Suicide Isn’t Painless by Richard J Grund

In 1970 a satirical black comedy was released in theaters called M*A*S*H. This Robert Altman directed film, based on a Richard Hooker novel, was a hit for 20th Century Fox. The film inspired the popular and critically acclaimed television series, by the same name, which ran from 1972 to 1983. The theme song for both the movie and the television series was called “Suicide is Painless”. There is a scene in the movie where the soldiers stage a fake suicide for a depressed doctor. The director, Robert Altman, had two stipulations for the composing of a song for a scene in the movie – it had to be called “Suicide Is Painless”; second, it had to be the “stupidest song ever written”. [1] It went on to become a hit and has been covered by many other artists since then. I remember hearing it in the movie and the TV series. The lyrics were on the surface satirical and, like many others, I would laugh at the fake suicide in the movie that was thwarted by a nocturnal visit from a sexy nurse. It would only be many years later that I would be appalled at the topic, the approach and the lyrics.

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…
[REFRAIN]:
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please.

I try to find a way to make
All our little joys relate
Without that ever-present hate
But now I know that it’s too late, and…
[REFRAIN]
The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
So this is all I have to say.
[REFRAIN]
The only way to win is cheat
And lay it down before I’m beat
And to another give my seat
For that’s the only painless feat.
[REFRAIN]
The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger…watch it grin, but…
[REFRAIN]
A brave man once requested me
To answer questions that are key
Is it to be or not to be
And I replied ‘oh why ask me?’
[REFRAIN]
‘Cause suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please.

…and you can do the same thing if you please.

Songwriters: MANDEL, JOHNNY / ALTMAN, MICHAEL B

Suicide Is Painless lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. [2]

While cleverly written and most definitely the stupidest song of all time it is also incredibly wrong.

The original inspiration for this commentary and blog was that a middle school and high school classmate of my son committed suicide recently. Somehow he had traveled so far down a darkened path that instead of looking for the Light he decided that his only solution to his personal problems was suicide. A 26-year-old life, a father of three, was ended based on the flawed logic that despondent, irrational thinking and demonic influence inspire. He wasn’t the first victim and he won’t be the last. In fact, I believe in the dark days to come many will lose sight of reality and choose this option of “checking out”. Society and the media glamorize suicide so much so that we are seeing our youth succumb to its dark allure on a regular basis.

That appeal has now been energized by the sad death of comedian and actor Robin Williams. When someone so recognized and well liked falls prey to the lie of suicide the wave of its influence spreads throughout society. In our zeal not to rush to judgment or be critical we fail to respond to the tragedy truthfully as what it is – a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As the story regarding Robin’s death become clearer the one that is already clear to me is that somehow he felt so alone and so broken that his wife, children, friends or loved ones were not enough to keep him here. Once whatever the trigger was that set out off the ticking time bomb in his mind and soul he sought out the only answer seemingly left to him for relief. Now, we are left with unanswered questions that no one wants to ask – why wasn’t the love of his wife, children and friends enough. Questions that will haunt them for a very long time as they are rocked back and forth in the wake of his decision.

I’ve experienced suicide peripherally in my life through the experiences of others but came face to face with it three times since I got saved. Shortly after moving to Tallahassee, Florida and being put in charge of the deliverance ministry at the church I had a number of people who contemplated suicide and were led by the love of the Lord, The Word and sincere professional counseling out of the darkness and into the Light. However, three people who I’ve either ministered to or known personally did not make it. Let me say that at no time did any of them exhibit or state that they wanted to end their life. More than 100 Americans commit suicide every day. It’s the tenth leading cause of death overall; third among 15 to 24-year-olds and fourth among 25 to 44-year-olds. “Many people who commit suicide do so without letting on they are thinking about it or planning it,” says Dr. Michael Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. [3]

The ones I’ve had the misfortune to have my experiences fit this description. On closer examination there were telltale hints that were missed but for the most part everyone was caught off guard by their decision to end their life. Two people who came to us for help at the church didn’t come to us for suicidal intentions. They wanted help for either depression or an inability to control their thoughts – two instigators that if left unchecked can lead toward suicide. Drugs and counseling were not working and they wanted to know if there was something spiritual about their problem. One was a young woman who was overwhelmed by loneliness and rejection. Her rejection began in the womb with a cold, unaffectionate mother and her life followed a pattern that was both natural and supernatural. As is the case with women like this, men preyed on the need for attention and affection. She told us of the failed relationships and even of being raped.

