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On Suicide: Love is Real. Please Stay.

By Dr. Douglas Groothuis, published in Philosophy Now, December 2016/January 2017

To be or not to be? Let me try to answer the question by recounting a harrowing episode from three years ago.

Facebook is a strange place to try to talk someone out of suicide. But through an instant message, I checked in with a young friend who I knew outside of Facebook. She was not doing well and threatened to end her life. I am a philosopher, not a counselor, so I was not trained for this. Nevertheless, I had to keep typing.

I told Nancy (not her name) that she needed to stay in the world, that her presence, no matter how miserable for her, was nevertheless good and significant. I asked her to remember her place in the hearts of her family and friends. I added that her life might get better unexpectedly. I gave her links to articles that might awaken her desire to live. (All the while, I was frantically Facebooking to try to get through to her family.) I had a significant problem, though: Nancy is an atheist, who thinks that life has no objective meaning. But I did not counsel her to commit suicide if that was her desire since everything is meaningless anyway, neither did I invoke Camus’ response to suicide, since I find these worldviews unconvincing. But since even nihilists cannot escape the truth that some things have meaning to some people, I tried to remind her of value outside of her own suffering. Ultimately, and however clichéd it sounds, that value, that meaning, is love. Love could hold her back and lead her on. I also implored her as a loving friend.

Nancy did not try to die that night. I had gotten through to her mother, who lived locally and she rushed to Nancy’s apartment. Perhaps I stalled her long enough to make that possible. Sadly, Nancy did attempt to take her own life twice not long after. She failed both times. I visited her in the psychiatric ward, because she asked to see me. It was a kind-of pastoral visit to an atheist. Our philosophical discussion about God and meaning didn’t get too far during those visits. But why did she call me, a Christian philosopher, to meet her in the aftermath of her darkness? I think it was love. If love is real, suicide is wrong. As I departed, I said, “Love is real, please stay.”

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