I don't understand

I had a conversation with a Sheriff’s investigator yesterday. He has had a long career and has occupied several important positions within the sheriff’s organization. He has been a coroner for several years. South Dakota uses the coroner system for investigating unattended deaths. That means that coroners see a lot of dead bodies and they look at a lot of pictures of dead bodies. They see those who have died in accidents, those who are the victims of crimes and those who died of natural causes when there were no witnesses. They see the bodies of person who have died by suicide. Suicide was the topic of part of our discussion. We don’t have the statistics for the year in Rapid City yet, but we started the year with a cluster of suicides that seemed to subside by early summer. Recently, however, there has been a rise in suicides, with most of the recent victims being young men under the age of 30. It is a confusing and troubling statistic.

My work as a volunteer with our county’s LOSS team means that I have had significant exposure to those who have died by suicide and because of this I have had many conversations with this investigator over the past few years that have to do with specific cases and strategies to support family members. Sometimes a family will ask for information that I don’t have but which the coroner might know, so I will ask the coroner to give additional information to the family. Sometimes, I’m just checking the spelling of a name or the age of a person to make sure that my reports are accurate. At any rate, we’ve had quite a few conversations that have to do with situations of tragic and traumatic death.

Yesterday I once again heard a comment that I’ve heard several times before. “I just don’t understand how a person could take their own life.” He went on to tell me of a couple of times in his life when he faced particular challenges and was particularly troubled, but quickly told me that even in those dark times he couldn’t have imagined doing such a thing. I agree with him. I also cannot imagine the place where a person who dies by suicide has gone. It doesn’t make sense to me. What that means, and both of us know it, is that we haven’t experienced the kind of depression that some people have known. We haven’t experienced the mental anguish that leads someone to be willing to die to make it end.

There are a lot of things in this life that I don’t understand. I have a fair degree of empathy and I am a good listener. I make connection with people who come to me for pastoral counseling and I capture the stories of persons whose funerals I conduct. Like the investigator, I have dedicated my life to serving other people and I’ve gained a degree of proficiency at what I do. But there are a lot of things that I don’t understand.

When another friend, who is a professor of physics, begins to explain complex mathematical computations and formulas, I don’t always understand them. I have learned to accept that he is a superb mathematician and that he works in an environment where his calculations are continually checked and challenged by other talented mathematicians. I can accept that his calculations are correct even if I don’t understand how he did them.

I know some basics of computer language and theory, but I don’t understand how my smart phone works. I use it as a tool, but there are very few things that could go wrong with it that I am capable of fixing. I accept the simple fact that there are tools we use in everyday life that we don’t really understand.

I recently received an invitation to attend a fund-raising event for an organization for which I have no inclination to support. Their work has caused a lot of problems in my opinion and their leaders have been associated with attacks on people whom I respect. The person issuing the invitation assumed that I was supportive of the organization. Even though we’ve had many conversations and know each other quite a bit, I was surprised at the invitation. I don’t understand how he could be raising money for that organization. I suspect that he was surprised that I declined his invitation. He probably doesn’t understand my position either. We will continue to have regular conversations. We will continue to work together on other projects. But we don’t really understand each other.

While I seek understanding and am continually learning, I have come to the conclusion that there are all kinds of things in this life that you don’t have to understand in order to accept them. I have friends who have gone through multiple marriages. In more than one case I could not understand why a particular person was seeking a divorce when it seemed that they had been fortunate in marrying that partner. I have accepted their decisions without understanding them.

Certainly this world needs more understanding and it is fortunate that we continue to make inquiries and seek understanding. I have, however, reached an age and a stage in my life where I know that there is much that I will never understand. I also know that there is much that I can accept and even celebrate that I can’t understand.

So we continue to work with those who have lost loved ones to suicide. We walk with them through their journeys of incredible grief. We help them find counseling and support. We facilitate support groups. We continue to get up in the middle of the night and rush to provide support to those who have just received the worst news of their lives. We support investigators who are diligent in their tasks of trying to discover as much as possible about the timing, means, method and circumstances of death. We don’t understand. We may never understand.

The lack of understanding doesn’t prevent us from being a community where we care for one another.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!