Trying to minister to her was difficult as she was so closed off from interaction and so guarded that getting through her walls wasn’t easy. While she was tired of being alone she was also afraid of letting anyone get close to her. There was no breaking down the wall she had built so well. In talking to her she finally admitted that suicidal thoughts had plagued her since childhood. We referred her to a professional counselor affiliated with the church but I kept showering her in the love of the Lord and encouraged her every time I saw her. While I understand the place of professional counseling in the world I also understand that professional counselors cannot help if the problem has a supernatural component to it. She had a two-sided problem that needed both sides addressed. Slowly, she began to come out of her shell and began to smile more. There was a light in her eyes again and she seemed happier. Whenever I saw her at church services or Bible Studies I went out of my way to either sit with her or seek her out. I could see how she appreciated my efforts on her behalf. What I did not see was that it also accentuated the fact that no one else did it. And, this was what the enemy got a hold of in her mind. It twisted my concern and compassion into a recrimination against the rest of the church for ignoring her. Half full became half empty with no hope of increase.

One Wednesday night after a Bible Study she went home and committed suicide by overdosing on prescription drugs. She didn’t call anybody or reach out for help because, according to her note, she didn’t want to be talked out of it. She mentioned me in her note to thank me for caring and trying but that the loneliness was too great. She had believed the demonic lie that her only answer was to take her life. I was devastated when informed of her death the next morning. The fact was she felt so alone that her only desire was to be with The Lord no matter what it took to get there. I had no time to mourn or take a step back that day as we had another person in need of help. So, I sucked it up, buried the burning questions away and pressed on for the sake of someone else in need.

A meeting had been scheduled with a former Pastor and close friend of the church’s Pastor for that Friday morning. He was no longer in ministry due to an adulterous affair. His inability to control his lust, or his liquor, cost him his pastorate and his job as a local High School football coach. His marriage was still in place but severely strained by his moral failures. The guilt of his pastoral and marital failure led to a drinking problem where finding him drunk or incoherent in a local bar was not unusual. It was this very public bondage that finally pushed him to ask for help. He was going to AA, seeing a counselor and doing all the right things but his marriage was still floundering. He had agreed to come meet and pray with us with the hopes of being healed in his innermost being. He knew there were things beyond his control holding him in bondage and he wanted to be free. The prayer time with him was truly powerful. He confessed his sins to us, repented and cried out to the Lord to be restored in ministry and marriage. And, the Lord heard him.

When his wife came to pick him up he was literally a new man. A whole and radiant one had replaced the broken sallow man who showed up that day. His face literally glowed and his posture strong. Instead of being excited, as we thought she would be, we saw a hardness come over her face. She did not appreciate it when I questioned her on this response. Instead, she began the familiar accusations and recriminations of his past failures. Her words stung him deeply. As the venomous words left her mouth we watched the wind leave his sails and his shoulders sink. He would tell me later, when I called him to see how he was doing, that her attacks intensified when they got home. I could hear in his voice he was beginning to falter and prayed with him. He promised to call me in the morning. That was the last time I would speak to him.

On Saturday morning I tried to follow-up again and called to check on him. There was no answer each time I tried throughout the day. I always went to the church on Saturday night to pray for the Sunday service. I figured I would find get my answers then. I remember walking into the Pastor’s office as I did every Saturday night to report for duty. Instead of the usual cheerful greeting I saw an ashen look on his face. I was expecting him to tell me that his friend had fallen off the wagon and gotten drunk again. I expected him to tell me where he was so that I could go get him. Silence hung in the air and time stood still as I waited for him to speak. Instead, what he told me literally dropped me to my knees.

