Unfortunately, I’ve had several people contact me lately because they know someone who’s loved one has committed suicide and they want to know, “what should or can be done for them?” and I feel compelled to share my answer with you.
Let me start by saying this, please never hesitate in contacting me or asking these questions in fear you think it will be too hard for me. I AM HERE TO HELP. My experience was hard, but speaking out and helping others is healing for me, so please don’t ever question that.
Everyone’s experiences and feelings towards death in general can vary so much, so remember these are just my opinions based upon what I’ve been through.
When my husband took his own life, everyone acted differently. No matter who it was or how they were connected with me, no matter if they were family or friend, everyone acted differently towards the news. At the time, I didn’t realize all of those different reactions would have such an effect on me, but they did.
For the loved ones, the survivors left behind, suicide does a tricky thing to the mind. It’s a mean, ugly beast full of embarrassment and guilt, and I honestly don’t think it’s avoidable. It’s our human nature to worry what others will think. Will they think it’s my fault? Will they secretly be talking to the neighbors, gossiping about what the issue might have been? Will they judge? Will they feel differently about the person who took their own life? Will they still remember all the good things about that person or will they only pass judgement now?
These are the thoughts, the horrible and ugly thoughts that run through the minds of the survivors, along with passing judgement upon themselves, hearing those voices say, “you should have done more”, you should have seen the signs”, “you should have been more compassionate to the mood swings”.
Without repeating myself and sounding like a broken record, I can’t enforce into you enough how big the guilt and anger beast is in this situation. I keep calling it a beast because that’s what it felt like to me; an entire other being, taking over my thoughts, my actions, my judgements and my heart.
I’ve experienced other traumatic, unexpected deaths that rocked my world (non-suicide) and none of them even compare. Suicide is different. It’s its own thing. It’s its own experience and it’s very, very hard to wrap your mind around it if you haven’t ever been through it.
I wrote this post last year, on the two year anniversary of my husband’s death, trying to explain what suicide meant to me, 2 years into it:
“There’s no way you can know in the first week. The first month. The first year.
The first days, weeks and months were filled with regret, anger, sadness, why’s, how’s, should have’s, a lot more anger, more regret, and more should have’s. Those emotions took over life, making it impossible to see the other side of things. There was no clarity. There was no logical thinking. There was no understanding. There was only confusion and that confusion lead to other things that made it nearly impossible to function normally.
Today, I reach out on behalf of my late husband who committed suicide 2 years ago, to date.
It took me 2 years to get here, but I’m ready. It’ll be at my own pace and it could be that there’s no pace at all. I’m just ready to reach out with my own thoughts and opinions. I want to reach out to make you more aware. To help. To educate.
Charles lost his life to suicide because he was bipolar. For me, it’s like any other terminal, incurable disease. Some win the battle and some are defeated. The current statistics for bipolar disorder are as follows, taken from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation site:
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain and behavior disorder characterized by severe shifts in a person's mood and energy, making it difficult for the person to function. More than 5.7 million American adults or 2.6 percent of the population age 18 or older in any given year have bipolar disorder. The condition typically starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, although it can show up in children and in older adults. People often live with the disorder without having it properly diagnosed and treated.
While it’s important to me that you know more about this disease, it’s even more important for me to share my opinions and feelings towards suicide.
As I stated earlier, there’s just little to no clarity at first. There’s so much anger and regret, you can’t even begin to think of anything else. As a spouse or as an immediate family member to someone who just ended their life, not only is your head already so jumbled up with questions and disbelief, you have society expressing their thoughts and opinions at the same time. While most of their words don’t intend harm or pass judgement, it’s still there, because suicide is such a taboo topic, even in this day and age.
We don’t talk about suicide. We’re scared of it. We judge it. We can’t even begin to wrap our mind around it because in the end, we don’t understand it. People who are mentally healthy, people who have never been through any type of depression, people who have never hit rock bottom, can never even wrap their mind around doing such a thing. It’s known to be the most selfish and unforgivable act one can take on, and that’s what we have been raised to believe.
Please consider my thoughts on this but keep in mind this is only my personal experience.
Suicide doesn’t have to be taboo. It doesn’t have to be something the family is ashamed of. I can’t repeat myself enough when I say, that in the first year, mentally, you are still so in shock, especially if you “never saw it coming”, that I think it’s just our natural behavior to revert back to what we learned as a child, and that was to keep the news of suicide on the DL. Society in general was taught to keep it hush hush. We were taught there was no life left to celebrate; therefore we should lock up the “news” and throw away the key. In my heart, I believe we were taught wrong.
