By Sarah P.
No one ever knows to what extent infidelity can truly consume a life. Like a fire, infidelity is indiscriminate in whom it harms and like an out-of-control blaze; it harms everyone and everything in its path. The fall out of infidelity burns through families and lives.
The unfortunate truth that nothing that has a beginning based in immortality or harm can come to a good end. It’s impossible. All affairs come to a very bad end—one that is fatal. Yes, affairs are deadly.
Anytime someone has an affair, there is some kind of death, casualty, and an end to the most important relationship in someone’s life. Affairs spell the death of trust, the death of love, the death sacred vows taken, and the loss of the marriage that the betrayed spouse believed they had.
This experience is life shattering for the one going through it. Some have said that losing a loved one to death is preferable to going through an affair as a betrayed spouse. But what about the cases when a betrayed spouse has to deal with the death of a loved one that had the affair and the death of the marriage they knew? This is what happens in the case of suicide.
In this post, I wanted to address the issue of suicide and infidelity since one of our members is currently going through it. This is also a topic with which I have a personal history. I have a family member who has personally gone through it, many years ago, and who has come out the other side. I also have a more recent experience with it since a family acquaintance committed suicide in our next-door neighbor’s home.
But, before I begin, I wanted to say two things: even though infidelity spells the death of a marriage and even though suicide spells the death of a past relationship, neither of these occurrences means “the end.” Please keep that in mind as I continue.
In this post I am also going to talk about the things that many may not want to think about such as whether a loved one’s suicide was their fault, what they might have done wrong to cause the suicide, and I will even tackle the idea of the afterlife and suicide.
This post will be a mix of factual information about suicide, the stages of grief, Christian views, my own spiritual views, and my own personal experience with this topic. This post does not necessarily represent the views of Linda and Doug, the psychology community, or anyone else since it will include my own opinion on some very heated topics.
I will start with a personal story…
One day, when I was twelve years old, I was in my room packing because we were preparing for a cross-country move. It was the middle of the afternoon and my mom came in and in a robotic manner told me that my uncle was dead. Her casual attitude was the result of extreme shock since she had just found out about it herself.
Later that night I found out that my uncle, who had married into the family, had shot himself at the other woman’s house immediately after my aunt had gone into hiding and had him served divorce papers.
My aunt had to disappear because the other woman was supplying him with street drugs, which caused him to be violent and erratic, sometimes threatening the life of my aunt and cousin.
After a third-party served him papers, he went over to his mistress’s house. The other woman literally told him he was better off dead and she gave him the gun with which he shot himself.
After I became an adult, my aunt told me the entire story in very great detail. She had known he was having an affair, known about the drugs, and tried many times to unsuccessfully get him to in-patient rehab. He had even brought the mistress to visit her in their home and during that visit the other woman told my aunt that my aunt had lost the battle and that she, the other woman, was moving in.
He was a very successful and handsome man and well-known in his field nationally and internationally. The other woman was a prostitute and drug dealer. My aunt was a professional woman with a specialized degree. The other woman was obese, of another race, and had not finished high school. My aunt had finished a terminal, professional degree and she had been a blue-eyed beauty queen during college. (The reason I am telling this part of the story is because each woman was the opposite of the other in every, single way. This was true both literally and figuratively. My statement is not to imply that my aunt was ‘better’ than the other woman as a result of her race.)
My mom and aunt had spent years praying the situation would turn around, but it still ended the way it did. As a result, my aunt has never gotten the type of closure that she desired in the sense that there will always be gnawing questions that will be unanswered until the day she is reunited with the Lord and with her husband in the afterlife.
My aunt was left with the guilt that she could have done something. My aunt has been left with going over the story again and again even thirty years later. She has been left with the dread that there is no telling what happens to the eternal souls of people who commit suicide. And yet—my uncle is still very much with it.
When the extended family gets together, everyone still talks about my uncle as if he is still around. In fact, he seems to pop up everywhere. For example, my family and I moved to a house in 2006 and the husband and wife knew my uncle because the husband had worked with him for several years. Before then, these neighbors had been complete strangers to my extended family and me and this house that we moved into was not even in the same area as where my uncle and aunt lived. There should have been no connection at all. Yet, there was my uncle, popping up again, in the present. Spooky much?
