One of the first things I do every Sunday is check to read all of the secrets people have mailed in for complete strangers to read. Usually half aren't really secrets, and I mainly focus on making sure I hover my mouse over each one to see if there's a secret behind the secret. This morning a postcard caught my eye though, and I could have written it myself.


"Accepting my own atheism means accepting the fact that he can never know I've forgiven him for killing himself.

How can I do that?"

Here's the long and short of just do. You can't give up your life and how you feel for someone who's dead.

My father committed suicide when I was 11. I wasn't raised with religion, so I never had "God" to turn to in my time of need. He and my mother had been divorced since I was 4, and my sister and I lived with mom. The last time I ever spoke to him was about a month and a half before he died. He called, specifically asking for me. I could tell he sounded upset, but I had "had a bad day" at school or something....I put that in quotations, because really, how bad does a normal 11 year old have it? So the whole time we talked, my father near tears with every exasperated sigh I let out, I didn't see that something was very wrong. When we got the news that he had shot himself, I blamed myself. I didn't let go of that blame for very many years, partially because I was thinking along the lines of the person who posted today's secret.

I've never had God in my life. I identified as agnostic for many years because *if* God did exist, then I might have had a chance to see my daddy again, and tell him how much I love him and how I came to terms with his death. I forgave him because I'd rather him be dead than in constant pain and suffering. I know he's dead, and not in some heaven or hell...I forgave him for my own sake. In order to move on with my life, "forgiving him" was my way of making peace with myself. I know I'll never be able to tell him that I loved him, or that I forgive him....I lost that chance on March 11, 1999.

Accepting your atheism doesn't make you love someone any less. The memories you have of them will live within you until you die. He doesn't need your forgiveness, he's dead. It's a rough realization, and it hurts...but pretending to believe in God for someone who is no longer alive is just lying to yourself for no good reason.

Suicide is a tough thing to deal with, atheist or not. The only difference between atheists and believers in how you accept it is that we know they're dead and believers "know" they're in hell. It's a shitty situation no matter how you look at it, but it doesn't mean you can give up your own life for someone who didn't want their own.

Views: 39

Comment by Morgan Matthew on June 13, 2010 at 11:11am

Comment by Galen on June 14, 2010 at 5:26pm
I would find it rather positive, personally. Given the standard belief that suicides automatically go to Hell, I would be RELIEVED to know that it's not true and that there is no Hell for him to go to. Although, there is in fact no Biblical justification for that belief anyway, so xtians are misguided in their own belief by saying that (no surprise).
Comment by Joann Brady on June 20, 2010 at 8:48am
Actually, the Catholic Church at least has changed their minds about the hell thing for suicides. It is quite recent, and I do not know if it is retroactive. Do all the people they sent to hell for the last millenia now have a get out of jail free card? I'm not sure how all that works. I guess they were only in hell because everyone THOUGHT they were, and now they are thought to NOT be in hell......doesn't it all come down to being whatever you want it to be?? So how come the people who believe it don't see it as all imaginary?? I don't get it.
Comment by Holli Yawney on June 20, 2010 at 10:49am
That's exactly why I have an issue with religion. I'm very much a live and let live type of person, but How can you change "God's word"? Either you believe and follow, or you don't. If you're truly devout to your god, why would you pick and choose which teachings to follow? I don't pick and choose which laws apply to me, because even if I feel like stealing or killing someone, it's still illegal. If their god does exist, s/he's probably not a happy camper.

@Galen - I am relieved now. While I was struggling with my search for a higher power a few years ago I wasn't. I'm glad I don't have the weight of seeing people I love in a next life, it makes this life easier to live accepting that they're gone.
Comment by Frank Hamilton on June 20, 2010 at 12:30pm
I know about suicides also from personal experience. It is a decision that can't be made by anyone except those who do it. We are not responsible for this decision made by another. Accepting it is hard but necessary to understanding the process. It has nothing to do with religious beliefs which
are a mechanism that attempts to control minds through doctrine and dogma and does nothing to alleviate the natural emotional sense of loss. In fact, these "beliefs" often immunize against healthy and natural grief.
Comment by J. Ratzinger on June 20, 2010 at 2:01pm
There is no need to forgive someone for doing with their own property whatever they want to do with it. You do not own the life of your father, mother, brother, neighbour, friend or enemy, for it is they themselves who hold exclusive self-governing title to that life.

While I do not generally recommend self termination as a good thing to do with yourself, it is not me, nor do I think it should be you who makes that decision for others, but they themselves who must do so. Whether to live their life another day, or end their life the instant after they/you read this sentence is a decision which ultimately only you should have a right to decide.

I am against murder, and capitol punishment, and the wide indiscriminate taking of life in wars, sometimes euphemistically known as collateral damage, because in those forms of death it is someone other than you who is deciding to end your life without your consent, however if you want to kill yourself, then I abide by the overriding principle of body autonomy. I would advise you to think hard on it, for death is an irreversible condition to put yourself in, but it is all up to you, so as a matter of respect for another autonomous human being you have my support either way.

