There is one pair of green, Hondo boots featured in my website’s header that are no longer with us, but will be kept there for a long time in honor of the wearer. It’s been a couple weeks since Wacey took his own life, and many of his friends and family are still reeling from the shock, emotions, and facing everyday life without him. Writing has always been my way of making sense of things. This blog post is as much for me as it is for those people I love who are still grieving.
Many will know that I was the speaker at Wacey’s funeral. Unworthy as I felt to be up there, I understood that it was necessary for his loved ones to hear from someone who really knew him in order to tell his life’s story and offer some comfort. I am neither a philosopher, nor a preacher, but I do seek out the truth from the Source of Truth, Our Father.
Suicide has never touched me so closely. And in this case, it touched me very closely, as I was the one who found Wacey after he died. I do not say this for pity or for shock value, but to say that the only way I could have spoken at his funeral just days after finding him dead is because of my Catholic faith. It is from the Church I draw wisdom and comfort, and I wish to share this with my loved ones as we all navigate these rough waters in the weeks of grief to come.
With every other funeral I have attended, there is always a finality. After someone passes, it seems ritual to share drinks, stories, laughter, and tears while grieving over the person who has passed. It puts a period at the end of a sentence. There is an end, and the pathway is open to moving forward.
Not with a suicide. Instead of a period, all we were left with after Wacey’s funeral was one giant question mark. No one knew how to move forward, only to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was particularly difficult being springtime. Whereas he was a fixed presence at dozens of brandings in the area, we now only have bittersweet memories and awkward pauses after recalling his name. There are still very raw wounds from the pain he inflicted on his friends.
1 Corinthians says, “The body is for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body… Our bodies are members of Christ. You are not your own.” But I think even non-Christians recognize that there is something inherently disordered and wrong about suicide. Even if we had never picked up a Bible, I think each man realizes that his life is not his own. It may be the reason why we have that very interesting phrase, “he took his own life.”
Took it from whom?
Of course, the obvious answer is, everyone. In Wacey’s case, he took his humor, his talents, his ambitions, his marriage, and his presence away from hundreds of people whose lives he touched. 400 mourners were stuffed in the little gym in Hulett for his funeral, to illustrate a portion of his impact on this world.
Why? Why would someone take their own life?
As I said during the funeral, entertaining this question is the road to despair. We will never be able to speculate the extent of someone’s mental anguish, their fear of the future, their impaired state. We will never arise with answers, and we will never know what only God can know. Bitterness and sadness lie in the past. Fear lies in the future. God lives in the present. Live with Him here and now in His peace, and know that nothing escapes His knowledge and love: not Wacey’s anguish, nor ours.
I think it is more helpful to ask ourselves what happens after one takes their own life. Thankfully, the Catholic Church has 2,000 years’ experience with the things nobody wants to talk about–sin and death–so I have quite a few things to draw upon.
First, a short story involving a wise and caring priest: Saint Padre Pio was once approached by a widow whose husband had taken his own life. She was concerned for his salvation, but the Saint, who often received the ability to know a soul’s final destination, could tell her this: “He is saved. Between the bridge and the water, he repented.”
Mother Angelica taught that God extends His hand to each one of His children one final time at the moment of death. In our last breaths, we have true clarity and are able to freely and joyfully choose the light of God.
“I believe that not a great number of souls go to hell. God loves us so much. He formed us in His image. God loves us beyond understanding. And it is my belief that when we have passed from the consciousness of the world, when we appear to be dead, God, before He judges us, will give us a chance to see and understand what sin really is. And if we understand it properly, how could we fail to repent?”–St. Padre Pio
The Catechism says this: “1282 […] Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. 1283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.”
His love and mercy is more vast and deep than any of us can comprehend. God knew Wacey from the beginning of time, and he was, and is, so intimately loved.
Visiting with my dear friends after the funeral, the overwhelming emotion was anger. Men, especially, wrestled with this strong emotion toward their friend that had taken his life away from so many. I, too, cursed him for doing what he did to me and to his family. It was only by the grace of God that these feelings passed in myself and I received peace, but I pray for the sake of everyone’s souls that they let go of this hurt and anger.
The truth is, none of us see things clearly in our broken and clouded world. But when our lives pass from this earth, we suddenly do see things clearly. I know that when his life ended, Wacey saw himself leaving his body from above and was instantly filled with regret, much like the man who jumped off the bridge. He knew that he had left his home, with its sunsets and the front porch and the grazing horses, and that he could never go back.
And for the first time, he saw things very clearly: the meaning of his suffering on earth, how little his earthly problems truly were, how his sins affected others, how much he was loved, and the infinite and unending mercy of the Man who stood before him. He saw perfection at the end: the face of Jesus Christ. Even after everything, Our Lord still extended His hand to Wacey, kind eyes shimmering and heart opened and bleeding for him. This I know to be the truth. In one merciful moment, he had a choice. I pray every day and night that Wacey took His hand.
I know that Wacey is sorry. Sorry, I am sure, for what he did to his wife, mother, family, and friends. Now, we all must forgive him, if only so that we can live in peace.
One final story from Padre Pio (what an amazing saint) to share:
One day Padre told his doctor: “I’m praying for the good death of my great-great grandfather.”
“But he died more than one hundred years ago!”
“Remember that for God there is no past and no future, and everything is present. So God made use at that time of the prayers I’m saying now.”
Many of us wish there was something we could do, and many have been there to support Wacey’s widow, mother, friends, and family. But we can also still pray for our brother, Wacey. As Padre Pio said, time does not matter to God, and he will always make good use of your prayers for someone. Tough as this is to understand, we innately know it to be the truth. When we miss him, we can pray for him. When we want to talk to him, we can. All of God’s children, whether they exist in this world or not, are closer to us than we understand.
“The accidents of life separate us from our dearest friends, but let us not despair. God is like a looking glass in which souls see each other. The more we are united to Him by love, the nearer we are to those who belong to Him.”– Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton