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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

For those left behind after a suicide, how does one shed the guilty feelings?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25804 points ) April 18th, 2013

A former lover killed himself two days ago, and I can’t help but think I might have helped more.

If you have been left behind when someone has taken their own life, did you have feelings that you might have done more to prevent it?

Did you feel guilty?

How did you overcome those feelings?

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31 Answers

AshLeigh's avatar

I’m really sorry. I wish there was something I could say, but all I can come up with is that you have to realize that it isn’t your fault.
This is a tragic thing. You are not at fault.
I’m really sorry.

Tina823's avatar

I’m really sorry to hear that. I have ever met the same thing. You should let it go, it is not your fault.

rooeytoo's avatar

A young man I loved like a son committed suicide. I was to have called him just before he disappeared. I had a cold and wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t call. It nearly drove me crazy at first. But then a couple of things happened that helped me. First a shrink told me I am not that important, I shouldn’t think that I could be responsible for the life or death choices of another. The other thing was it came to light that he had purchased the equipment he needed to accomplish the task weeks before he actually made the decision to take his life. That was another indicator that my not calling was a factor. The part that really took me down and stayed with me for a long time was that I thought I was so close to him and I never saw it coming. I spent a fair bit of time with him, how could I not have seen a sign. But I didn’t, neither did his mother and she has never recovered.

I think Jake, it just takes time. And for me, I had to acknowledge that if he was determined, I wasn’t going to change his mind. I didn’t have magic words, I’m just not that important.

I don’t have magic words for you either, I wish I did. Time is the only thing that makes heartache better. A friend gave me a card that said something like, time doesn’t make the event smaller but life gets bigger.

trailsillustrated's avatar

Sometimes, people have a compulsion to do this. It doesn’t have anything to do with real life. I cannot tell you the families that I know that have had a happy, successful and popular (often young) family member hung by his own hand in the shed. The damage is unknowable, the grief is to last for generations. The ones left behind are the ones to bear the weight. My thoughts are with you.

marinelife's avatar

Guilt is a natural feeling in this case, but you must tell yourself that in the end only an individual can be responsible for their own actions.

I am so sorry that this happened to your friend.

snapdragon24's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake, people who take their lives away sometimes just can’t be saved no matter how much we try to help. You have this feeling that you should have been more present for him…but it wouldn’t have been enough… sometimes we just don’t have the strength to carry them… and we shouldn’t, because in the end we are all responsible for ourselves and our happiness. So don’t feel guilty. It’s really not your fault.

zenvelo's avatar

We lost a 15 year old boy just after New Years to suicide. His scout troop and the school and the community are asking that very question. He had a loving supportive family. And we all know that we all did our best to support him and to love him.

None of this was your fault Jake. Think of this: if you had not been in his life, he might have done this long ago. It is not because of you that he did this, but you, even if briefly, gave him a reason to smile.

glacial's avatar

Suicide is a completely selfish act. Sure, you might have done a few things differently, if you had known that he would do this. We all make choices based on the information we have. Your friend didn’t give you the option of choosing to help him. He took away your ability to help. You shouldn’t feel responsible for that. It’s on him.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake It wasn’t your choice, it was their choice. They decided to end the pain they were in, and they made the decision. There was nothing you could do that would have ever changed their mind. Life is good and life is bad. We have to fight through the bad and savior the good. Sometimes people see only the bad and get overwhelmed. The best thing you can do is live on and remember the good times with him.

JLeslie's avatar

I have not been through this, but I know that feeling guilty in this situation is a very common feeling. All I can think is that a way to get past feeling guilty is to realize the person was in a very bad place mentally and physically. Depression to this extreme is not only psychological it affects the body, it is a total experience of pain. I think accepting there was nothing you could have done to change the person’s determination to commit suicide is a way to get past the guilt. I think guilt is part of the bargaining process in grieving, although I have never specifically read that. When someone dies people usually go through a bargaining stage wanting things to be different. As you move to acceptance you will probably find some relief from guilty feelings.

Your ex was an adult. Adults have total understanding of the consequences of their actions.

Also, think about it as if someone was asking you this same question. Whatever comfort you would give them, give to yourself.

rojo's avatar

I don’t know if you ever really get over it. It is something that you just learn to deal with and keep going forward. I think it still dwells back in the recesses of your mind no matter how long it has been. Sorry, I don’t mean to be so, negative? I just know that my DIL lost a brother to suicide 10 years ago and it still brings tears to her eyes. He was also one of my sons best friends. They were on the bus together 30 minutes beforehand. He still feels guilty because he did not see it coming and/or prevent it.

JLeslie's avatar

@rojo I think often that is the case. Most people who were very close to the person never can get past feeling some guilt. I don’t know how close the OP was with her ex?