A Chance for Growth
Even though it was hard on my aunt, she and my cousin came through it and they are doing well and have been doing well for years. You see the thing about tragedy, just like the all-consuming fire, is that it provides fertile ground from which new life can grow.
When there is any kind of tragedy, but especially in the case of both infidelity and affairs, a death of a certain relationship will occur. In infidelity, it’s the death of a marriage that the betrayed spouse and the wayward spouse once had, or thought they had. But, that doesn’t mean that it stays that way. Once the recovery process begins, there is a new beginning and a newness to celebrate.
In the case of physical death, there is the celebration of life and also the forming of a new relationship with the deceased. You see, it’s very important to remember that death ends a physical body, but it doesn’t end either a spiritual, eternal life and it also does not end a relationship. Something new grows in the place of the former.
This forming of new life or new relationships is demonstrated in the ancient myth of the Phoenix. The fire consumes the Phoenix, but the Phoenix is only to be re-born anew again, over and over. Fire is destructive, but it is also a purifying force.
To use Hawaiian symbolism, the Goddess Pele destroys everything is her path and her fire burns hot—almost 1,000 degrees. No one in its path escapes the burn. But, at the same time Pele leaves behind lava, she also leaves behind a cooled rock that becomes the foundation of the Hawaiian Islands.
Over time, the lava rock becomes some of the most fertile and coveted soil on earth. Pele’s destruction gives birth to islands that are arguably the most peaceful and harmonious place on the planet—a place where new and vibrant life flourishes.
But, no one could have guessed what would become of it all during the volcano’s violent eruption. They would have seen only death and destruction. But, over time, what seemed like death and destruction was actually a new beginning. The paradox is that none of it could have been without Pele first starting the all-consuming fire.
All Christians know about Job from the Bible. No one wants to be in Job’s shoes because he lost everything. To add insult to injury, when he thought he could lose nothing more, he got sick and sunk even deeper than anyone could have imagined.
Yet, in the end, God restored Job’s life. God promises, “Then I will restore to you the years that the locust swarm devoured, as did the young locust, the other locusts, and the ravaging locust,” Joel 2:25 (NIV). God may not have caused the tragedy, but he has the power to restore all and he will. This is God’s promise in all things.
It doesn’t matter if you feel like your life has ended because of an affair or if you feel it has ended because you lost the most important person to you.
Was it my fault?
This is the biggest question with which those left behind struggle when a loved one ends his or her life. No, another’s suicide was not your fault and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it. We humans love to have control or the illusion of control because anything else is frankly terrifying. God gave humans free will AND God did not give anyone control over another.
Yet, all of us struggle with the illusion that we can control what another does if only. There are many if only’s and you can make yourself crazy going through them.
- If only I had seen the signs
- If only I didn’t let that person out of my sight
- If only I had done more
- If only I had done less
- If only we had moved
- If only we had stayed
- If only I made him get the right kind of therapy
- If only I did this
- If only I did that…
All of these ‘if onlys’ depend on the idea that you are able to control another person. I will say it again: we cannot control another person. Over the long term, there is nothing we can do to prevent an action that another person is set on doing.
Over 90% of people who commit suicide have depression or some other kind of illness. When suicidal thoughts and plans take over, it is like trying to stop a freight train with your bare hands. The best thing you can do for yourself is to realize that there is nothing you could have done to make that person change his or her mind.
It is hard to explain to someone how a brain can hold someone hostage if that person has never been through the situation. When someone is suicidal it’s like they are being pulled toward a cliff against their will. They do not want to be pulled off the cliff, but some mysterious force drives them closer to the edge. It’s like being in a runaway car that is going toward the cliff and the breaks are not working. If the person does not have the clear thinking to bail from the car, they will go over the cliff with the car.
Psychologists and psychiatrists know that the brain is capable of holding someone hostage through chemical imbalance. Don’t underestimate the role of biochemistry in the brain. Think about diseases such as Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s is a disease that has to do with damage to nerve cells in the substantia nigra area of the brain as well as dopamine signaling.
