While in Northern Ireland last week, I gave two invited talks on the topic of forgiveness in the context of a loved-one’s suicide. Suicide, especially among young-adult males, is a serious and growing problem there. I made the point that there are at least four scenarios with moral import surrounding this issue:
1) Some people who have lost loved ones in this way will reason that suicide is not immoral. Therefore, they will see no need to forgive because no injustice occurred;
2) Some people who have lost loved ones in this way will say that suicide is not immoral, but they are most likely in denial because their reasoning is not clear and their emotions are raw and angry;
3) Some will say that suicide is always wrong because it is always wrong to take an innocent life, including one’s own;
4) Some will say that the act of suicide itself is not morally wrong, but the consequences of doing so are wrong because those left behind have had love taken from them.
My linking forgiveness with suicide will have direct relevance for those in situations 2-4, but not in situation 1 above. Those in situation 2 might get very angry at me (and some did) for even mentioning the issue of morality and forgiveness in the context of suicide because they harbor worry (about the loved one’s eternal salvation, as an example) and they may harbor some guilt (in that they did not do enough to prevent it). People in this situation 2 want to distance themselves from the worry and/or the guilt. A talk on forgiveness and suicide does not help them to distance from these issues.
Those in situations 3 and 4 tend to seek relief for their own bitterness and anger. They are often angry at the deceased and they can be angry at others who did not do more to help. They also can be angry with themselves for a number of reasons, including their extreme emotions such as hatred or their reasoning that they could have done more. In these cases, it seems that it is worth hypothesizing that forgiveness education and therapy could be helpful in restoring emotional well-being.
What I found interesting is that some (a rare few) in situation 2 were adamant against my speaking at all about this topic. They were offended by the talk. It is as if I have no right to speak about a link between suicide and forgiveness and no one else has a right to hear about it or to work in a psychological sense on their own emotions.
So, here is my recommendation. Let us respect each person as a person and let us respect each one’s choice to hear or not to hear such information. Some will choose not to hear, but they should not condemn those who do. Some will choose to hear, but they should not condemn those who wish not to hear.
This is an important and sensitive area. We must move forward to help those who seek help through forgiveness and we must do so with gentleness and respect for all.