fbpx How Do I Stop Blaming Myself for a Loved One’s Death?
Authored by Dr. Michelle Murray on May 24, 2022
Dear Dr. Michelle:

I feel like I have caused two deaths - my sister who overdosed on heroin and my best friend who took his own life. For my sister, I just feel I could have been there for her more and been a better brother. With my friend, we went out drinking one night and both got very drunk. I dropped him off, he got in a physical fight with his girlfriend and then he took his life. I feel like I shouldn’t have invited my friend to drink and should have recognized the state he was in. How do I stop blaming myself? It's been 6 years since my sister and 3 years since my best friend.
Adam

Dear Adam:

I am so very sorry for the loss of both your sister and your friend, and for the tragic nature of their passing. Even though it has been several years, losing people in our lives is never easy and the effects can be ongoing. 

I want to stress that in no uncertain terms have you caused anybody’s death. Under the circumstances that you have described, your friend’s death and your sister’s drug overdose was not under your control, no matter the surrounding circumstances. I know that it is easier said than done, but you must absolve yourself of any responsibility surrounding these events.

Seeking Help

To help you overcome your loss, I recommend that you seek individual therapy. With the level of responsibility you feel, and the fact that it has been several years since both have passed, there is an indication you could benefit from strong professional support. You can use this website to find a therapist in your area. Try to find somebody who specializes in grief and loss as they will be best equipped to understand your situation. While you are waiting to start therapy, please refer to the following two resources to help you on your path towards healing: 

Saving Ourselves from Suicide – Before and After
After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief

Forgiveness

Sometimes we hold onto grief because we have not dealt with the underlying pain and anger surrounding the circumstances of our loved one’s death, and this relates particularly to death by suicide. It can be easier to blame oneself then to confront the feelings one has toward those they have lost because of guilt or feelings of loyalty.

If this is the case, I encourage you to integrate forgiveness into your journey; forgiveness for yourself for not having the power you thought you should have had (power that nobody has), as well as forgiveness for your friend and your sister for their life choices and how their deaths have affected you. 

Understanding

In addition to forgiveness, you must evaluate the circumstances around your sister and friend’s passing and consider the reality of their situations respectively. There are many possible factors at play that no good brother or friend could control even under the best of circumstances.

In your sister’s case, take some time to learn about the nature of addiction. No matter how good your relationship with your sister could have been, it was never going to be enough to help her overcome her addiction. She would have needed to commit to very specialized physical, mental, and emotional treatment to change her course, something that no amount of love or support alone could have helped her do.  

In your friend’s situation, even though he was your good friend, you really have no idea what your friend was enduring over time or what took place during the moments leading up to his death. Because it can be harder sometimes to deal with the unknown then the known, we can falsely create a story in our head to help us make sense of things. It’s important to let go and accept that we won’t ever have the answers we want.

Self-Reflection

Last, I would encourage you to evaluate your own life choices. Are you happy with the course of your life and the choices you are making? Are there areas of your life that lack order, satisfaction, or direction? Are you putting off confronting your own personal life circumstances or making changes in your own life due to your guilt and grief over your sister and friend’s death? If any of this rings true, try to shift your focus from your grief to what you need to do to get control over your life and who you hope to be.  Sometimes guilt is about something we did, but often the case, it can be about what we are not doing. Ask yourself what you are or are not doing in your life that brings you sorrow, and then bring those concerns to therapy.

 

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255


Dr. Michelle K. Murray, CEO of Nexus Family Healing and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, answers questions about family relations or mental health. Submit Your Question.

Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature.  The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.

Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.
 

Dr. Michelle Murray