This week, four years ago, on a cold and snowy night in Dallas...my mother took her own life.
Death brings much grieving and the combination of happy and sad reflections on past memories. The deepest gaping hole, though, is the one left when considering the loss of future memories – not having mom there to see the birth of my third child, mom missing out on family holiday celebrations...and much more.
This sense of deficit is further expounded upon when you try to constantly come to grips with the "Why?" of it all. "Didn’t she care about us enough to stick around?"
Abandoned children and the children of suicides are deeply affected by that one simple question that sums up a whole existence for them – "Why?" Naturally, they tend to blame themselves by thinking that they somehow weren’t worthy enough; that they didn’t make their parents happy enough.
(Image: Sylvia Margaret Myhill as a child on an English beach)
There is a heartbreaking culture of suicide in India. Perhaps it is partly related to many of them believing in the next life of reincarnation and the hope that they would be reinserted into the life wheel with a better set of earthly circumstances. Perhaps it is also related to the huge movie-making machine in Mumbai that so frequently features star-crossed lovers, unable to marry due to arranged marriage covenants, who end up following each other into death instead. It’s a dramatized romantic tragedy that plays out in the form of countless numbers of couples killing themselves in India each year.
Whatever the reason...daily reports of suicides are the reality in any city, town or village in India.
Upon visiting one of our church-based orphan homes outside of Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh seven months ago, I was greeted by fifteen or so children. I asked the question of the caregiver families as to how the children had become orphans. I was confident that I already knew the answer – HIV/AIDS, water-borne illnesses, accidents, and abandonment due to extreme poverty.
"Suicide and alcohol," was the softly-spoken reply.
"You’ve got to be kidding?" was my not-so-sensitive response.
Alcohol stands alone as the secondary reason for the orphan population in this particular home, but it is also the means to carry out the very act of suicide. Distraught farmers will literally drink themselves to death, consuming liter after liter until they lose consciousness. Their bodily functions then start shutting down in response to the alcohol poisoning that quickly courses through their veins and organs.
Not a pretty way to go.
(Image: Paul & Scott with the children of suicides, Hyderabad, India, 2006)
According to official published statistics, the two-state region of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in South India has alone seen over 16,000 suicides by farmers in the past five or six years. The true numbers are probably far greater than that.
Between 2000 and 2003, Andhra Pradesh was reeling under severe drought conditions. Micro-finance companies stepped in and provided a great help to many people, lifting them out of dire straits and giving them hope. However, several unethical operators also sprung into action to take advantage of the situation. Unable to make repayments, and under great pressures and harassment to do so, farmers began taking their lives in order to avoid the debt trap that had viciously ensnared them. Orphans remained.
The State stepped in with a bold plan to help the relatives of the troubled farmers who had ended their own lives. They granted free electricity and a one-time financial assistance package to these families.
It had the opposite effect.
In the hopes of getting the relief package for their struggling families, thousands of more desperate farmers committed suicide at the alarming rate of ten to twenty suicides per day in Andhra Pradesh alone. Some of the widows immediately threw themselves onto the funeral pyres of their dead husbands, preferring to join them in death than to face a world without their support and companionship. Orphans remained.
Unfortunately, many of the grieving widows left behind ended up remarrying and, as is so often the case in countries like India, the new husband didn’t wish to raise the children of the former husband. Other widows simply couldn’t cope and either ended up abandoning the children. Later, many took their own lives also. Orphans remained.
Before me stood the reality of the aftermath of alcohol, suicide, remarriage patterns, and poverty-driven abandonment. Sweet little faces without their family of origin. But...never-the-less...sweet faces huddled together as a new family with love, hope and joy, taken in by a church that stood ready to provide the emotional, physical and spiritual care for children who had already seen and endured much pain, loss and guilt.
"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." (Psalm.147:3)
(Image: Hyderabad church-based orphan home. Taking in the children left behind after parental suicide.)