The struggles between the man and his wife following our session were worse than he had let on. While he wanted to rekindle their marriage, and was sincerely affectionate toward her, she only wanted to punish him for what he had done in the past. Her anger and unforgiveness was greater than her desire to see him, and their marriage, restored. His note revealed that the verbal abuse he endured that night culminated in her declaring that she had already made up her mind. It didn’t matter what happened at the deliverance session she didn’t want to be married to him anymore. This crushed his spirit and he fled their home. He went to a liquor store first, then checked into a nearby hotel and began to drink.

Somewhere during the night the booze filled haze of pain, rejection and accusations ringing in his ears inspired him to hang himself in the hotel closet. The next morning when he missed the checkout time, the manager went to his room and discovered the body. He called 911 and EMTs rushed to the scene. Sadly, one of the EMTs who had to cut down his dangling corpse was a former football player this man had coached. In cutting down his former coach, mentor and someone he looked up to the young man was devastated. The ripple effect of suicide was spreading. When someone tries to end their pain through suicide they only exponentially cause pain to all the family, friends and associates who will be shattered by it. Suicide is a pebble thrown into a pond that engulfs everyone in its wake. That young emergency technician immediately broke down and had to take a leave of absence from the job. He never did return to that job.

As my Pastor finished telling me this sad story about his long time friend taking his own life, I’d like to tell you I handled myself well. But, with this event on top of the young woman just a few days prior, I simply lost it. Looking back on this now as a mature Believer and experienced minister I failed miserably in his own moment of personal pain. What came out of was a bellow of rage, anger and confusion. Rage at the demonic powers who had inspired it; anger at us for falling to see the signs or sense their deep need; and confusion as to how their faith, and ours, had failed them. No excuse or explanations could mute my pain and outrage. I wanted to know what good were the spiritual gifts we talked of if two people so closer to us could take their lives and we didn’t see it coming. I know that the counseling professionals will tell you of how easy it is to miss the signs but it does not mitigate the pain. My heart was broken that in a large Charismatic church we were so caught up in their own lives, or in the business of church, that the admonition to love our neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31) had gone so horribly wrong. From that point on it became clear to me that it was the norm for people come to church anonymously and leave the same way. Pews are filled with faceless invisible people who never find the feeling of family or fellowship they seek.

I stormed out of his office to my prayer spot on the back of the property and began to rail at Heaven. I did not care who heard me. I was in spiritual turmoil and needed answers. I don’t remember what I said that night but sense there were many questions that began with “how” or “why”. In my limited understanding of His grace, mercy and providence I immediately assumed that these two people were lost to the punishment of Hell for taking their own life. At that time it seemed so black and white when in fact it’s a little more complicated than that. It would be many years later before the lesson that began that night would be concluded. There were still more lessons to learn in this classroom called “life”. There were still lessons in the School of the Spirit that I needed to learn.

In May of 2010 I was thrust back into the student’s chair when a close friend of mine, tormented by pain and confusion, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. I had known him since 1980 in NYC. We met when I was working at a health club and he was a member. From the first time he strode up the stairs on to the gym floor we hit it off and became fast lifelong friends. We were both pursuing an acting a career but he was further along than I was. He had come to NYC from Alabama and was working on one of the soap operas. He then went to Atlanta on a short-lived Turner Broadcasting soap, which then led him off to Los Angeles where he landed a TV pilot. Even though we didn’t see each other much we stayed in touch by phone. When I visited him in Los Angeles during one TV pilot season it was as if we had never been apart.

We both got saved and dedicated our lives to the Lord in 1988. When my infant son came down with an adult form of spinal meningitis, he was the first person I called for prayer. He and a close friend of his hit their knees immediately and began to intercede. He stood by me in prayer until my son made a miraculous recovery from this illness. I know that I know that he was saved and loved the Lord. We would speak for hours on the phone about the Lord and comparing what we were studying. When The Passion of The Christ movie came out he sent me a picture book of the film as a way to thank me for being there for him over the years. Inside the book he inscribed “He did this for us”. He could never talk about the movie and the Crucifixion scenes without choking up. There is no doubt his heart belonged to the Lord. It was his mind that was the problem.

