For Whom the Bell Tolls

Posted on August 29, 2012


My recent high school graduate son is part of a group of 7 or 8 friends who have been extremely close for years. During vacations they’ve often camped in my family room, and on any given evening they are all at one’s home or another’s. Their senior trip consisted of a week with one of the families at a cabin on a lake. They’re our shared boys.

Last Saturday night, one of them walked home from a disappointing evening and hung himself at a park a few blocks from my home. His suicide note was a text sent to each of the group and his family at 1AM, and after sending it he turned his phone off. It was a frantic night, first trying to figure out if he was serious, and then trying to find him.

We are frayed lately, confused and angry, numb and despondent, sometimes in dizzying succession. There are no platitudes for this.

I am neither in a position to think deeply, nor to moderate conversation. Besides, while this post is being discussed I will be at the funeral. I am curious, however, about your thoughts regarding the next state of those who take their own lives.

In October 1987 Elder Ballard spoke about suicide with considerable candor.  As Elder Ballard quotes, Elder McConkie had the following to say on the subject:

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.

Elder Ballard goes on to say:

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? Civil law recognizes that there are gradations in this matter—from accidental manslaughter to self-defense to first-degree murder. I feel that the Lord also recognizes 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 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.

When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth.

We learn in the scriptures that the blood of Christ will atone for the sins of men “who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned. (Mosiah 3:11)”

And he quotes Joseph Smith, who comments:

While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard. … He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. … We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right. (TPJS, 218)

This is one of my favorite quotes of the prophet. These observations give me great peace. I have noticed changes in the spirit that emanates from my father the couple of times he has visited me since his death, changes that indicate a refinement of his views. While I understand the importance of doing our work of overcoming here, I believe that significant alterations are inevitable once we pass the veil that separates life here and life after. Hugh Nibley’s youthful experience during an appendectomy forever changed him, not only assuring him of an afterlife, but that it was a fast-learning environment (A Consecrated Life, Boyd J. Peterson, p.115-116). His affirmation that the work of this life was less learning and more repenting and forgiving has changed me. I can see an end to the cycling mania of the last few days.

So, now I invite your thoughts.

  • What do you think happens when we die?
  • How do you think it differs for those who complete suicide?
  • What experiences with death have influenced your outlook on either life or death?

(Title Reference John Donne: “No man is an Island, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the SeaEurope is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”)

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