First Person

Grieving my daughter’s suicide in a time of wider grief

My years of experience as an undertaker didn’t make it easier.

“Blessed are those who mourn,” says Jesus, “for they shall be comforted.” To which Donald Trump, the boon of latter-day Good Newsers, appends, “People are dying.” Then, drawing from the dry socket of his humanity, “It is what it is.” The sacred and the simpleton are thus aligned among Christian triumphalists. One man’s beatitude is another’s balderdash.

Here in the autumn of an abysmal year we are wondering what to make of more than a million deaths worldwide, going toward a quarter of them here in the United States, from a pestilence that threatens to overwhelm our mainline theologies, our bodies politic and intimate, the customary emotional registers of grief. Likewise, we had a summer of racial injustice and the outrage and reckoning that proceed from a long-neglected account marching toward amends. In one dire week we had hellfire and high water—a conflagration that destroyed people and property from California to Washing­ton and hurricanes that flooded the Gulf Coast with deaths and devastations.

In early July my long lost and cruelly afflicted daughter leapt to her death from a bridge in California, adding a deeply personal desolation to the general bereavement. Over a holiday weekend her lifeless body lay without identity in a county morgue—“Jane Doe #102” they named and numbered her—until the medical examiners traced her back to a family of origin in southeast Michigan. She had estranged herself from us all for 15 years, beset, we supposed, by depression and mental illness, as the tightening spiral of schizophrenia made her more and more separate in her helplessness and ours.