Until we meet again

I’ve been a Catholic my entire life. I went to Catholic school from first grade through graduate school. But even people like me, perhaps especially people like me, can still learn something about their faith.
I lost an old friend this week. A man too beautiful, too loved and too young to meet his Maker just yet. He apparently thought differently.
In the last few years, he and I both struggled with some of the most trying times of our lives. Unexpected events had resulted in long, tiresome battles with depression. It was odd that two people who had a rather casual relationship in younger years had found one another again to talk about the emptiness we felt few others in our lives could ever understand.
For a time, we walked side by side in the darkness, checking in on each other, talking one another down from emotional cliffs and mountains. As we drifted in and out of contact, it seemed we were both improving.
When I first heard of his passing, I naturally thought I didn’t give enough. But having walked to the edge and looked over myself, I know that no one can “fix” someone who has lost the will to live. The healing has to start within.
So many of us love troubled friends and family – it is said that one in four Americans will experience psychological distress in their lifetimes. It can be somewhat disheartening for Catholics when it comes down to suicide. Like me, you probably remember learning that suicide is condemned by the Church.
This bothered me. I understood why taking the life that God gave us would be wrong. What I didn’t understand was how someone experiencing the trauma of depression could be considered responsible. Doctors had told me that my depression was chemical – not something that was my fault or desire, but something that occurred physically in my body like any other disease. How could God consider a sickness with a bad outcome a sin?
I went to a source for comfort I had never sought before: the Catholic Catechism. I think God guided me there. Not only to gain perspective on my friend, but on myself. It seems that today’s Catechism takes into account what we’ve learned about the medical details of depression. It notes that in situations of severe distress – emotional, psychological, etc, – God can and does extend His forgiveness when we believe in our own worthlessness.(Catholic Catechism Chapter 2, Article 5, Section I, Respect for Life, 2282-2283).
Catholics pray for those who fall to suicide and bury them through the Mass, petitioning God to forgive the deceased. This comforted me. No longer conflicted by the Church’s older teaching on suicide, I was confident my prayers could help my friend find his home with God.
It was also comforting to me in relation to my own life. Being able to understand someone’s suicide, knowing personally the feeling that all lives connected to your own would improve without your presence, is unnerving. As a depressed person, I became overwhelmed with the desire to help those I loved by removing the “me” obstacle from their lives. Being suicidal is not always selfish, as many label it. For me, it was a desperation to give those I love a freedom I felt I did not deserve myself.
The viewing for my friend was crowded, even in the early afternoon. There were flowers, notes and drawings from his children, remembrances galore. Memories of good times, pictures of happiness from years ago were also swirling around online among friends. I wondered how he could not have felt this outpouring of love while he lived. Then I remembered that when I sank to my lowest, I could not sense it either.
I also found I had only good memories left of my friend, some I had forgotten for years. Ice skating in the park when we first met. Bad movies we saw together and sitting together in the back of the boat on a haunted mine ride at the local amusement park. Stolen kisses that never turned into a real romance, long phone calls and driving fast in a black Mustang ragtop on a hot July night.
Memories of real living from a man who felt his only option was death. Memories that are helping me heal the wound of his absence. God speed old friend. I for one will remember the living in your life. I do not despair, God understands the extent of your suffering. I know we’ll meet again in heaven.

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