We recently attended a production of NED, a New Australian Musical, at the impressive Ulumbarra Theatre in Bendigo. It was a fine performance with an excellent cast.
The final showdown between the Kelly Gang and the police occurred in Glenrowan at the hotel of a Mrs Jones. Constable Fitzpatrick set the place alight to flush out any remaining troublemakers. Before the building was consumed Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were found in a back room of the hotel. Their bodies were laying side by side, their heads resting on blankets. Conjecture surrounded their deaths. As there was no autopsy, it remained unclear whether Dan or Steve had been shot by police or had taken their lives.
It does raise a very important question. Does it matter knowing how a person died? It is not uncommon for family members to conceal the cause of death particularly if it is a suicide. They may find the mode of death personally humiliating or think it reflects poorly or disrespectfully on the person who died. There may be religious beliefs or prejudices that preclude openness and honesty or sensitive financial considerations that need protecting.
When Adam drove away that fateful Saturday he left a note on the dining table. He said he was going away to seek God. The fear in my heart was that he might wander off into the bush, become disorientated, and have no way of alerting anyone as to his plight. In so doing he would have been added to the growing list of missing persons. I have to ask myself, “Would that have been a preferable scenario to knowing that Adam purposefully took his life?
The answer must be “No!” Knowing how a person died, especially if it is a suicide, is important for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it frames the grieving process. Suicide grief is complex. On the one hand it is important to honour your loved one and to try to come to an understanding of the multiple factors that led to their death. It is equally important to work through the raft of emotions that define suicide grief, particularly shame, anger and guilt.
Secondly, it allows you to formulate a truthful narrative of your loved one’s life. When you look back over a life there are moments of purpose and fulfilment and moments of confusion and doubt. Life is about highs and lows, successes and failure, hope and despair. When someone chooses to end their life it casts a lengthy shadow over who they were and what they might have achieved. We have a responsibility to keep alive their memory and to celebrate all that was good and positive and life affirming while respecting the darker moments that testify to the human condition.
Thirdly, it has the potential to alter your perspective and redefine your priorities. I’m certain my son had no awareness of the way his death would awaken in me a passion to dedicate my time and energy to preventing suicide and to promoting life. Death is never an option. Death is the enemy which we rile against. Death destroys our hopes and dreams.
In his devotional book Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, internationally renowned priest and author Henri Nouwen writes,
“Choose life! That’s God’s call (will) for us and there is not a moment in which we do not have to make that choice. Life and death are always before us.”