After leaving Hollywood to get away from its fleshly and demonic influence he began a spiral downhill of failed relationships, jobs and loneliness. I’ve always wondered if the powers of darkness had targeted him for being so proactive in the warfare for my son when the spinal meningitis failed to destroy him. It appeared that his life began to splinter after that moment. When the guilt from a one-night stand with the seductive daughter of a friend sent him on an alcohol fueled bender he wound up in jail overnight. This very public moral failure forced him to go home with this tail between his legs to endure the criticism and berating of “well meaning” loved ones. No amount of comfort, counsel or grace filled words could alleviate his guilt. He came from a successful family with high Southern standards and the reminders of his failure to meet them were breaking him down.

Once he got home, he slowly overcame these failures and we were once again planning to get together and work on the projects we had discussed over the years. After more starts and stops in his life and more personal failure his mind began to unravel. He refused the offer of a plane ticket and an open-ended stay with my family and I. All efforts to fly up to see him and spend time with him were rejected. The condemnation of the enemy was weighting him down. Depression, that even he knew was demonic, began to overwhelm him. He began to retreat into isolation that became mournfully complete when his only life companion, his beloved dog, passed away. As he told me, for the first time in his life he felt completely and utterly alone.

I can only speculate what sent him down that final path to destruction. I had noticed his thinking was becoming erratic in our marathon phone calls. The pain from a broken back received while performing in a Wild West Show had gotten so bad prescription drugs did little to help. Even with the pain shots into his spine to numb the nerves taking their toll on him, he was still as exuberant about the Lord as he had always been. At least that is what he wanted me to think. However, his reading and research was taking him down a dangerous gnostic path away from the Truth. With his body failing him and his heart full of pain his mind took over the lead. Pain pills began to mix with alcohol to keep the spinal torment under control. His mind, something he had prided himself in as a University PhD, had become his worst enemy. And, when a brain tumor, and the subsequent operation, took that from him he lost his way completely.

I should have seen it in our talks. He was a larger than life strong, strapping cowboy type of man who you would never think would fall. I knew he was hurting but never thought he would plummet as he did. He’s always dusted himself off and kept going in the past. When he stopped answering or returning my calls I got concerned. In one of the last times we spoke he confessed that the only way he could sound coherent after the brain surgery was by being overly medicated, inebriated or both. The guilt and shame were overwhelming him. He was embarrassed by his failures and no amount of encouragement or prayer could break him out of it. As I told him how much he was loved by me, others and especially the Lord his voice would lighten and I would hear my old friend again, if only for a moment. When someone enters the darkness seeking solace it will seem the right choice at first. However, all they will find in that darkness will be more torment and inhabitants of that dark kingdom set on destroying them. Shadows creep and darkness grows in that world. They would envelope to destroy him. And, destroy they did.

I had not heard from him in weeks. Usually he would eventually call me back and we would always pray together. The last conversation we ever had seemed encouraging. He sounded more hopeful and excited about life. That’s why I was surprised when he wasn’t calling me back. I was concerned and left numerous voice mails begging him to call me. One day in May of 2011 I saw a phone call from a number that did not recognize. I let it go to voice mail so that I could screen the call. The voice mail was from his brother asking me to call him. My stomach sank. I knew something was horribly wrong. When his brother answered my call he confirmed my worst fears. Mental illness complicated by alcohol, prescription drugs and, in my opinion, demonic influence tricked my friend into thinking suicide was the only answer he had left. All alone, depressed and mired in despair he stepped outside the basement apartment he rented from a friend into the darkness of night to enter into the blackness of death. He was found the next morning lying on the ground with half of his face missing. Remembering my tall, handsome friend the inconceivable visual stunned me. I thanked his brother for letting me know. Hung up my cell phone. And, wept bitterly.

