When it Comes To Suicide My Mind is On The Living

When It Comes To Suicide My Mind Is On The Living

When I hear about a suicide all of the air leaves the room and I am transported back in time to the moment we discovered my father had killed himself. I remember how all of my senses became more acute. The air felt like it had weight and moving took a lot of effort because it was like walking through water. I see my mother screaming and stomping her feet and I remember feeling very calm and very together because I had to be there for my mom as she collapsed in shock and grief. I briefly relive these moments and feel the same feelings flood through my body whenever I hear about another suicide. It is painful and jarring, but as the years go by it doesn’t surprise me anymore or leave me devastated for days like it did the first few years after my father’s death.

As soon as the process of reliving these first moments has passed I immediately think of the people who are going through this experience for the first time. Finding out a loved one has ended their own life is a shock to your body. Suicide is something that can affect the friends and family of the deceased for years to come. There are questions without answers, sadness, anger, and many levels of frustration to be endured. There is also more guilt than I can clearly articulate. All of these feelings are mixed with grief. It’s a very difficult process to get through.

When It Comes To Suicide My Mind Is On The Living
My dad and I.

When I first heard about Robin Williams’ death yesterday, and the probability of suicide, I thought about how even the people who seemingly have everything still cannot get the help they need. I am sure Robin Williams had access to the best mental healthcare available and yet our system obviously failed him in some way. I thought about how the media would run with this story and explain all of the ways our healthcare system is not adequately set up to deal with mental health issues. I knew all of the smart, passionate bloggers out there would be writing about how to improve our mental health system, eliminate stigmas, and how we should be focused on creating better interventions.

All of the discussions about preventing suicide are important and true, but my mind always wanders back to the living. I guess because that is my experience. I have lived through a loved one committing suicide. I have endured and witnessed suffering of epic proportions. I’ve watched my family fracture. I’ve seen the mess suicide leaves in its wake. I’ve witnessed the financial hardship and emotional devastation it causes. Suicide breaks you. You spend years putting the pieces of your soul back together.

I think living through a suicide is hard because somehow it seems like it could have been prevented. It should have been prevented, but you messed up. You didn’t come through. You failed in the biggest way you could possibly fail. There were things you could have said and done differently. All of the suicide prevention literature says so and you believe it. You take on the responsibility for your loved ones death and in some ways you feel like you caused it. You didn’t stop it. You didn’t say or do the right thing. That messes with you for years to come, if not for the rest of your lifetime.

Eventually you surrender. You just have to live with the scars and the pain and the guilt. As the years pass your perspective changes wildly and you go through the stages of grief multiple times and not in the order they are presented. As soon as you think you have made your peace with all of it something new creeps up on you and you have to work your way through it all over again.

You discuss the whole confusing affair with your family. People blame each other directly and indirectly. People disagree about what really happened and about what should have been done. None of it really matters because in the end your loved one is still dead. You are all still heart-broken. You just have to live with all of it and make the best of the broken pieces of your life. You can choose to feel resentment towards the other living members of your family, but that is really just a distraction from the guilt you feel because ultimately, they are no more to blame than you are. Why didn’t you stop this from happening?

You will try to understand your deceased loved ones frame of mind when they came to the conclusion that death was the best option. You will feel compassion and empathy for them. You will imagine how much pain, how much anguish, and how hopeless they must have felt. You will forgive them and cry for them. You will feel sad about what they experienced and the journey they were on.

Sometimes, when you are feeling philosophical you will think they were brave to choose death because death is scary and unknown. You will imagine them as a warrior making a big sacrifice to get to a better world. Other times you will think they were incredibly selfish and cowardly. That they threw everything away because they were afraid to face something that wasn’t as hard as they believed. You will feel guilty for thinking this way and wonder when you became so cruel or so romantic.

Because you are on an emotional roller coaster you will also feel sorry for yourself some days and wonder, “How could they do this to me? Why didn’t they love me enough to choose life?” You will wonder why your love didn’t overpower all of the bad stuff or why you weren’t enough to make them want to keep on living despite all of the pain. You will curse at them for leaving you in financial ruin or without anyone to help you repair the plumbing when your toilet starts leaking. You will look at your newborn daughter and know that her grandpa will never get to see her and you feel sad for what both of them are missing out on. You will cry for your own losses as much as you cry for theirs. You will feel more alone than you have ever felt even when you are surrounded by the people you love and care about most.

There will also be days when you will only remember the good times. You may even idealize your loved one. You may only want to hear all of the good things about them. Other days you will see them in all of their humanity and you will laugh about their quirks and imperfections. You will love them with all of your heart and wonder why you felt so angry before.

Life after suicide is complicated. It is exhausting. You spend so much time analyzing behaviors and tying to pinpoint the exact moment things started going wrong. You want to prevent this from happening to anyone ever again. You try to learn the right things to say and do when you hear someone hinting at how sad and hopeless they feel because you don’t want to make the same mistakes again. You find yourself monitoring the emotions of others and have the suicide prevention hotline number memorized.

