Darla Isackson learned about adversity at an early age. She received life-threatening third degree burns as a child and has had health challenges all her life as a result. She served a full-time mission to Southern California, graduated as a valedictorian from Utah State University, married a returned missionary in the temple, gave birth to five healthy sons, and has been a professional writer, editor, and speaker for decades.
For Darla, life didn’t turn out as she planned. Divorce, remarriage, a blended family that didn’t blend well, serious car accidents, 7 preemie grandchildren, and ongoing health challenges were only prelude to her biggest heartbreak: losing a son to depression, alcohol, and drugs, then, to suicide.
In 2001 she became a regular columnist for Meridian Magazine online, and has posted close to 300 articles. In 2009 she released her book titled, Trust God No Matter What! and in 2010, the book called After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On. You can learn more about them on her web site: darlaisackson.com.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also produced a video addressing issues of suicide and ways to approach suicide and prevention (in the viewer below):
Questions addressed in this episode:
Your story is both tragic and triumphant. From what I have read it would be a disservice to try and diminish the tragedy without simultaneously diminishing the triumph over the tragedy. So, as we go forward in discussing the subject, I hope those listening are able to understand that as we approach tragedy and tragic events, that a willingness to feel the depth of these or similar events, opens the door to a full triumph, to healing in the arms of Jesus Christ. So, please introduce us to the context of our discussion today through telling the story of you and your son, Brian.
After recounting the experience of having the police come to your home and inform you of their finding your son having committed suicide, you described what you felt like, and what you considered yourself at that time. It reads, “I am one of the walking wounded; I have often felt like my heart was literally bleeding.” This is a description for an emotion that others may have felt that include some intense pain. You also say that you have experienced other tragedies in your life. But I have to wonder if what you feel isn’t even more intense than the way you have described it.
Let’s set some foundational elements to our discussion today of a very serious subject—one of the most serious that can be discussed. First, what if any, official doctrine is there from the church on the subject of suicide? What sources can look for authoritative information on the subject?
Are there any terms that we need to be made aware of so we can have a more complete discussion on the subject?
Is life a choice?
Suicide is a very complex issue. Mainly because it brings to the surface more questions than answers. What are some of the questions that people might ask, and specifically the ones the mention in your book?
One of the criticisms some have made with the LDS Church is that some of the rules, some of the teachings, contribute to a spiritual or social guilt that in some ways encourages or persuades one to become suicidal. First off, what merit is there if any in such an assertion and second, what then is an answer that you have found through your own experience to such a position?
You talk about the “aching question of sin.” This seems to allude to the looming and ominous question of the eternal condition of the individual’s soul who commits suicide. This seems to be a common question that people have. What comfort have you found, if any, on this question?
There are many reasons or influences to someone committing or even feeling suicidal. Some may say depression or some other mental health reason, some may say selfishness, but the blame game is an almost universal default response. Is this a necessary phase, or something that, while natural, we should seek to avoid?
Unless you have approached the issue yourself, it seems as one of those issues that is un-empathizable (by the way, I tend to make up words like un-empathizable.) Meaning, no matter how much a man tries to empathize with a woman giving birth, it just is not something we can truly appreciate. Similarly, Unless someone has experienced suicide or suicidal feelings, it almost seems as if any attempt to empathize can easily be taken as an insult. If empathy is not the right course (and maybe it is) what then is the right approach that people should take in approaching the issue of suicide or those who are suicidal?
Condemnation type judgement is something that often accompanies or surrounds the discourse of an individual who has committed suicide. That condemnation type judgement can extend to family members. I assume that this is an attempt for people to deal with the pain of the situation by assigning blame and therefore, on some level, reason for such a tragedy. On the one hand, suicide is not encouraged, it is the taking of a mortal life, a role saved for God alone—and anything we try to do to supplant the role of God in our life is to be avoided—especially those that impose our own rules with respect to the starting and ending of mortal life. In consideration of these two paradigms, it seems as if one of the challenges one faces with this issue is trying to find the right balance of emotions. What is the right paradigm, what is the health mindset?
A section of your book that stood out to me as presenting a particularly unique challenge to those who survive the deceased. The section is entitled Understanding and Forgiving the One Who Died. That seems like a profoundly difficult and perhaps an previously unconsidered part of the healing process. What does one have to forgive of those who have committed suicide? Did you see your son’s suicide as some kind of attack on yourself?
As a church and culture, what then is a stable course to follow with regards to the issue of suicide. First, how to address the individual concerns, the individual who is suicidal. Second, how to minister to the family, friends and loved ones.
How has LDS doctrines brought you comfort through, not just this trial, but all the trials you have faced?