"On Tuesday morning (March 10), Neil (Mick) McMurry left this world on his own terms.” With those words and with their own hearts broken, Mick’s family’s announcement broke Wyoming’s heart.
As stunning as his death, the manner in which he died was more so. It’s near impossible for anyone who knew Mick to imagine this gentle, loving man ending his life with what the coroner deemed “a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
I knew Mick but not nearly so well as hundreds of others who were much closer to him for much longer. I’ll leave the tributes to people like Bill Schilling. Bill is the president of the Wyoming Business Alliance. He and Mick worked together on countless civic projects. Bill has written of Mick’s lifetime achievements, how Mick was a man who took great risks, reaped great rewards, and then shared it all on good causes.
Mr. Schilling aptly calls Mick and his wife Susie “the face of charity for Casper and all of Wyoming.”
The McMurry family doesn’t need the rest of us to understand. And seeking to do so, we mustn’t invade their privacy during these dark days. Yet, Wyoming must come to grips with self-inflicted death. Our state often leads the nation in the rate by which our people leave this world on their own terms. Perhaps Mick’s final act of charity is to bring some degree of understanding to suicide.
Death by cancer, heart attacks, car wrecks, or strokes is logical. We easily wrap our minds around those deaths, though we grieve. But death by choice defies logic. Suicide is of the mind or spirit, not the body. Death by disease or accident can be explained to us through medical science. Doctors can examine the remains and tell us exactly what happened and more importantly why.
Suicide is different. There is no scientific explanation to satisfy those who grieve. His family says, “Mick had serious health problems that were greatly impacting his quality of life.” That is, in my view, ample reason. Each of us knows others who only wish they’d made that choice before disease robbed them of the capacity to do so.
The writings of Father Ron Rolheiser open new windows into the way we see suicide. He is a widely read Catholic theologian who has seen the pain and guilt left by the myths which inevitably wash up in the wake of a suicide largely because of cultural expectations and religious views. Rolheiser has written extensively on the spiritual dimensions of self-inflicted death.
He doesn’t accept the supposition that death by suicide is any more voluntary than is death resulting from cancer. Just as cancer is the result of a breakdown of the body’s physical immune system, so suicide is a breakdown of the emotional immune system. Rolheiser says, “A person who falls victim to suicide dies, as does the victim of a terminal illness or fatal accident, not by his or her own choice. When people die from heart attacks, strokes, cancer, AIDS, and accidents, they die against their will.” The same, he argues, is true of self-inflicted deaths.
Father Rolheiser seeks to right a wrong the church committed centuries ago. In the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote, “This we declare and affirm and emphatically accept as true. No man may inflict death upon himself at will merely to escape temporal difficulties.” The doctrine, though without scriptural support, became a hurtful church teaching, damaging to families seeking to understand the deaths of loved ones.
Suicide isn’t sinful. Neither is it cowardly nor “an easy way out.” Those superficial beliefs defy our faithful reliance on a God of grace. Those who are left to grieve are victims of these unfortunate myths.
State and federal governments spend millions trying to prevent suicides. The cause is noble. But, an even more noble effort should be made to help families and communities gain a level of acceptance of the deeply painful and personal reasons that good people make the choice.
RIP Wyoming’s friend!