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Today is Father’s Day, a day to honor fathers everywhere. Imperfect as they may be, they helped make us who we are. Even if you never knew your father, he left his imprint on you.

I’d like to tell you about my Dad. His enthusiasm, sense of humor and personal magnetism charmed everyone he encountered. He didn’t let work get in the way of his family life, and he encouraged an appreciation of literature, music, dance, theatre, museums, art and fine food. He understood my desire for travel and adventure, and he encouraged me to make my own discoveries. He had a loving 50-year marriage with my mother, even helping to nurse her during the final years of a terrible illness (ALS). Then, one unfathomable day, shortly after his 75th birthday, he put on comfortable clothes, carried photographs and a book of Jewish prayers to his car, drove to a quiet parking lot, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

I will never forget the horror of the long-distance telephone call telling me about his suicide.  Anyone who has been through a similar situation knows how life divides into two parts at that moment:  Before the suicide and after the suicide. For several years unanswerable questions and my own guesses plagued me. Yet none of my guesses can ever be confirmed, and the truth will never be known.

Only God can judge another soul. As individuals, we are not in a position to truly know the spiritual condition of another person nor are we informed of the effort they are making to fight their spiritual battles. – The Universal House of Justice, August 28, 1991.

Leonard and Dora Lasky, 1944

Leonard and Dora Lasky, 1944

Though my father had maintained his affiliation with the Jewish community, he was attracted to the Baha’i teachings. He often asked me questions, including what Baha’u’llah taught about life after death and the nature of the soul. He may have known that the Baha’i Faith prohibits suicide, although we never had a conversation about it.

After he killed himself, hundreds of people tried to find a way to accept that a man so loved, admired and respected could chose to end his own life. He had never offered a hint, even during his final months when (we later learned) he had methodically prepared for his suicide. He left us wondering what we missed, what we might be missing in others, what we may even be missing in ourselves.

My father ended his life fifteen years ago, and I am no longer haunted by questions and distressing images. But even before I had moved beyond the initial shock and grief, I resolved never to be ashamed of my father. He had his reasons, mysterious as they may be to me, so I try to honor his memory and celebrate his life.

Fairly early in my grieving process, I felt I needed to find a way to forgive him for the great pain he caused his loved ones and friends. Eventually though, not knowing either his inner state or how he planned the timing and the means of his death, I realized that I could ask God to forgive him for taking his own life:

Therefore children, in return for this care and trouble, must show forth charity and beneficence, and must implore pardon and forgiveness for their parents. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 329.

As a Baha’i I know that deeds and prayers in this world can help souls in the next world. The Baha’i teachings say that good works performed in the names of those who have passed on can assist their progress in the next life. Baha’is believe that by consecrating your services to your fellow human beings to the memory of departed loved ones, your actions can rejoice them in the worlds beyond.

To do that, I founded a non-profit charity with the mission of organizing suicide awareness and fundraising events. I talk with others about suicide, no longer afraid of what many people might consider an awkward conversation. I have worked with the Canadian Mental Health Association and a nearby City Council to discuss services for at-risk populations. I have also served as a “living book” at a University library, offering assistance to students seeking perspective on their own troubles.

Both of my parents were imperfect and flawed, like all humans. They were also kind and decent people with good intentions. Neither of them had an idyllic life or an easy death. Yet, through their love for each other, I have been given the gift of my own life.

15 Comments

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  • Wolf Crystal
    Aug 01, 2019
    Not Baha'i, but struggle with depression myself. Found your writing helpful.
  • Matthew Light
    Mar 23, 2018
    Hi Jayellayna. I greatly appreciate you sharing this story. I think talking about suicide helps us as a society to start doing the things required to reduce the far-too-high suicide rate. I lost one of my brothers to suicide and I also have in recent years been volunteering to help other families not go through what our families have experienced.
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Mar 23, 2018
      Thank you for this comment, Matthew. I am sorry you have had your own experience with the suicide of a loved one - but the truth is that it is sadly common. Wishing you well as your continue your service in memory and honour of those individuals.
  • Jun 30, 2016
    O Jaellayna! Your story has moved me to tears! I remember a time when my own father contemplated taking his life. He didn't want anyone to have to "clean up the mess", so he drove himself to the grounds of a hospital, and was going to do it there, thinking that they at least were used to blood and guts. Fortunately he came to his senses and went into rehab instead, and was clean and sober for the rest of his life. I have a lot of respect for his struggle and his choice, and ...his sobriety.
    When a friend of mine killed herself, I wrote this article, based on the Baha'i Writings, to help me make sense of it. Maybe it would help your readers too: http://susangammage.com/suicide-a-bahai-perspective
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    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Jun 30, 2016
      Thank you for sharing your own experiences and thoughts, Susan.
  • Jun 20, 2016
    Thank you dear Jaellayna for this most touching story. It seems that suicide is touching more and more families today. My cousin, who was raised in my house for many years and was more like a brother to me committed suicide. It was devastating to the entire family because he was so loved. I love where Abdu'l-Baha talks about certain souls who are just too fragile for this world and it's many tests and consequently take their own lives. We know of course that this isn't condoned in our Faith, but it's also a comfort ...to know that those folks who do take their own life aren't condemned to eternal hell-fire, as taught in other religions, but are immersed in God's love and mercy. I think of the great Nabil, author of the DawnBreakers, and his complete heart-break over the Ascension of Baha'u'llah. His grief was so overwhelming that he drown himself in the sea. He surely was immersed in God's love and forgiveness. Prayers for your Dad and for you dear-heart. Allah'u'Abha!
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    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Jun 21, 2016
      William: You are right about how common suicide is - throughout the world. And perhaps most sadly, it is one of the leading causes of death among university students. The reasons are complex, of course.
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Jun 20, 2016
      Thank you for the kind thoughts, Liz.
  • Janice Odell
    Jun 19, 2016
    I admire and greatly respect how this author has grappled with her father's suicide. She goes beyond working through her pain. She has made a sincere effort to seek the most honorable steps she can take in the spiritual responsibility she has embraced. She acknowledges the mystery and respects the reasons for her father's choice. While asking God's forgiveness and commending the great and cherished person that her father was, this author has shown us the earnest endeavor every Baha'i is called upon to make on the path of learning. She also goes beyond delivering words to performing deeds.
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Jun 19, 2016
      Janice, thank you so much for your comments. I get a sense that you recognize this is an on-going journey - indeed it is.
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Jun 19, 2016
      Thank you for this comment, Patricia. I feel so fortunate to share these ideas with you and others.
  • Michele de Valk
    Jun 19, 2016
    thank you for writing your story. In my family, 5 years ago, I became a mother figure/step-mother to my husband's only daughter. Her mother had died when she was 8, due to suicide. She is now 17 years old, and I can see her regularly in conflict over how her Mother has passed. So, your story hit home for me, and I hope to use it to talk to my sweet daughter to help her grieve the loss of her mother.
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Jun 19, 2016
      Dear Michele.
      Your willingness to talk with your step-daughter about this is one of the greatest gifts you can give here. Blessings to you BOTH.