You would not tell a Parkinson’s patient to try harder to control their movements, as if it were a personal failing on their part, just as you would not tell a depressed person to “snap out of it.” Just as you cannot do anything personally such a prodding, controlling, changing a person’s diet, taking someone for walks, in order to stop the progression of Parkinson’s, you can’t talk someone out of depression or suicide. Only medicine can do that and it is not the cure.
Depressed people are at the mercy of their minds, which have turned against them and have decided to take over in ways that are harmful to that person. Depression is just as serious as cancer and just as deadly. The point in going through all of this is that there is nothing you can do to change someone’s depression. The only thing you can do is to get them help and to know when to get them into an in-patient psychiatric ward when you suspect someone is capable of self-harm.
Often a wayward spouse has depression before they are unfaithful. Being unfaithful can provide a false high and it can temporarily bolster lacking neurochemicals in the brain. But, this is a deadly combination for the wayward spouse because once the high from infidelity is gone, the depression returns along with guilt and shame. This in turn can leave the wayward spouse feeling as if he is no longer worthy of living.
I found a comment about these feelings in an unlikely forum. A man who calls himself Dr. Decay says this about cheating with two different women on his long-term girlfriend:
“Now three years later… I grew up a lot and realized my mistakes. Except I have been carrying this guilt ever since and it’s causing me to become depressed and disconnected from everyone. The guilt is so strong that I sometimes want to kill myself because I feel like I don’t deserve her. She has done nothing but give me love and stay faithful. I feel like such an evil person inside; it’s eating me alive from the inside. I don’t want to tell her knowing it could be the end and I’ll lose her. But on the other hand, I can’t keep living this way. I know I am a dirt bag…”
Like any man with a conscience, this man is being eaten alive by the guilt of his actions coupled with the fear of losing the woman he loves. He is in a “no win” situation because he feels that if he tells her, he will lose her. Because he cannot live without her, he keeps it inside. But, by keeping it inside, the guilt is eating him alive. This is causing him to think about suicide and the fear prevents him from telling anyone. These are precisely the situations that lead people to take their own lives.
Where Do Our Loved Ones Go?
This is a difficult one to answer because different belief systems have different answers. No matter what one belief system says, there will be others out there who call the answer unholy. Therefore, I will give you my personal feeling on the situation and reference the aspects of religion that I use to form my opinion.
What I am about to say is extremely personal in nature and some might consider it blasphemous. I do not mean to offend anyone or to have a theological discussion. I will let you know up front that I was raised in a Protestant church, but that I have Jewish ethnic heritage on my mom’s side of the family. Thus, my beliefs are due to studying both faiths. The foundation of my belief is that “God is Love” (John I, 4:8) and everything else flows from that belief.
My personal belief is that when people commit suicide, they are turned over to God’s care. But, I also feel that some people, even though asked to join the light, may hesitate to go out of fear, guilt, or confusion. This is especially true if someone does not believe in an afterlife or in a higher power.
On a word, they will be surprised that they still live, even though without a material body. I believe that those who reach out to Jesus, here or hereafter, will in Jesus’s presence. Because I believe God is a loving and benevolent being and believe that when someone takes their own life, God welcomes them as the most compassionate father would welcome them.
Like any parents, He would ache that his child was in so much pain that he wanted to end it, but that would cause him to pour out even more love and compassion for his child. God would not turn his back in the child’s most dire and desperate act.
The story of the prodigal son comes to mind. The prodigal son demanded his portion of the household assets and spent all of his inheritance abroad, only to return to his father no better than a penniless beggar. At the time, this act was a terrible affront to a family and cause for shame. Instead of shunning him, his father prepared a feast in the son’s honor and gave him a ring for his finger. The father celebrated his son that was lost and then found again.
This story applies equally to those who have repented of and stopped infidelity as it does to those who commit suicide. Both acts are a sin, but Jesus does not turn his back on those who sin. Christians believe that Jesus died for sins so that no one had to face eternal damnation. If this is true, it applies equally to all sins, including the taking of one’s life.