Except, deep down, you know that you don’t really have that much power. You know suicide can’t always be prevented. You know that despite saying or doing all of the “right” things it could still happen. You know you could read the signs the wrong way again. You know the system can fail you because it has happened before. You know that if someone like Robin Williams can’t get the help they need the person you are worried about might not be able to get it either.

You know that the worst things you can imagine can and do happen. This knowledge changes you forever. It colors every decision you make from now on.

So, while everyone is speculating about Robin Williams, and the media goes into a frenzy over who or what to blame, my thoughts are with the living. I know their sorrow and what their future holds. My heart is breaking for them. I am so sorry that they have to go through this. It’s painful and unfair and changes everything you thought you knew about yourself and your life. I hope and pray that they have a lot of love and support to help them get through this in the best way possible. That they will have at least one person that loves them through all of it despite the emotional roller coaster, the perspective shifts, and the anger and frustration. We all need one person that will let us voice our feelings without taking offense or thinking we are just crazy because one minute we are angry and the next we are sappy.

If you know someone, one of the living enduring a suicide, please be that person for them. It makes all of the difference and makes healing our broken hearts a much faster process. We need a safe place to express what we are going through. Be that friend to someone. Please. It may be the most important act of friendship you ever do.


22 thoughts on “When It Comes To Suicide My Mind Is On The Living”

  1. My heart goes out to you in the loss of your father. I think that your writing touched me more deeply today than just about anything I’ve ever read. I lost my brother to suicide, and for a long time I felt as if I was the only person who relived that horror every single time a person chose to end their life. There is no other pain like that a suicide brings, and like you I grieve for families who are forced into this unfortunate club. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and words. I wish you peace and love.

    1. When I was at my father’s funeral several people came up to tell me about their experience with suicide. It was too new for me to fully process or understand why they were telling me these stories, but now that time has passed I understand why. It is a very lonely experience and it seems like people in this horrible club are the only people who understand how much suicide affects those left behind. When I was in grad school I realized that I was experiencing symptoms associated with PTSD because of my father’s death. Suicide has a profound affect on us which I know you are well aware of. Thank you for commenting and I am so sorry about your brother. It’s so heart breaking. I wish you peace and love too.

    1. Sometimes it feels like it is getting easier and then we are right back where we started, doesn’t it? I know having to see so many people talk about suicide, often in soundbites and in uninformed ways, has been a little hard for me over the past few days. I hope you are doing OK.

    1. Thank you for reading it, Andrea. I feel like people sometimes forget that suicide affects those still living for years to come. It can be a lonely experience to go through. I keep hoping my story will make other people feel less alone in their ongoing suffering and often confusing and conflicting emotions.

  2. I am so very sorry you went through this. Coming from a family that has faced suicide in recent years, I am still in the angry realm, which is why I have a hard time feeling compassion for those who end their pain but leave a lifetime of agony for everyone else. One day, I hope to choose forgiveness, but still not there. Thank you for your honest and heartbreaking piece..love you!

    1. It’s been almost a decade and I still find myself in the angry stage frequently. I am trying to stay out of the discussions about it being selfish or a choice because deep down I still believe it is pretty selfish and a choice, but I guess that is all a matter of perspective or possibly just a stage of grief I will never get out of completely. I stopped reading the blog posts people were writing because they were irritating me. I think people try to make it more simple than it is and while they are trying to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness they are also painting the people left behind, going through these feelings and cleaning up the messes, as monsters. That might be a dramatic word, but it’s just how I feel right now. I am sure I am overly sensitive about it so I am trying to stay out of all of the discussions and rants going on online, but it’s hard to avoid!

      I am sorry your family went through this too. I am also hoping to get to a place where I can choose forgiveness. It’s hard though when you continue to see the suffering and problems it has caused for the people you love.

  3. My aunt, with whom I was very close, also committed suicide, and I relate to how exhausting and hopeless it was trying to analyze why she did it and what we could have done to help her and to prevent it. You’re right; it is exhausting!
    A big hug to you, Lillian! Thank you for sharing your story here.

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your Aunt. Thank you for sharing your experience too. I am always surprised to discover how many people have had a loved one do this. It seems like a rare occurrence until people start talking about it. Hugs to you too.

  4. Beautifully explained and heartfully written…I agree with your conclusion that even in saying or doing all of the “right” things, it could still happen. I don’t for a second think your father would want you to feel guilt about that, but being an overthinker myself, it’s impossible to avoid wading through the “what ifs.” I know your words will help survivors realize that the feelings they experience are normal.

    1. Thank you, Nancy. I wish I wasn’t such an overthinker sometimes and I know you are right about the guilt. Sometimes I do better with letting go of the guilt than others. I am sure my dad wouldn’t want me to feel bad or guilty about it. Maybe one day I won’t! I have hope.

  5. I read this post when you first wrote it and failed to comment at the time because I was in a rush and didn’t want to be hasty. So here I am eons later finally circling back to say I’m so sorry you experienced this. Your post really captures the complex emotions involved. I know the wounds never fully heal, but I hope you have had lots of love and support over the years. I agree with others that your story can help others and you are brave to share it! Hugs.

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