When I was in high school one of my good friends had a dead dad. It wasn't just that his dad had died, rather, he had a Dead Dad. See, a lot of people thought his dad had committed suicide and when people kill themselves the grief process is made even crazier. There are too many complications, questions. It's hard to put it to rest.
By the time this kid and I were friends his dad had been dead for a few years and I don't remember much about what actually happened--I think his death made the local papers--but I do remember the gossip and that's because it was still going on. Years later, people were still talking about what did or did not happen, what that man had or had not done. What the spiritual consequences were for his actions. Lots of people were talking but nobody really knew what they were talking about. It was hard enough for my friend to deal with his father's death, but it was even more difficult with people speculating and whispering and insinuating.
Elder M. Russel Ballard addressed the issue of suicide in his talk, "Suicide:Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not". The title alone says volumes.
Suicide is on the rise in the United States--especially among the middle aged--which perhaps makes it a more pertinent issue than most of us think. It's a hard topic to broach but Elder Ballard's talk strikes the perfect tone:
I feel that judgment for sin is not always as cut-and-dried as some of us seem to think. The Lord said, “Thou shalt not kill.” Does that mean that every person who kills will be condemned, no matter the circumstances? I feel the Lord recognized differences in intent and circumstances: Was the person who took his life mentally ill? Was he or she so deeply depressed as to be unbalanced or otherwise emotionally disturbed? Was the suicide a tragic, pitiful call for help that went unheeded too long or progressed faster than the victim intended? Did he or she somehow not understand the seriousness of the act? Was he or she suffering from a chemical imbalance in their system that led to despair and a loss of self-control? 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.
He also quoted several apostles and President Kimball (along with scripture) to establish what doctrine exists. An especially pertinent one came from Elder Bruce R. McKonkie,
Suicide consists in the voluntary and intentional taking of one’s own life, particularly where the person involved is accountable and has a sound mind. … Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.
I hope you all will take the time to read Elder Ballard's article. It's a hard topic, but hope is always available through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe next time the topic comes up we can offer insight, instead of insensitivity. This was one article I was glad was in the Ensign.
p.s It's the first day of spring on Friday. Hooray!