of course, one must focus some prayer to those left behind, like my cousin Susan, her brother Robin (whom I believe was estranged from his parents for at least 25 years -- I hope they reconciled before today, but I don't know), my mother and so forth.

One of the things that troubles me most about the whole thing is my mother's attitude, which is a thinly veiled "Good for them!" sort of a thing. She says things like, "At least they're together and they're no longer suffering..."

You see, this is exactly the sort of thing I would expect from my parents -- a suicide pact at the very least. I have long anticipated that they would choose to commit suicide together, rather than suffer any long illness or the potential of one departing this world before the other. And though I'm not at all close to my parents, it bothers me tremendously that they would consider such an exit -- grand and "dignified" and romantic as they think it might be.

I don't know how to reason with such people. Especially when the attitude that "nobody should have to suffer" is so prevalent in our society. We have been trained to take a pill at the slightest headache, to run for the cough medicine at the first rumble in our throats, to dump our spouses at the smallest sign of weakness or unhappiness, etc., etc., etc.

I suppose only a true saint is strong enough to embrace suffering. I don't think I'm one of them. I fear suffering just as much as anybody else. I fear it more for my children and my husband than myself, but still, I think suffering is just about the worst thing that can happen. Everybody prefers a quick end, everybody dreads a lingering illness (or ongoing money trouble or relationship problems or whatever).

I am the chief whiner when it comes to "suffering." And I put it in quotes, because most of what I "suffer" is only what is common to all -- minor inconveniences, lack of time, feeling over-obligated, never having a moment to myself, lacking funds to go buy what I want to own, and so forth. Hardly suffering at all, and yet I complain about it like I'm on par with Job.

But in becoming Catholic, I have learned that suffering can be used for good. It can cleanse our own souls. And we can offer our suffering up for the sake of others.

I know my uncle Bob loved his wife and if he did take her life, it was only because he couldn't stand to see her suffer so. He told my mom as much last week when she went to visit -- he just couldn't handle seeing Diane writhe in pain. But if he did kill her, he took something away from her that God wanted her to have -- more time to grow closer to Him in her last hours of need, maybe. Or perhaps a chance to serve His kingdom by laying down her flesh to be tormented. Who knows?

And as for is always so tragic when somebody suffers such despair, they would take their own life. How small his faith must have been in those final moments, how distant God must have seemed to him that he could not have sought comfort in the hands of the Maker, how lonely and hopeless he must have felt!

I always think of these things too late to do anything about it. Not that I could have had any influence on Diane or Bob -- I haven't seen or spoken to either one of them in years. But there are many others with whom I might have some impact. I need to think ahead, of course, and not wait until they are desperate to bring such things up. I need to be frank about my faith in God, my understanding of suffering and so forth, all the time.

Honestly, I don't feel brave enough. But I must keep in mind that there are souls at stake here. My own parents might be just a few years away from making the same sort of decision. If I keep waiting to be honest with them about my faith, I might miss all opportunity. If I start now, I can share my faith quietly and honestly and pray that the years of gentle influence will take hold.

Already, I've screwed it up. When my mother started in with her jolly-good-for-them report of the tragic events, I didn't tell her what I thought. Well, I wasn't quite sure of what I thought, and I still need time to sort it out and phrase things as well as I can. But I should have said something that indicates I do not agree with my mother's approval of the way her sister and brother-in-law died.




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