The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna loose it anyway
The loosing card I’ll sometime lay
so this is all I have to say:
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
“Theme to M.A.S.H. (Suicide is Painless)” by Robert Altman
The television show M.A.S.H. was one of my favorite shows to watch from childhood into my young adult years. I still like to catch a re-run every now and then, truth be told.
I did not learn or even know of words to the theme song for this show till my late teens and at the time I first heard them I didn’t think much about them. The lyrics were haunting, but I wasn’t one to get caught up in overly deep thought in those days. However, many things have happened since the mid 80’s to make me really question the whole idea of whether someone could “take or leave it if I please.”
(Granted, the theme song is for a movie and tv show that deal with war – an arena that I have zero experience in. Yet I still wonder if the rules of life and death change that much in the face of war. I learned recently that the civilian rate of “taking one’s life” plummeted during WWI and WWII quite possibly because many people saw things that helped them that place a high value on living and dying. I don’t know for sure.)
I do know that a close friend from high school lost her mother through this so-called “choice.” I saw the the profound difference it made in her life, especially in those moments when people huddled together to hush their talk about the method and means of her mother’s death.
As a pastor, I have sat beside too many grieving family members who were trying to understand how someone could choose to end their life at their own hand. “Why?” – which is always a big question – doesn’t even come close in those holy moments.
As a son, I also watched what happened to a household as the cloud of depression settled into a home. It was dark, heavy and totally uncontrollable. No amount of joking, hilarity or humor could lift it. No success on the part of any child could get it to budge. It was as present as the bed I lay down on each night and prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” And I must admit that there was more than one night I changed the end of the prayer to say, “If any should die before I wake, I pray the Lord their soul to take.”
Although no one in my immediate family has succumbed to the final throes of this hideous disease of depression – it has been close.
And now, this morning, after I’ve read of the “suicide” of Robin Williams – another television favorite – and have read countless tributes, prayers and poems about the brevity of life and the difference we make in living it, I have one small request.
Can we please, please stop using that damned word “suicide?” Can we please bring an end to its use to describe the end of life for those who suffer from a sometimes fatal illness known as depression? God has given us incredible imagination and I truly believe that with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do better than to stigmatize the death of someone who was ill.
The word itself – suicide – seems to bring with it that idea that people have a choice about what happens to them in that moment of their death. I can say, after seeing so many people struggle with the very real disease that depression is, I no longer believe that they can “take or leave it” if they please. There is something more going on that we don’t understand, but we certainly don’t have to stigmatize with a word that brings hushed whispers about “how” and “what method.” People who have hope can surely do better than this.
We would not say that a parachutist who died during a jump died of stupidity for failing to properly check their equipment. We might think – but in most cases would not say – that someone drank themselves to death or smoked themselves shut in a coffin because of cirrhosis or cancer. If we do, we need to check another filter! Death is sometimes an accident. Death is sometimes the “final card played in the game of life.” Death is often the result of some disease of body or yes, we can even say it – disease of the mind!
I am tired of the word and I do everything I can to avoid it.
It makes someone seem weak.
It makes someone seem less than intelligent.
It makes someone seem faithless.
It makes someone appear to be healthy enough to make informed decisions.
Those who are without hope, one of the main symptoms of depression, are not weak, dumb, or really capable of making clear choices. They are often very faith filled people. They are fighting the battle of their lives. They are wrestling with death.
Sometimes they win.
Sometimes the bastard of depression wins.
But all the time, those of us who know hope in this world, need to be vigilant to the battles being fought by those that we know and love. We need to fight against this disease as well.
And can we please, please consider ending the use of that stigmatic word?
It does nothing for the memory of a fellow human being who got struck down with a disease none of us would want.
If you really want to enter into the battle, can I point you to a great organization? They work on preventing this outcome of this disease and they are great at the battle. Check them out at afsp.org or watch for a local Out of the Darkness “walk” in your community. (Yes, I know they use THE word in their organizational title, but they do great work and I count us a fortunate to have them.)