Updated: Jun 12, 2019
The act of suicide is to of take one’s own life, by their own hand. The turmoil it leaves behind for people who are left to pick up the pieces is incomprehensible and devastating. We have all known someone who chose to end it all, and when it happens to someone we love; words like awful, lost, confused, numb and helpless aren't enough to describe the feelings which accompany the circumstance. What are the initial thoughts we face from families when they come in for arrangements and their family member has taken their own life?
I had an ex-boyfriend commit suicide a number of years ago. In public he seemed fine. He was confident and smiling, perhaps a little manic. When in private or on the phone, he was weird. We had spoke the night before he died and he was hyper, saying he needed to see me and I should come out. He wanted me to come to a poetry night and I wanted to stay in and paint. When I was notified of his passing the following day I was devastated and overcome with guilt. The week before, he had me over to his house to offer me his possessions. Whatever I wanted I could have. I told him there was nothing, that he was making me feel uncomfortable and I went home. When I got the phone call I thought, I should have known. I should have done something. I blamed myself.
Later a wave of anger overcame me. I was mad for a long time. I had expected us to remain friends and do tons of cool things together for years. He was young and wild and would often suggest we move to Hollywood and become movie stars. After he died I thought, "Now how will I ever become a movie star? Who will listen to the Cure and laugh at Godzilla movies with me? And how will I ever fill the place in my life which he occupied?" The fact was I wouldn't and I couldn't, but I was unable to think clearly, because I was angry. I couldn't change it, It wasn't about me. It was about him and his mental health.
I felt rejected and my ego tried to rationalize and I called him selfish, which seemed wrong because he was dead and I still loved him. How could he do this to his family and most importantly (I thought) how could he do that to me? But just like when I was angry, this wasn't about me. This was about him and about mental illness. Nobody in a deep depression has any desire to hurt anyone. Usually they believe the world would just be better off without the burden of their existence. But it wasn't better, it just didn't have him.
It took a lot of years for me to figure out exactly what was going on in my head after his death.
I think a lot of people who deal with a suicide feel similar to how I did. It is really confusing and numbing because we think that person is amazing. What I have come to accept in my 34 years, is that we make our own decisions in life. The choices I have made are not ones my mother would make for me, and that is okay. It is not okay to hurt people, but we have to be okay with other people making their own decisions; even if they are hurtful, because that is the only way to move forward.
So where do we go with families who are struggling with similar thoughts and emotions caused by the suicide of their friend or family member? Suicide is such a difficult thing to comprehend when we are not in that dark, indescribable place of hopelessness. The feelings around it, are not okay, they feel really horrible. Questioning and checking in is important, but it doesn't necessarily change their decision. A suicidal person is incredibly sick.
We need to tell families that even though it doesn't feel okay, that person was a human, with free choice and we have no control over someone else's personal decisions. Their intention wasn't to cause hurt or guilt and we don't have to feel that way. The decision to commit suicide is a single choice that person decided, based on a feeling they had, that is all. We don't have to agree nor condemn their actions, but we need to be okay with humans having free will. Nobody can stop another person from making the decision once it has been made. And we can't turn back time we can only choose how we will cope and react.
I am not condoning suicide. I am not a therapist. Helping families understand that they don't have to blame themselves is a major step in the right direction. If we can empower people while serving through the ritual of a funeral, we are doing our job. The realization that nobody has to feel guilty, or angry will help them on their journey through grief and that matters.
The things we can convey are:
Suicide doesn't feel okay for anyone, not even the deceased.
People make bad choices throughout their lives of varying degrees sometimes the repercussions are not considered. Those choices can be painful.
The responsibility of the deceased person’s actions and well being was in their own hands nobody would choose that for them.
They made the choice based on their mental state and mental health not based on what any single person has or hasn't done.
Being okay with someone else making their own decisions in life is part of free will and part of being a human even when it hurts.
knowing that we couldn't have changed the situation allows us to move past self blame and guilt.
We are accountable for our own feelings. Knowing that we can choose to not blame ourselves, feel guilty or angry gives us back our power.
Empowering the bereaved by telling them that they have control over their own thoughts. Thoughts of blame, guilt, and anger don't serve anyone and that love and acceptance will give them back their power which is important when feeling powerless.
I still feel sad when I think about my ex not being around anymore. Part of me will always be sad and that’s okay. It is so much easier to accept his death now than it was 9 years ago. But its not easier because time has passed, its easier because I don't blame myself anymore. How I feel about him will never go away, but I don't have to carry his death anymore or feel angry or guilty or bad about the situation. I can just love him and sometimes feel sad about it. And that is okay I can handle that.