Dear Jean: When Suicide Becomes A Legacy

E.Thomas, 2017

Dear Jean,

Julian of Norwich, in her Showings, wrote “But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’.”

I won’t pretend to understand Julian or her sixteen visions. What troubles me is how she heard the voice of Jesus speaking “It was necessary there should be sin…”

Necessary? How?


Debating the theological implications here is a duel we can set aside for another day. As I stood above Charis’* casket and looked down at her face, I couldn’t accept that Jesus ever thought once that sin was necessary. Charis didn’t need to commit suicide; Charis didn’t need to suffer in a drug-ravaged body; Charis didn’t need to feel so alone; Charis didn’t need to grow up in foster care; Charis didn’t need any of the evil, grief, loss, separation, or pain she endured that left her seeing no other way out but death.

Yet she had it.

“All shall be well, all shall well…all manner of things…”

How can I believe all shall be well when Charis checked out? I don’t want to sound crass, but I need to be honest. Three months ago, Charis’ little sister committed suicide. Two days after Charis died, her boyfriend — in his own grief — overdosed on pills before he went to bed. His mother found him dead in the morning.

As I looked down on Charis, I was reminded once again that she wasn’t facing suicide alone. She was living each day with the weight of intergenerational trauma forged hot and long in the forges of colonization, residential schools, a foster care system based on white superiority, and a systemic lack of resources.

Sure, she was cared for.

Sure, she was cared about.

Sure, maybe every single person in her immediate circle genuinely loved her and didn’t want anything bad to happen to her. Perhaps. Yet I can’t help but wonder why all of this tragedy was necessary.

To teach us?

To show us something?

If so, the Universe is a terrible Mother who demands the lives of the most vulnerable in order to expose evil. She’s as manipulative and terrifying as any patriarchal God who demands sacrifice in exchange for love. Charis’ life was far too precious to be used to bring others to some kind of repentance. If repentance there was, I am grateful. But I pray that any transformation grew out of the trauma, rather than the trauma being created to promote transformation. I pray that Charis was not somehow chosen especially to bear the weight of indigenous racism, or poverty, or drugs to eek out her last moments alone only to illuminate those of us still stumbling about in the dark.

That’s not love.

That’s chess. It’s a pawn’s move. And it’s terrible.

Charis was and is worth far more than that. I wonder if Julian of Norwich was trying to reconcile the very same things? I wonder if she saw the devastation around her and was trying to put into halting, imperfect words the horrible things she bore witness to, and then find some peace in the assurance of Jesus.

I wonder.

Every suicide is a tragedy. It brings a special kind of Grief unlike any other. And this Grief has a special life of its own, unlike any other. This Grief will live its life through us in its own ways, use us, toss us around, shock us, and hurt us. There is no getting around this Grief. Its life is its own. And it will live its life until it dies. Even then, scars will remain. Evidence of Grief’s life well lived.


This suicide is far more complicated. Charis’ death exposes a legacy of suicide. Indigenous communities are no strangers to such legacies. When great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, and lovers all have walked towards the final embrace of death willingly, it becomes a way of being. It becomes a friend. It becomes the only way. It is an unacceptable but accepted burden.

The truth is, it is not the only way. The courage many indigenous youth muster up each day to choose life is an unrecognized sung force of power in this universe. Singing, drumming, dancing, and willing their ways into a world hostile to their realities, they step to the rhythm of the world and carry on.

Why couldn’t that step continue on for Charis? I have no answers. Only questions.

All I know is: she stepped into the legacy that she knew. And this legacy has been one passed down from generation to generation since the colonizers first stepped on these lands. I helped create this legacy. And I accept that reality.

What I will not accept is the notion that this awfulness HAD to happen for whatever reason. No reason can justify the depth of darkness of a young person who, unable to reach back to Love Itself, takes her own life. It is chaos. Utter chaos. Sometimes I have to live with the chaos of my confusion, rather than pin life into a platitude.

Instead, I will remember Charis as she was; our times together; her thoughtful questions she posed; and the vibrancy with which she asked those questions. The universe held so much secret and possibility for her, and she ached to seek out all of this and more. This is the Charis that I’ll remember. This is the Charis that breaks the legacy of suicide.

This is the Charis that says “…and all manner of things shall be well.”

Until next time,


*name changed


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