Editor’s Note: This is a revised version of a column that ran on SpokaneFāVS in 2014.
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By Emily Geddes
Do Mormons believe that people who commit suicide will go to hell? Are there special arrangements made for the burial of a suicide?
When I was in college in Provo, Utah, my grandfather lived in Smithfield, just a couple of hours north. Two or three times a semester my cousins and I would drive up to visit him for a long weekend, reveling in the childhood memories in that magical backyard, exploring the time capsule that was his basement, and enjoying the break from the stress of classes. We’d do little jobs around the house to be helpful – one weekend we completely reroofed his garage – but really, I just wanted to spend time with him. By this point in his life he was homebound with limited mobility, so he’d sit in his big blue easy chair in the corner of the living room, dutifully complete his physical therapy exercises, and watch nature shows on TV. He was not a man of many words, but he would comment on the weather, the TV show, ask me how college was. He always kept a steady supply of M&Ms on hand, just for me, because he knew I had a weakness for chocolate.
During the summer break after my sophomore year, he was tentatively diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He had suffered with several physical ailments, including Parkinson’s disease, for years and had recently begun having terrifying seizures. My grandmother, the love of his life, had died two years earlier. He was lonely, afraid, in pain, and tired.
Within a couple weeks of the diagnosis, he died by suicide.
Many religions have held a stigma regarding suicide and, unfortunately, mental illness in general. Decades ago, suicide was viewed differently by society at large, and those who died by suicide were sometimes not allowed to have funerals in LDS chapels. Today there is a much more compassionate understanding of the mental and emotional turmoil that would lead someone to take his or her own life and there are no restrictions on funerals for those died this way being held in LDS chapels nor are there any other arrangements that would set them apart from other funerals.
Latter-day Saints believe in a loving and merciful Father in Heaven. We don’t believe that God judges His children on the basis of a single action. He looks at the totality of their lives, what they did, who they became, the advantages and disadvantages they had in life, and every extenuating circumstance with all the infinite compassion, love, and wisdom He has. Judgment is God’s alone, of course, but Latter-day Saints do not believe that those who commit suicide are condemned to hell.
On a personal note, I simply don’t believe in a punitive, vindictive God that would eternally punish my grandfather for feeling so despondent and hopeless that suicide seemed to be the best option. The God I believe in would weep for His child’s pain and encircle him in the arms of His eternal love.
(If you’d like to read more, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote this article several years ago addressing questions about suicide.)