Another personal story…
I will tell you a personal story about an acquaintance that committed suicide. This is an unembellished story and you will likely find parts of it fantastical. But, I am telling it just as it happened.
My neighbors are like a second set of parents for our family. They are a wonderful retired couple who put Ward and June Cleaver to shame. (I will call them Grace and Gavin. I will refer to Gavin’s adopted brother as Paul.) Gavin’s parents ‘adopted’ Paul when he was in high school since he had been Gavin’s life-long best friend. Both of Paul’s parents had died tragically and so Gavin’s family became his new family.
Paul dealt with episodes of black depression throughout his life and medication did not bring relief. When he suffered episodes, he would move in with Gavin and Grace. This is how we knew him.
Paul was a successful man and spoke several languages. He had been an executive at multinational companies in his youth and had several marriages under his belt. He neither lacked money nor attractive girlfriends. But, this didn’t matter because depression is a chemical imbalance. While depression can be caused by life’s events, it soon turns into a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Paul had been living with Grace and Gavin for a while by the time we moved in. But, he was doing better—or so everyone thought. He was dating an absolutely lovely widow that he met at church. He was jogging daily around the neighborhood and he was making plans for the future.
One Sunday he told Grace and Gavin that he was going to go for a jog instead of attending church with them that day. He promised to catch up for lunch. He didn’t come to lunch and didn’t answer his phone when Grace called. She and Gavin became worried. She called Paul’s girlfriend to see if they were together. They were not together and so she began making calls to everyone she knew. After more people telling Grace that they had not seen Paul, Gavin and Grace drove home.
When Grace entered the garage, she smelled blood before she saw it. Paul had ended his life with Grace’s pistol that had been passed down through the family and had belonged to her grandfather.
As close as they were, Paul was so good at hiding his intentions that no one suspected it. I found out after I went to drop in on Grace the next day for coffee. She told me what happened but gave me no details about anything. She said she feared for his eternal soul. She was in a state of shock and I did not ask questions. At that point, I told Grace I would go home and pray for everyone. The only thing I knew about the suicide at that point was when they found Paul and that Paul used her gun.
When I was praying, I saw a very real vision in my mind’s eye of Paul being accepted into Jesus’s arms. Heaven was full of light and everything had these golden, illuminated outlines. Since everything was made of light, Paul seemed to be melting into Jesus’s arms. A sense of peace flooded over me and in my mind I began to hear a song that I had never heard before. The song sung by angels and it contained words that I had never heard before either. The words seemed to be answers to questions. Immediately, I took down all the words and the melody. I knew at that moment that this was where Paul was and I knew it was very real.
I went and found Grace the next day because I wanted to tell her. But, I hesitated because I feared I would sound like I was at best trying to reassure her with wishful thinking or at worst would be perceived as crazy.
Working up the courage to tell Grace, I prefaced it with the idea that what I was about to say might sound blasphemous to her and so I wanted to apologize in advance. I told her that even though she believed that Paul might be somewhere not so good, I was convinced that he was in Heaven.
I recounted all that I saw in great detail and then took out the words to the song and the music. I showed her the words to the song and hummed it for her. Grace sat there silent and I did not know what to think. My embarrassment was growing and I was feeling like I had upset her.
Finally, Grace spoke. She then told me she found a 300-page journal where Paul had been planning everything and he had been planning it for some time. But the last entry in his journal contained a series of questions about his eternal soul and what he would experience.
She looked at the song and said that it answered each question written in the journal. I got up the courage to describe in great detail the others who were there to meet him. Grace told me that I had seen Paul’s mom and dad. Grace was finally reassured. She affirmed that everything I told her was too specific to be wishful thinking on my part.
Grace told the story at Paul’s celebration of life and everyone who heard it also believed it was true. The vision and ‘message from Heaven’ brought Paul’s remaining family and friends profound healing. For this, I was extremely grateful because it was the only reason why I told Grace what I saw. I had hoped that the message would contain something that she could hold on to and it did. The vision I had while in prayer was so strong and so real that I have no doubt that I saw Paul and that he is in Heaven.
What does Christianity say?