JLeslie's avatar

Correction: his ex.

captainsmooth's avatar

I am sorry for your loss.

There are things that we can control, and things that are out of our control.

The choices others make and their behavior is out of our control.

Ron_C's avatar

I was recently released from a VA hospital because of several suicide attempts. I even tried suicide while in the hospital. (that got me locked in a sequester room and in restraints).

The one reason that I won’t try again is the impact it will have on my wife and family. I was constantly reminded that suicide has profound effects on those that depend on you. The best that the family of suicides can do is to separate themselves from the person and remember it is not their fault. The psychiatrist explained that the only one at fault is the person that killed himself. I learned that committing suicide is a selfish act and you leave your survivors to sort out problems you created. In fact you increase the likelihood of suicide in people that previously had no thought of killing themselves.
I now refrain from suicide because I don’t want to hurt my family and friends.

You need to remember that the problem isn’t yours, The person that committed the act bears the sole responsibility for the act.

KNOWITALL's avatar

My ex that I cared for very much and contemplated marrying as a late teen, overdosed on pills two years ago. It was hard because I heard he didn’t have a great life, living as an addict, and I’d know him since jr high and we were from the same neighborhood, so it was a friends and lovers thing.

After the funeral and hugging his three sons and ex wife, I cried, I watched videos of us together, I read through my senior book where we’d both written loving things to each other, and it helped. It was good to know that when we were happy we were incredible and sympatico, and the choices he made after that were his to make and he did, and they killed him. I wish he would have called me when he got desperate, I wish he knew that part of me has always and will always love him.

Thing is, we can’t make choices for people and we can’t go back in time, all you can do is focus on the good memories and maybe even the bad, and think of them with love. Don’t put the guilt from their choices onto yourself because if the love was real, they wouldn’t want that for you. Peace and love friend.

Judi's avatar

I ran the gambit of feelings. He had threatened it many times so I had processed how I would react, but it didn’t make it easier.
I had studied enough that I knew guilt was an enemy. Yes, it crept its ugly head and still does from time to time, but in the end, it was his choice. He chose this and it had everything to do with his mental illness and would have happened eventually no matter what.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@judi Sorry honey, hugs.

gailcalled's avatar

Personally, I never felt guilt over my father’s suicide because I had tried in many different ways, some awkward and some clumsy but all heartfelt, to intervene, to think of alternatives, or at least to find a better way than a bullet in his ear.

My father was not even willing to talk to me directly but used my mother as the intermediary, which was very frustrating.

After 33 years, I still feel both anger and understanding, tamped down of course, but always there.

In my case, I felt that he could have at least said “Good-bye” in a subtle way, thereby acknowledging the existence of me and my sibs.

My aunt on my mom’s side of the family did that. She and her son spent three weeks together, knowing what she had planned. They talked about everything and said a loving adieu. Shortly thereafter she took pills and had a peaceful end. Her son (my cousin) has always said that he was fine with that, because of those three weeks, which of course, were symbolic of their lifelong relationship.

My father was always distant and emotionally withdrawn, and even the horror of his final act was not powerful enough to change his entrenched behavior. So, no, I feel no guilt.

Ron_C's avatar

@gailcalled is exactly right. You should not blame yourself for what happened. Speaking from the suicide’s point of view; suicide is the ultimate self-indulgence. I’ve been committed twice for my attempts. The only thing that keeps me from trying again is the effect on my family and loved ones. I find stopping suicide attempts is much like quitting cigarettes. The compulsion is always there and I need to fight them for the sake of my loved ones.

I, personally, don’t think my life is worth that much but I do not want my loved ones to suffer. The needs of my community trump individual desires.

downtide's avatar

I’m so sorry for your loss, @Hawaii_Jake. I wish I could tell you something that will make it better. When I lost a close friend to suicide I felt guilty too, and at the time I was certain that I should have seen something, should have acted differently. With the passing of time, I have come to realise that there was nothing I could have done, even if I had seen something. It was his choice; the wrong choice perhaps, but still his.

Yeahright's avatar

I’ve never been through that, so I can only imagine what my reaction would be. I don’t think that I’d feel guilty unless I knew that his suicide was the result of a problem he had with me, or if I had broken his heart, rejected him in any way, etc.

On the other hand, I don’t see suicide as something bad per se but rather as something that allows the person to be freed of his interior demons. They see it as the only way out, and I think they are right, it is a good way to quickly end with all the worries—real or not. It is selfish for us to think they’d be better off alive when it is obvious they can’t even stand being in their own skin. I have said this before, what is so great about life anyway? I have yet to find an answer to that one. Why would anyone impose their own view of life on someone that can’t find any worth in it or solution to their problems? If suicide is what they want…go ahead by all means.

