Soul thinking

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer

photo credit Katie Morford Phillips

I rented a car a few weeks ago, and it happened to be one I’d never heard of before–a Kia Soul. It served my purposes, reminded me of candy and I fondly called it the “little green jelly bean.”

I intended to whisk a loved one away for a mountain retreat. Unfortunately, those plans morphed into hospital stays (for him) because illness lingers and interferes and reminds us that life is a terminal condition.

Life is terminal. Do you hate knowing that, sometimes? Or do you prefer not to think about it?

During those two weeks, I had little choice. Unrelated but equally important events brought news of three deaths–two suicides and one medically-assisted.

I’m unsure which is more difficult–anticipating death or being profoundly affected by the unexpectedness of it.

As a Left-Behind, the gut-punching moment my dad said of my nephew, “he did it to himself,” remains fresh. My heart breaks for these families because they now have such a moment too. Even though it’s better now, the simple sound of kids on skateboards can take me back there.

I doubt that will ever change. Some ink is indelible.

For weeks I’ve been comparing these situations.

When the law changed in June, 2016 to allow medically-assisted death, my friend immediately applied. Her reasoning was sound, her desire clear, her long-standing situation unchanging. She prepared her loved ones the best she could. Her family and her faith supported her decision.

How can I not as well? Even so, I miss her, and wish that I hadn’t frittered away the time I was going to go visit her. Going to, but didn’t.

On my desk is a card she painted for me this winter. It’s one of my treasures, and is even more precious now. Her grace note reminds me to offer some to myself.

The second friend was incredibly helpful when my nephew died, because he himself was a Left-Behind. He understood the catastrophic grief we suffer. He’s experienced the unique agony  inflicted on those who are left to make sense of it, to wonder at missed signs, to wrestle unanswerable questions. I know he had an intimate understanding of how the world would change for those who loved him.

It is therefore easy to fault him for what seems a selfish and cowardly decision, but I know–I KNOW–that’s too simplistic. Experiencing what he’d experienced, what hell must he have been in himself?

Today I’m looking at a photo calendar, an unexpected gift he’d made for many of us. I’d rather have him, to be honest. It’s taking effort to leave the calendar in place.

I lean the grace note against it. My hypocrisy mocks even as their art soothes, and it’s going to take some time to find the balance point again. Two painful illnesses, two intensely different types of pain, two people saying goodbye in the best ways they knew.

Is it the same? I struggle with this. Do you?

Both gifts get moved to the drawer, out of sight. Out of mind? Not a chance.

One of my wisest friends said, “I wonder if this new acceptance of how fragile people are mentally and emotionally means people feel somehow more empowered to make hard decisions. I wonder if openly acknowledging pain makes it too much to bear.

I wonder if the open acknowledgement means they can set down their burden, or perhaps like when we bought our car, we hadn’t seen them at all, but once we owned one, we saw them everywhere.

Clearly I don’t know. I just know that either suicide is becoming a more frequent choice, or I’m able to see and hear about it now in a different, more frequent way.”

Her comment about the car has me thinking about the little green jelly bean. I’d never paid attention to them before, but after renting one I’m noticing that Kia Souls are everywhere.

Human souls are too.

They need both nourishment and nurturing and we cannot lose sight of that, no matter what else is going on in the world.

Somehow we forget to hope more, and get caught in the mire of the hopeless. More than ever, we need to make the choices our souls can live with.

Live with–that’s the tricky part, for everyone’s sake.

“What you’re after is truth from the inside out…

Create a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.”

from Psalm 51 (MSG)

6 thoughts on “Soul thinking

  1. Crystal, this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. We have been touched by suicide with the deaths of friends of our kids. One was in high school and the other college. It is heart breaking and has to be dealt with. Really nice post.

  2. This makes me thoughtful indeed. As someone who lives with disability – a disability I’ve been told several times would make others want to kill themselves – I can’t imagine how much pain someone must feel in their soul to contemplate taking their life. I struggle to feel compassion for those who feel that is the best way forward as I battle to continue to live each day with as much gusto as possible. If I, a person who continually hear strangers tell me “If I were in your position, I’d kill myself” can continue to fight for life, how bad is it for them that they cannot? Thank you for making me contemplate something different today.

    1. Gusto on!

      We all have a terminal diagnosis. Carpe the freakin’ diem.

      I salute you.

  3. In a way, it’s like honoring the living will- the No Resuscitation clause–and living with the loss. My mom is forever gone. I miss her terribly. What would it have been like if I had imposed my will over hers? When we chose, we had no physical proof of her choice but we knew the quality of the life Mom would have. It’s a tough question and maybe similar to what your are contemplating. Saying goodbye is difficult in any circumstance. I have those same regrets and lived with Mom. I always intended to, but never did…precious moments passed by. Was I a dutiful daughter? To the world, perhaps. But in my heart of hearts I knew I let my mother down by not sitting down enough to pass those non-moments with her. It haunts me. I have to search for the grace. What a wonderful. metaphor you’ve created with the KIA SOUL and the human soul. But I do struggle with knowing how to move forward without settling on some kind of selfishness and for now it feels like it will be for the rest of my life.

  4. I often think of a doctor I had several years ago who knew what to do when I was so low I would have taken my own life. She came in and provided radical care. I don’t know what the answer is for others, but I pray to be the person who can make the difference in someone’s life. In my case, I would have missed so much! I respect the right-to-die movement, and honour each person’s choice, but still feel sorry when it happens. A thoughtful post, Crystal. Thank you.

  5. Thanks for the well-written post on such a sensitive topic. I don’t know if I hate knowing life is terminal but I do know that I don’t like to think about life ending for those I love or loved ones of friends. In a world filled with senseless death and destruction, I tend to think knowing life is terminal and we are here for a short time makes me want to live it to the fullest with those closest to me. As always your writing is such a gift. Thanks for sharing. Via

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