Body autonomy, gives each individual the right to self-direction over the life contained within their own body. It is your body and your life to do with what you will, so live it long, and live it well, or check out anytime you like as it suits you. Who are we to tell someone else that they must live on with unremitting despair, misery, or disease, and dictate what they may, or may not do with their own property! To be sure, it is a sad to lose a loved one, however always remember that life itself is a transitory thing, and will at some unforeseen moment either near or far, end in the death of us all, so while a life may end, the love you had for that person can be eternal.
Comment by Michael on June 25, 2010 at 3:51am
A touching piece Holli. My deepest sympathies on your loss.
@J. Ratzinger it seems to callous to ignore the emotional impact of someone using "property" this way. A propertarian comment does not cover that. Does someone have the "right" to commit suicide? Well, perhaps. Does that mean they should, especially when was due to depression and leaves others without them? So yes, there is something to forgive. This was hardly the forum to express your views on property rights in my opinion, however much I agree with autonomy, while not framed as chattel.
Comment by J. Ratzinger on June 25, 2010 at 7:47am
@Michael, I am not sure what your position is on this. You pose two questions, but avoid answering both. You imply an answer by not answering them, but if you are going to attack me on this matter please be so good as to make your position clear, and not hide behind semantic smoke and mirrors.

I have made my position clear in that individuals have or should have the right to ultimate agency regarding body autonomy to determine their own fate. As I said, I do not recommend suicide, and there are many things to consider when contemplating it, however it is ultimately a matter of individual freedom. Freedom to choose whether to forestall your death for some unknown period of time, or hasten the inevitable end to a time of that persons own choosing. It is you for yourself and I for myself, and others for themselves who should hold that exclusive power over our own lives, and nobody else. We hold the deed to that property and only we should be empowered to make that decision.

It is not an easy thing to discuss, and especially not an easy matter to discuss here for obvious reasons, however I think there can be something very brave and dignified when the time comes in not forcing oneself to suffer through any number of debilitating conditions of the body or mind. I think it a lesser evil that someone would end their own life if they cannot bear to live on, than that the government or some other person or group should play an ignoble part in depriving that person of their body autonomy. I am appalled by these religious groups for instance who want to decide that others should not be allowed to exercise control over their own bodies and lives by choosing to have medical abortions, and demanding that patients should not be allowed to be removed from life support machinery in hospital so they can die. By all means let the religious zealots choose for themselves however they should keep their noses out of other peoples business in that regard, and let others choose their own fate.

Given the foregoing I would say that the self-terminated do not need our forgiveness, for they dispensed with what was rightly theirs alone to dispense with, and they did not need anyone else’s permission to do so but their own, so I can't fault them for that, and neither should anyone else.
Comment by Holli Yawney on June 25, 2010 at 8:33am
Thank you, Michael.

J. Ratzinger - Thank you for your comments. I agree that there is no "need" for forgiveness, but it's the best way I could put it in relation to the subject at hand. For me, personally, "forgiving" my father was just coming to terms with his death. I didn't literally say or think, "Dad, I forgive you for killing yourself" because he doesn't need it. It was ultimately his choice, and I respect that even though it hurts. I'd much rather he be dead than living a life so miserable that he felt suicide was his only option.

I don't mind the discussion, by the way. Talking about it helps, even after all these years. It's refreshing to see another perspective.
Comment by J. Ratzinger on June 25, 2010 at 6:06pm
I do not have to tell you, because you have already told us in your moving piece, but for the benefit of others let me say that sometimes it is good to forgive someone who has hurt us, not because it benefits them, but because it accrues great benefits to us. It is a means of letting go of the hurt, coming to terms with the matter, and rebalancing your life. It is good that you have forgiven your father, you needed to do that for yourself, and it has helped heal you. I have forgiven others who I feel had transgressed against me at their own graveside, knowing full well that the dead do not and cannot hear for they no longer exist. I however do exist, and to forgive someone while visiting at their grave gives you access to the release of powerful emotions of healing for your own self.

Death is a natural part of life, and self-termination is one means to that inevitable, inescapable, certain end, it may not be the best way, nor is it the worst way to die, but it is one way, and a way of one‘s own choosing. Living a long happy, productive, fulfilling life relatively free from suffering, pain and misery, while surrounded by good family and friends till the ravages of time, and disease overtake your used up body after a good and long existence at the age of 120 sounds like a pretty nice way to go, however being trapped in a damaged body ravaged by debilitating disease, and racked with unimaginable pain while surrounded by nurses, doctors, and attendants to tube-feed you, change your diaper, and scratch your nose for an indeterminate period of existence sounds to me like a terrible way to live, so in my estimation each individual must make their own decision regarding how much is too much to bear in this life, and act accordingly to their own wishes.

We know that the unknown final hour, minute, second, and very instant of our own death is approaching with inexorable certainty for us all though we generally do not know when it will arrive, and it is safe to say that from the perspective of our loved ones, there is no good time for any of us to die, yet die we must. How much better by far to go out with dignity, bravery and grace when you have decided that the suffering, and misery of life has outweighed the joy, than it is to cling on, kicking and screaming in pitiable fear of death while yelling to the nurses and doctors to spare no expense at keeping you alive for another day or hour or few minutes.

I want you to know Holli that I mean you no harm in my frank discussion of this matter, and I hope that giving my perspective will help you to know that your father did nothing wrong, but he merely did what he felt he had to do, so you need not be ashamed of or angry with him. Be at peace, and know that your father, and the bond of love you once shared lives on in you, so live long, live well, and in some manner of speaking he will too.


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