No, suicide isn’t painless. You can’t take it or leave it if you please. It’s a permanent decision that never stops causing pain to those who are left behind. It’s a tidal wave of ripples that never stop and never make sense. As I’ve been working on this piece the pain from his loss, as well as the others I’ve shared, have caused me to have to stop and take breaks. The tears still flow and the heart still aches. I miss my friend. So much so, it took me until just recently to reluctantly remove his phone number from my list of favorites. I wonder if there was more I could have done. From heartfelt prayer I believe that he is with the Lord. He was not in his right mind. If had been he never would have done what he did. He never would have given up or allowed those voices to convince him that death was the answer. But, knowing him, I knew how badly he wanted to be with the Lord, free from the pain and anguish. I also know that he never would have wanted to disappoint the Lord either. In that split second the finger pulled the trigger on that gun and the bullet exploded from the casing I wonder if time slowed down for him long enough to regret his choice?

I read a news story of a 19-year-old man who listened to the voices in his head to throw himself off of the Golden Gate Bridge on September 25, 2000. [4] In it he says, “I walked toward the traffic railing. As if nothing else mattered, I ran, channeling an Olympic hurdler, striding light, fast and determined. I used my arms to catapult myself over the rail. I did not get on the ledge to be talked down. I jumped quickly, without recourse, falling headfirst, fast and hard into the wind and empty space below me. I reached back for the rail. It wasn’t there. In the midst of my free fall, I said to myself these words, words I thought no one would ever hear me repeat: “What have I done? I don’t want to die. God, please save me!” [5] Even though he fell 220 feet at 75 mph he was one of the few who survived the plunge. He states that others who survived the jump immediately regretted their decision too once it was taken.

Did my friend? Were my friend’s first words to the Lord when he saw him “I’m sorry”? Did he even know what he was doing when he pulled that trigger? All of these questions still plaque me. Someday I know I will have those answers. For now, my faith in His love, grace and mercy are enough. I’ve reached a place where when I relive his story or think about my son’s former classmate that there is too much that we do not understand to simply coldly judge someone who takes his or her own life. When someone so seemingly on top of the world like Robin Williams reveals to us the depth of his despair and darkness we are shocked. More shocking is when we learn that celebrities are human and feel lonely at times.

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.” – Robin Williams, World’s Greatest Dad

Fame is not the blessing everyone believes it to be. Sometimes it’s a fatal virus that eats away at your soul until nothing is left. At that moment of complete misery and emptiness people make decisions that we cannot understand. No, I have to hope in a God who lives outside of time. He knows all the facts and He is the One who will judge them. He is all knowing and has all the pertinent details. All I know is that His Grace is still amazing. I know that I must love those who need love and care about those who need my concern and compassion even if they don’t want it. I have to do my part so that they don’t feel alone or unloved. I must tell them about a God and His Son, Jesus, who love them in a way no one else can. And, who knows, maybe that love with encourage them to not lose hope.

 Romans 8:31-39 (NLT) Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As I close this out, the one thing I hope we learn from Robin Williams and others that choose suicide as an answer is that it is not an answer to anything. It creates more questions, does more harm and to romanticize it or legitimize it is wrong. We must not say that suicide is okay. It’s not okay that they felt so alone. It’s not okay that their choice has now hurt so many others. It’s not okay that they are gone forever. Suicide isn’t freedom. It’s an exchange that takes the burden from their life and puts it on the ones that loved them. We must not allow others to be inspired to make this choice. I sincerely hope we are encouraged to care more and to look past the façade they present us and take the time to look into their eyes. If we did we would see the truth. What is the truth? We were made to love and be loved first by our Creator and then by others. When that does not happen the effects are always devastating.

No, suicide isn’t painless. It’s painful and forever.

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_Is_Painless

[2]http://www.lyricsfreak.com/j/johnny+mandel/suicide+is+painless_20801409.html

[3] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/suicide-often-not-preceded-by-warnings-201209245331

[4] http://nypost.com/2013/06/30/he-jumped-off-the-golden-gate-bridge-and-lived/

[5] Ibid