As I wrote in the last post, I’ve noticed six aspects, from my experience, that make surviving the suicide of a close loved one a wholly unique grief process, different from other kinds of losses. Those 6 aspects are 1. terrifying, mind-blowing shock. 2. darkness. 3. confusion. 4. guilt. 5. loneliness, isolation, alienation (disconnection from the norm and from peers). 6. Suicide temptations.
We covered the first three in the last post. We are going to explore the fourth aspect of suicide grief, the big one— GUILT.
4. Guilt:The guilt we experience in the wake of a suicide of a loved one feels like a 100 pound boulder suffocating and clamoring down on our chest. The instant we hear of our loved one’s act, our minds snap to thousands of thoughts about what we could have done to save him/her. without a seconds hesitation, we take our loved one’s choice onto our own shoulders. “Why didn’t I do this…?” “I should have done that….” “If only I had done…..” or “If only I hadn’t done….” The inner wrestling begins immediately. Everything somehow becomes our fault. The “if onlys” can go on forever, haunting us and torturing our waking and sleeping realities. We can play out the last weeks of our loved one’s lives over and over again and each time revise and tweak something we remember having said or done that maybe, quite possibly, if done differently, could have reversed their fate, and reversed our own. This mental editing is torture. In some ways it is a form of bargaining. It’s a way of blaming ourselves, taking over-responsibility for another’s fatal choice, and it reinforces a lack of self-forgiveness, over and over again. It also subtly tells us that we are somehow more than human; that somehow we could have played god, had more control over another than in fact we had, and super-imposed our version of what we think should have happened for another person’s destiny or soul’s purpose onto their life.
We are merely human: It’s a stark and sobering lesson to unpack, and may come with time (certainly not in the early weeks after a suicide). We do not have the power to save another in such a way; our hands are tied.
Yet the guilt can fester indefinitely. It can eat us up alive; casting a shadow on our own sense of worthiness. Unfortunately, this a “normal” and common after-effect of survinving suicide. We all feel this in some ways after the suicide of our loved one. There are many lessons to learn in resolving our sense of helplessness and guilt over the deadly choices of another. Like with an alcoholic family member; everyone around him takes responsibility for his drinking, except him. So too with suicide. It’s a hard truth to see for a long time, but the one who took his own life is the one responsible for his choice. No one else.
I wish you the eyes to see this truth and the surrendering of any anger and self-hatred at the things you innocently did or said, or didn’t do or say in the weeks that led to your loved one’s departure. May your heart be filled with kindness for yourself and for all you’ve had to endure.