My husband and I did not know he was bipolar. Neither of us had ever been educated on the disease, therefore we were unaware, I can’t be 100% certain what was going on with his thoughts of what was happening but I assure you, in the beginning, bipolar wasn’t something that crossed his mind. Sometime before his death, he had displayed some actions that were out of his character. They were absolutely actions that had me concerned, but then there were apologies and life would seem normal again. I suggested the idea of seeking professional help but it was never forced.
::It’s almost impossible to force a man to do anything, amiright, ladies?::
But in all seriousness, there wasn’t a lot of time between the out-of-character behavior and the actual death. It came very, very fast. And very unexpected.
Had you asked me 2 years ago, did I believe suicide was the ultimate selfish act, I would have probably said yes. Hell, if you would have asked me a year ago, I would have given you the same answer.
Something that weighs on me nearly every single day though, is the conversation we had just before. He had reached a point where he knew he was mentally ill and I think he knew he had been defeated. He said, “This is not the kind of dad our son deserves to be raised by.”
You can take those words however you want, but in my heart, those are the LEAST selfish words a man could ever speak.
His mind knew his illness would have a negative effect on our child. His mind knew that he’d have these extreme highs and lows the rest of his life. His mind knew there would always be a constant burden on us and those that love him. His mind knew this disease would eventually get the best of his sweet and giving heart. In his mind, he knew the answer was simple. In his mind, he was doing this selfless act for his family.
It’s not easy for me to plainly tell you my angle on this without sounding contradictory.
I understand where his thought process was. I get it. Two years later, it does make sense to me. Two years later I have no anger towards him, whatsoever. Two years later, suicide means something different to me. In no way do I agree with his actions, nor am I happy about them, but…I get it. After researching and reading more and more things about bipolar disorder, I can accept that he was not able to think rationally. He was not able to process the fact that he could have controlled this with doctors, meds and support. His mind was physically not able to go there and that’s truly something I have now been able to process and understand.
Am I justifying his actions? Yeah, in a way, I guess I am. My heart feels they need justifying. It’s my duty as the mother to his child, as the person who once was his wife, it’s my duty and my right to speak out on his behalf.
Suicide and mental illness no longer needs to be taboo. It no longer needs to be shamed.
My words here are for me. And they are for you too, but they are mostly for him. If I could go back to the week after his death and do things differently, I would. There would be no shame and no embarrassment. There would be no hiding. There would be proper life celebrations because that’s what he deserved. A terminal illness killed my husband. My family experienced a loss; much like your family has probably lost a loved one to cancer or something of the likes.
God has had a plan for us since before we were born. He knows all and nothing ever comes as a surprise to Him. He also forgives all.
My one true belief through all of this, through my whole life, amputation included, is that God didn’t make me an amputee and a widow by age 30 so I could sit in my room and cry for the rest of time. He gave me strength I never knew I had in me. He also gave me some unique tools and talents and i believe He doesn’t want them to go wasted.
God provides us with lessons to be learned each and every day. They come in all shapes and sizes, in all forms, big and small…some of the biggest ones are completed by channeling through others and using the most selfless of hearts.
Even if you don’t remember or ponder on anything else I’ve ever written, try to keep this one with you always.”
So, having said all of that, here’s my advice or what I would do now:
Show up and be present; now and in the months to come.
Things in my situation were not ideal. I was dealing with multiple sides of the family wanting different things and since I wasn’t at all clear-minded, I made some choices I wish I could change. My decisions and feeling the need to “please” everyone during that time, sent conflicting messages and possibly pushed people away. I can’t tell you how much I regret that. I hate that the beast took over and made everything a foggy mess for so long. Life isn’t fair in that we don’t get seconds chances at stuff like this.
If you know someone who is being affected by a suicide, please don’t be absent. Nothing hurt me more than the people who were absent or quiet. The people who didn’t have anything to say, the people who looked away - that hurt so much more than the people who wanted to talk, who were right there, in my face, making sure I wasn’t alone with my thoughts, making it known that no judgement was being passed.
I know a lot of people will want their privacy and space to make arrangements but that doesn’t mean you have to completely stay away. If you feel uncomfortable or feel like you don’t know the “right” thing to say, send a handwritten note. So much can be said and such a tremendous statement can be made by a simple card or note saying “we’re here for you; we are praying”, ect.
Please don’t beat around the bush or tip toe. Please don’t do the whispering and speculating thing with others, even if it wasn’t meant to be hurtful, don’t do it. Please be present. Please be a friend. Remember and talk about the happy times. Don’t dwell on the why or how, that’s not our place.
There isn’t any one thing that can be said or done that will make that person’s pain or anger or guilt go away, but by showing up, you can let them know there’s at least one more person in their world that isn’t judging a choice made, that was out of their control.
Show up and be present; now and in the months to come.