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How Do I Come to Terms With Suicide?

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Dear Junie – I recently lost a very good friend to suicide. As well as the shock of my friend being gone, the crazy thing is, I never knew she was in such despair and I don’t know how to come to terms with it. 

I go from being thoroughly pissed off – which I know I shouldn’t  be – to deep sadness and guilt.  I can’t even cry! I feel like I am falling into my own depression – thinking I should have known. Thinking I could have done something. Maybe there were signs I just wasn’t picking up on. Can you please help me? 

David

 

Dear David,

Firstly, I send my deepest condolences to you.  I can imagine how painful this is for you. It is not easy to come to terms with the fact that a loved one has taken their life. It unravels us and we feel helpless. There is nothing we can do any more and we wish that somehow we could have prevented it.

I am taken by the serendipity of your question. Just a few weeks ago, there was a loss of a man in my community to suicide.  His name was Robby Holly. He wasn’t a good friend of mine, but I saw him at social gatherings quite often.  Like you, his closest friends did not know he was in such despair either.  I wrote about it quite extensively in my blog on July 24th and addressed much of what you asked me; The Price We Pay For Wearing A Mask

But I will answer you directly right here.

Number one – please do your best not to feel guilty. The sad truth is that countless people who take their lives are people you would never suspect would because they seem no different than they usually are.

Sometimes they play down events that have hurt them dramatically –they are in denial even to themselves. Or they are too proud to talk about it because they want to appear stronger than they are. Or, even if they are feeling down and show that – they often hide the severity of it. They don’t tell you that they have been thinking about taking their life and are making a plan to carry it out.

Alarmingly, this happens even when that person has good friends and a loving family, a good job or career or are excelling in school.

Unfortunately, these outside factors do not necessarily take away the inner torment that they experience.  Once suicidal ideation kicks in, hopelessness often accompanies it.

And sometimes we are aware of how depressed our loved one is but they just won’t let us in no matter how hard we try. They say they are fine or they don’t need any help and our attempts are rejected.

They may even display anger and hostility which is frightening and confusing. We may not want to be around them because of it and then feel guilty afterward.  They are not angry at us –yet it is hard not to take it personally. They are projecting out their deep despair in this way because they do not know how to let your love in.

Statistics show that 90% of people who take their own lives have an underlying mental disorder at the time of their death (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, see link below).  Many times, that disorder was never identified.  These disorders can cause terrible suffering. They can affect a person’s ability to think clearly and to make decisions. They can interfere with seeking help, continuing treatment, or taking prescribed medicines.

As for yourself, there is no set rhythm or timeline for healing. Do not feel you have to be “over it” faster than it takes. Grief comes in waves and in many forms. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.  As well, it will make it easier if you contact a friend or family member who is also grieving your friend’s suicide. Share your feelings and know you are not alone.

Here is an exercise that will allow you to feel, express and release some of the pain that you are feeling and catalyze your healing process. Below I recount an example of how this exercise helped heal an entire family.

Powerful writing exercise to help heal the pain from the death of a loved one

Write a letter to your friend and tell her everything that you wished you could have told her. State how sad, angry, confused, alone, shocked, responsible, angry, abandoned, ashamed, guilty, or even relieved you are. Don’t worry; it is normal to have some, all, or none of these feelings as you cope with suicide loss.

Express the pain you are in because she ended her life. Tell her you miss her. Tell her how you wish she would have told you the truth.   Release it all onto the pages.  Don’t hold back. Then share this letter with a loved one.

Three years ago I met a young woman at a retreat in California. She shared with me that her brother committed suicide earlier that year and as she did, she started to sob. I held her as she poured out her deep grief. She told me it was the first time she cried about it. She also said no-one in her family ever mentioned it, even her mother who was a psychotherapist.

I suggested she write her brother a letter and that she invite her family to do the same. Afterwards, they could share their letters with one another. Approximately one month later she emailed me to tell me she did it. They all wrote letters and met on Skype to share them with each other. Individually they read their letters, they wept and they grew closer because of it.  She shared how powerful that experience was – that it united her family.  She also got permission to share the email from her mother who wrote to her afterward thanking her for initiating that experience.  She was finally able to release the guilt and shame she had been holding onto for months.

David, I wish you strength and courage as you travel through your grieving and your healing.

The following are excellent resources for navigating this serious topic:

1.  Healing guide for surviving a suicide loss (downloadable).

2. Understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, and advocacy

3. An interview I gave about the masks we wear and the price we pay for wearing them.

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