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Patron Saint of the Broken Heart

January 5th, 2008 · 8 Comments

suicide girl

I first saw this picture when I was a kid, leafing through a “Best of Life Magazine” book. It struck me then, and still does, for a number of reasons. One, this heartbroken woman, Evelyn McHale, age 23, left her fiancee and then jumped off the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. In a crossed-out note she said she wouldn’t be able to make anyone a good wife. Splat. Two, look at how peaceful and poised she is (bigger picture here). White gloves, legs crossed at the ankles. Somehow Evelyn managed to clear the building and sidewalk, and land perfectly on her back on top of a limousine waiting at the curb. Look at the condition of the car and then look at her. How did she manage not to rip herself apart, spread blood and brains in a spin art masterpiece? Three, why, Evelyn? You seemed a young, beautiful woman, attentive to your appearance. Certainly not one who had obviously suffered at the hands of a cruel and ravaging world. Was your heart so fragile that it gave in to the crush of one man’s rejection? What was at play in and around your life that brought you to this solution? I would have liked to have talked to you up there on the observation deck. If not to stop you, at least to understand. Okay, yes, to stop you.

I don’t get suicide. My ex-wife’s second husband took his life by driving up a Utah canyon and shooting himself. They were together for about 10 years and the few times I met him, he seemed like a nice guy. I hear a lot of talk about the selfishness of people who kill themselves. I have a hard time focusing on that. I can only think of the agony, the futility these poor souls must feel, being driven to such finality.

The closest I came to entertaining the idea of offing myself was when I was a hormonal 13. It wasn’t serious, I was just so wrapped up in feeling unloved at the time (of course, this was imagined). I snapped out of it in a day or two– I think I was stressed over a math test or something else more important than swallowing a bottle of pills.

I was, for a time, under the impression that those who committed suicide were condemned to the lowest of fates, short of perdition. Enlightened, I am grateful that the Church doesn’t forecast such a heavy hand against these children:

Although it is wrong to take one’s own life, a person who commits suicide may not be responsible for his or her acts. Only God can judge such a matter. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth. “When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth” (“Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not,” Ensign, Oct. 1987).

Recently, I was watching the DVD “Good Night, and Good Luck” and towards the end of the film (based on a true story) a friend of Edward R. Murrow, Don Hollenbeck, took his own life. Already depressed over losing his family to divorce, he was the target of mischievous columnists and labeled a communist– this at a time where, in America, you might as well be called a child molester. A sensitive man, clinically depressed, he saw no happiness left in life and turned all the gas burners on in his apartment. Does he deserve hell for this?

As far as I can tell, suicidal tendencies equate possession– responding to the dark, oily voices which whisper to your mind how worthless you are, how hopeless life is, how happiness has forever abandoned you. It’s succumbing to The Lie. It feels naive and “molly” to say the Gospel is the elixir for such ailments, but I know firsthand that my testimony of God and the Church has many times immuned me to the world’s lies.

For the souls who listened and believed the voices, my heart goes out to them. I pray they find the desperately needed comfort that eluded them here.

Tags: Entries · Modern Mormonism

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Peter Tripodi // Jan 7, 2008 at 9:25 am

    I found this photo recently. I had
    forgot all about it for a long time. I first seen it when I was a child and had always been somewhat mesmerised by it.
    I never realised just how famous and powerful this photo was until I read these comments. I thought it was me who thought that, but I should have realised differently since indeed it was on the pages of Life magazine.
    When i was a child, I could see the Empire State Building from on the roof where we lived. There were not nearly so many skyscrapers back then so it stuck right out. We kept pigeons on the roof so I looked at it almost every day for years.
    Perhaps this image is more powerful to those like me who lived in NYC and especially those who had an everyday view of the Empire State. I don’t know. Like I said, I had forgot about this pic But now it’s back in my brain….

  • 2 xoxoxoxo // Jan 11, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    I’ve never seen that photo…stunning. Haunting is perhaps a better word. It makes suicide seem almost appealing if such repose and merciful stillness is the end result.

    Something to share gleaned from the thoughts and shared insights of several people who I know personally who have considered such an end for themselves-

    The common thread in their emotional responses is not hopelessness, and not even lack of love per se, at least I don’t think that being “unloved” is the word they would use to describe the despair they feel to a literally overwhelming degree. The word they use most often is “pain”. Real, gut wrenching and emotionally cannibalistic pain. Like having to face surgery repeatedly without anesthesia…THAT kind of pain.

    Someone I love deeply (who is LDS) described it as “homesickness multiplied by infinity”. The example used was feeling that mortality is a foreign country that is pleasant to explore and interesting to a point, but that eventually the desire to return to “home”-to something familiar-to where you belong-overrides any joy or novelty.