This is going to vary from church to church and from authority to authority, but the consensus seems to be that the Bible does not specifically discuss suicide. I have read several different Christian sites that have stated if someone has accepted Jesus, then it does not matter how they died. All people who accept Jesus go to Heaven (in most Christian churches.)
The Catholic viewpoint implies that those who take their life were not acting of free will. Therefore, they are buried in consecrated ground and afforded the same rights as any other Catholic who has died. The Catholic view appears to be similar to mine—that a merciful God accepts someone into Heaven, even if that individual did not pass away due to natural causes.
What does Judaism say?
Judaism speaks of a place called Gehinom and it has been likened to a laundromat of souls where eternal souls are cleansed before ascending to higher planes of existence. Being sent there (or not) before ascending appears to depend upon the extent of free will the soul had when taking their life. (I am going to argue that there is no such thing as free will in suicide.) Either way, the Jewish view does not relegate someone to a place of punishment and no second chances.
Thus is appears that the general consensus in Judeo-Christian views is that a soul doesn’t go to hell. My personal general view is that no person who commits suicide goes to hell, whether someone is saved or not. But, I believe this because I also believe in a God of second, third, fourth and even twenty ‘second’ chances. Suicide violates the 5th commandment and since all sins are forgiven, this one is also forgiven. This is my technical reasoning but I don’t even really believe in a God that is so legalistic.
My heart reasoning tells me that we have a God that is more loving and benevolent than any human could ever imagine or is even capable of imagining and so He gives that benevolence and love to all for the taking, no matter who they are or what they did. We cannot comprehend this level of benevolence or even why God might be so benevolent because our human minds are too limited to understand such things. Someone who commits suicide is someone in pain and in my personal opinion not even a sinner.
God is like the ultimate parent. If a child came to you in tears and was in extreme emotional pain, the last thing you would do is punish your child. Instead, you would scoop your child up in your arms and you would shower your child with love, doing everything in your power to wash your child’s pain away. This is who God is to us and he does not wish to punish us, but to scoop each of us up in his loving arms and to tell each of us that we are the love of his life and the apple of his eye. All of us are equal and equally loved in this respect.
The Five Stages of Grief
Unfortunately, there will come a point during the grieving process when you will blame yourself, bargain, and feel intensely guilty. This is part and parcel of the grieving process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance make up the five stages of grieving.
Like any loss, whether the loss caused by an affair or the loss of a loved one, loss causes extremely uncomfortable feelings. There are published articles on this site about grief and you can find them here: http://www.emotionalaffair.org/?s=grief&submit.x=0&submit.y=0
So, I wanted to specifically discuss how to work your way through grief. There are several helpful suggestions provided by Father Arnaldo Pangrazzi in his article Bearing the Special Grief of Suicide.
He suggests the following:
- Learn to live with unanswered questions
- Allow time for bad memories
- Acknowledge your feelings of anger.
- Turn guilt into forgiveness
- Accept the loneliness
- Draw from your spiritual resources
- Rebuild your self esteem
- Be patient with yourself
- Reach out to others (1)
As unfortunate as it sounds, we can only change our outlook on tragic situations. Going through the grieving process allows us to change our outlook. Become like the Phoenix and allow the grieving process to transform you. This doesn’t mean life will be perfect afterwards, but it does create a new beginning. You are the Phoenix poised for a renewal.
Many blessings to all of you on your journey.
Recommended books for you and grieving loved ones from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
Touched by Suicide: Hope and Healing After Loss
Michael F. Myers, M.D., and Carla Fine, Gotham Books, 2006.
The Wilderness of Suicide Grief: Finding Your Way
Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. Companion Press, 2010.
Suicide Survivors’ Handbook — Expanded Edition
Trudy Carlson, Benline Press, 2000.
Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide
Christopher Lukas and Henry Seiden, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007
After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief
Bob Baugher, Ph.D., and Jack Jordan, Ph.D., 2002.
For the full list, please go to https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-lost-someone/resources-loss-survivors/books-loss-survivors/
Father Arnaldo Pangrazzi. Bearing the Special Grief of Suicide. From https://soslsd.org/resource/bearing-the-special-grief-of-suicide/