I watched a movie about two Popes. I was touched by each one’s struggle to do the right thing. I looked at their custom of confession and realised that I have a confession of my own to make. My God, how I would have loved to have more power! To have the power to stop my Beloved from ending his life. The power to stop the spiral of consequences that makes ever larger circles on the surface of our family’s lives. The power to turn back the clock and make this deed undone. But I don’t.
Autonomy is the right of self-government. You had autonomy over your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviour. As a family we could manufacture many reasons why you should have continued to live. Becoming a grandfather for the first time. Writing and presenting a course in pastoral supervision, at which you excelled. Stepping away from the responsibility for business finances and focusing on writing and training. Moving out of the city and living at the sea. More time to play guitar and watch the stars. Being available for the children who loved calling their Dad for his wise council on whatever major decisions they faced. Becoming my best friend again. These were our reasons and they did not work for you.
Perhaps we are simply utterly selfish in still wanting you around to fulfil our needs for love and connection? Equally selfish as we accuse you to be for leaving us by choice? Your reasons for living were finished. Your hope all used up. Your capacity to pick yourself up every day was done. Would we be willing to grant you the autonomy of your choice? Or would we fight it? Reason with you from earth to heaven? Refuse to accept it, because it does not make sense to us? Live in denial because it was not the outcome we bargained, prayed, worked and hoped for? How dare we want this power over each other?
But in all honesty, we do. We crave the power to decide for each other – for our children, for our spouses. To control each other with anger or guilt. To will you to live in spite of the pain of your catastrophising thoughts. In spite of the anguish of your despair. You were not a puppet on our strings. You were a beautiful, gifted man. A brilliant scholar of pastoral counselling with a kind heart and a gentle spirit. We will never know what it was like for you. You were you and only you could determine your limits. And so you did. You jumped into God’s arms, refusing to be distant from your heavenly Father for one minute longer.
When I found you, I did not check your pulse. I knew instinctively that you were gone by the level of peace that was in the room. I touched you and said three things to you: “André, I accept your choice. I choose to forgive you. I release you into God’s arms into your eternal life of joy.” In our discussions about self-death, I would jokingly tell you that it would be useless to attempt to end your life. I would simply fetch a prayer team from my church and we would call you back to life as Jesus did with Lazarus. Finding you dead, I realised that this was an idle threat. Another desire for power that I did not possess. How would I know what misery you were spared in the future? How dark the night of your soul must have been for you to decide to tear the curtain between life and death to enter eternity.
You made a note in your journal after reading ‘The book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world’ by the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu. It was an excerpt from the first chapter and it said: “We create our own suffering.” I cannot change the choice you made. I have my own choices to make about it every day. I can choose to accept it or throw myself down a bottomless pit of suffering with endless questions for which I will never find answers. I choose not to create that kind of suffering for myself. I choose to grant you autonomy and accept your choice to end your life on earth. I will mourn you and miss you. I accept responsibility to exercise my own autonomy to choose life, as Father God advises in Deuteronomy 30:19 “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” And I declare that I will aim for Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”