Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Book: "Fierce Goodbye"

Book: Fierce Goodbye - Living in the shadow of suicide
Authors: G Lloyd Carr and Gwendolyn C Carr
Published: Waterloo, ON: Herald Press 2004 (2nd ed.)
Reviewed by: Conrade Yap
Fierce Goodbye: Living in the Shadow of Suicide

The authors update this book, previously published in 1990 under the title "After the Storm." This time, this book is relaunched together with a DVD. It tells of the days. months and years of grieving and dealing with the suicide of their daughter Katie. The Carrs combines the poetic creativity of Gwendolyn and the theological training of Lloyd.

A) About the Book
Written in three parts, the book is about how one can deal with the issues and realities surrounding suicide. Written from a Christian perspective, the authors take issue with the traditional views on suicide, in particular the Roman Catholic pronouncement of suicide being a sin, and proposes an alternative AND biblical way to approach the matter of suicide.

Part 1 of the book deals with the emotional turmoil after getting the terrible phone call about Katie taking her own life. Part 2 deals with the biblical basis and the traditional approaches toward suicide taken by the church in general. Part 3 contains the updates about how the couple is coping with the loss.

B) My Comments
I find the book a very honest and intentional attempt to do two things. Firstly, the Carrs desire to bring back some dignity to their daughter's death, in the light of grief that is not helped by the harsh tradition and perceptions on suicide. Nobody sets out to want to kill themselves in the first place. Using biblical texts and a re-look at the famous Church fathers such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and the martyrs of the Church, they highlight the reasons behind the Roman Catholic view on suicide being a sin. Simply put, due to the early glorification of martyrdom being the ultimate witness for Christ, the Church in the early centuries want to prevent foolish seeking of dying per se. In other words, there is a difference between one who dies for Christ, versus one who dies for the 'glory' of being a martyr. They then put forth a compelling biblical case that suicide is not necessarily a sin, as there are examples in the Bible, where one practically went to their deaths. Samson committed suicide. In a way, while it is not technically a suicide, Jesus walked intently toward his death, knowing that he will be killed. This brings to mind our common usage of "This is plain suicide!" for instances where we place ourselves at great risk.

Secondly, the Carrs introduce three fresh observations on the biblical description of the suicide cases.

  • suicides that follow humiliation after a war defeat is seen as a 'death with honour.' (example of Abimelech and Samson)
  • Biblical writers treat suicide cases merely as another 'death' where the dead person is given the normal rites of burial;
  • Not a single biblical text point to suicide actually being a sin. In other words, there was no condemnation for the WAY the people died.
The single most helpful thing I learn from this book is that suicide is not an unforgivable sin. The Church traditional interpretation of suicide as a sin is largely based on Augustine's  understanding of "Thou Shalt Not Kill" commandment. Too many people have lived under the fear and condemnation of suicide as an 'unforgivable'' sin. This is wrong. Should we limit God's grace to this life only?

Having said this, I must say that there is a certain reservation I have regarding this book. The main thing is that the authors have integrated their grief so much into the theological search, that I begin to wonder if there is any emotional bias in their interpretation. While the book is strongly based on biblical texts, there is also a danger of people trying to justify suicide as 'acceptable.'

A discerning reader will understand where the Carrs are coming from. I commend this book and urge those who are grieving, or seeking some guidance about theological thinking behind tragic suicides to include this book in their personal grief library. Strongly recommended for pastors, teachers and caregivers.


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