Celebrant Drew Baxter: do not rush to judge those who take their own lives

editorial image

Nothing saddens me more than conducting funerals for young people and, when I look back over the last few years, I seem to have officiated at far too many.

I recall ceremonies for babies who have died after taking just a few short breaths of air, and equally sad are the ceremonies for those who didn’t even make it that far—those born asleep.

There are young people who are afflicted with illnesses such as melanoma, leukaemia, and meningitis and how sad it is to see their potential for a happy life cut short.

The way in which some meet death by battling for every last drop of life can be inspiring though and sets us all a true example for how we can deal with adversity of this kind.

There are those who have been killed in traffic accidents, or fighting for their country, and those who have been the victim of crime.

I shall always recall the funeral of a little girl, neglected by her family, who died in awful squalor.

Words sometimes cannot come near how we feel when faced with these occasions—but words are all we 
have.

I once conducted a funeral for a young man who had taken his own life; a tragic call for help that had gone a little too far and resulted in his life being lost.

The young man was a very private and proud individual, he was battling some deep personal issues and in the end, for similarly personal reasons, he took the course of action that would lead to his death.

His family were devastated and they are plagued with those awful questions: was there something we could have done or said?

What signs did we miss that this was going to happen?

They will try desperately to answer these unanswerable questions.

Sometimes part of the blame lies in our society and the fact that we will not accept people for who they are.

We judge them and label them lesser than ourselves because what they do with their life is not ‘normal’.

This bigotry and hatred is based in ignorance and may sometimes be stoked by religious intolerance and I find it the most un-Christian aspect of Christianity and likewise the most uncaring and inhuman side of some other world religions.

If one person takes their life because they feel that their life is not valued, then it lessens the value of all of us…

I don’t want to conduct funerals for young people but sometimes circumstances we cannot change make that necessary. It makes me sad and angry that I have to conduct funerals for anyone, of any age, who has taken the choice to end their life because no one understands or accepts them for who they are.