That said, the person considering suicide must have some sense of responsibility for his kids, parents, pets, and other people that depend on him. They should think of the consequences of their actions on their loved ones, but that’s easier said than done in such a state of mind.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Yeahright Hear hear. I wouldn’t necessarily point someone in the direction of suicide, but when my mom was going through intense chemo and radiation, I gently told her that when she was tired of fighting, I would make sure she had what she needed to end it quickly.

Frankly, after seeing a LOT of nursing homes and the misery and mistreatment there, I think everyone around the world should have access to mercy killing.

Judi's avatar

@Yeahright, suicide has victims and not just the selfish person who got out of their misery. Ask my children if its ok or not. They are still dealing with the rejection and self esteem issues.

hearkat's avatar

My ex-husband died of alcohol and drug abuse a couple years after we split up. Our son was 7 at the time. I consider drug and alcohol abuse a slow form of suicide. I had only a little bit of guilt, because I knew that before I made the decision to separate, I had done everything in my power to prove to him that we love him and that he was deserving of love and happiness. I wondered if things might have been different if I hadn’t taken our son from him, but eventually I realized that his refusal to even try to change so he could get visitation back showed that he was already too far gone. He chose his self-destructive path, and I chose to put my and our son’s well-being first.

His death still haunts my son almost 15 years later. My son sometimes makes comments as if he believes he’s destined to follow his father’s footsteps. My son attempted an overdose shortly before turning 18, and that was very difficult. What my son doesn’t know is that I attempted an overdose about 10 years ago. I can only imagine what a mess his life would be now if I had succeeded – and I doubt he’d have made it this far. It was only that realization that made me stick my finger down my throat, and only my love for my son that pushed me to change my life and become a person he could look up to and admire.

I still get angry at my ex from time-to-time because of his selfish decision to poison himself and rob my son’s beloved father from him. He was already just a shadow of the devoted father he once was by the time we split up.

As I mentioned in your first post, I do find some comfort in knowing that his demons died with him – he is no longer tormented. My task is to keep the lines of communication open with my son. He’s working on quitting smoking – so that’s a hopeful sign for me. But I will never rest, because I know that the family history (and there are several other suicides, attempts, and drug overdoses) shows a hereditary component to those demons.

Think of ways you can honor his memory – interests and causes he cared about; perhaps reach out to other friends and family members of his who might be more vulnerable now. Contemplate what he would say to you now, if he could… do you imagine that he would want you to feel guilty, or do you suppose that he now knows the ways you connected and tried to help him feel a sense of worth?

Judi's avatar

One thing that still pisses me off is that once my son reached the age his father was when he died (27) his grandfather who was suffering from diabetes, alcoholism, and had lost a leg also killed himself. So now, my son, who suffers many of the same demons, has another benchmark to hit before he knows that he’s conquered it.
To make matters worse for my son, my baby brother, his uncle, also shot himself when he was 27.
I hate suicide.

Yeahright's avatar

@Judi Yes, I agree. I said that they should consider the consequences of their actions on loved ones (even pets).

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Yeahright Absolutely, poor babies.

Sunny2's avatar

If only. . . . .We don’t have the influence over others that we think we do. In each of our lives there are outside influences over which we have no control. Some may stop us in our tracks and make us think we might have been able to do something to change the course of events in someone else’s life. As @rooeytoo suggested, we are not as important as we think we are. We are each only one of many individuals who help define another person’s life. If only. . . . . but that’s not what happened. You didn’t know. If you had? Conjecture and wishing are not reality. Mourn. Mourn and let him go in peace. That’s what you can do. Feelings of guilt only prolong the mourning and mourning is the task of the moment. Let the tears flow. I wish you patience and peace.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Thank you, jelly friends. I am doing much better than I imagined I would be at this point.

I’ve had 2 sessions with my therapist. I’ve talked in depth to 2 very close friends. I’ve written a lot about it. Asking these questions here on Fluther and getting these great replies has helped tremendously.

I’m still angry at what has happened, but I’m feeling an odd calm this evening. I think I’ll latch on to that calm.

Again, mahalo.

kitszu's avatar

The ones left behind, want someone to blame. They will blame themselves, other loved ones, strangers, even the deceased. For those of us that will cling to life til our very last breath, it is…incomprehendable that someone we loved would/could not/want to do the same.

Suicide is a dark, dark place to go. I know this from both sides.

I know that the only way someone comtemplating suicide lives another day, is to find one more foot hold in the “grand-scheme of their life”.

If you want to help, find out where your friend needs to put their foot next and help them put it there.

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