    That definition resonates in me still today at times…like the photo does you. I sense they will be fused together in my mind now.

  • 3 Mark // Feb 4, 2008 at 3:43 am

    When I was going through a very dark, painful, and difficult time in my life, I went through a thought process that included consideration of suicide. It was more than wanting suicide, it was wanting the pain to end, and the best way seemed to be to simply cease to exist. Some people choose drugs or alcohol to ease the pain. Some choose suicide. I could not justify either. I knew that drugs and alcohol were a dead-end. As a believing member of the church, I realized that suicide just doesn’t work. If you end your life, you just wake up with the same problems and some new ones. Now you have to explain to Heavenly Father why you committed suicide. If the option had existed to cease to exist completely, I may have taken that choice. But, as far as I am aware, that choice does not exist. The only thing that would have kept me from it was that I did not want to hurt anyone, especially those I loved. So, I just dug in and endured the pain.

    A few years later, I was teaching a gospel doctrine class. Out of the blue, and totally unrelated to the lesson, I was prompted to say, “Suicide does not work. It does not solve your problems. It does not take away the pain. You will just wake up with the old problems and some new ones.” I then told the class I had no idea why I said that but felt prompted and hoped that if someone needed to hear that, they got what they needed to hear. Slightly embarrassed, I continued with the lesson.

    After church, a sister in the ward called me. She and her husband were in the gospel doctrine class. She told me that her husband was fighting depression and had told her he was going to commit suicide, he even gave her the date he was going to do it… the following Tuesday. I asked her if it would be ok if I passed this information to the bishop and arrange for him or both of them to meet with the bishop. She and her husband both agreed and the bishop was able to intervene.

    I do not fully understand why people choose to end their lives. I agree with Elder Ballard. Only Heavenly Father knows the full circumstances and He is the best judge. Though I considered it, I could never fully get there. Maybe that is because I reasoned it through and had additional information (gospel teachings) that others may not have. Maybe those who end their lives are impaired in a way that affects their ability to reason their way out of the choice. I do not know, but I trust that God will judge with both mercy and justice.

  • 4 David // Feb 4, 2008 at 4:58 am

    Mark,

    I love that you were so on the right frequency during that particular class. It felt as if using you as the conduit to get to that brother was medicinal on a number of levels. This is the kind of story that drives me forward. Thank you.

  • 5 Misty Sonnier // Feb 17, 2008 at 12:26 am

    What is the patron saints name for a broken heart?

  • 6 David // Feb 18, 2008 at 2:55 am

    Misty,

    My intent was to call Evelyn McHale my patron saint of the broken heart, but after your inquiry I came to find there was another: a Welsh girl from the 5th century named St. Dwynwen. She is the patron saint of lovers, but also pleads to God on behalf of broken hearts. Legend has it that she was a young woman who fell in love with a man but then rejected his advances. Therefore, I think it’s safe to also dub sweet Dwynwen the Patron Saint of crazy ex-girlfriends.

  • 7 s'mee // Aug 4, 2008 at 1:30 am

    It totally bugs me when I hear people say that a suicide victim is/was “selfish”. No one knows what it is to feel such despair, regret, ‘whatever’ that leads a person to end their own life, but I doubt selfishness is on the top of the list.

    Sometimes the person feels the best situation *for* their loved ones is if they were no longer a part of the problem. However ill conceived this may seem, they may actually feel they are helping rather than causing more grief. They may be acting as the needed sacrifice to propel a better existence for those they leave behind. When a person in this frame of mind is LDS, their sacrifice means they *know* they may be damed or worse, but their families will be better off without them.

    The bigger picture is that anyone who faces suicide is at least temporarily mentally stressed or ill, the definition of which means they are incapable of reason or logic and thus how can they be judged by anyone other than their Creator?

    For those who have attempted and failed there is often continual thoughts and even feelings of continual failure or depression because now “everyone knows and is burdened by that (my attempt and failure) now also…I have added to the burden!”

    Suicide is like an addictive drug in that although one can be gripped by it at one point, survive and heal, in times of stress later on, even years later, depression or even a certain remark can trigger those thoughts again; and with thoughts of suicide come thoughts of release, and sometimes even joy. It is an extremely difficult thing.

  • 8 David // Aug 5, 2008 at 12:55 am

    s’mee,

    Agreements all around. I wonder what goes through a member’s mind as they contemplate suicide? The veracity of God’s existence prevents me from entertaining anything so self-destructive, probably ’cause I knew that wouldn’t be the end of it and it’d only get worse.

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