Dear Dr. Michelle:
My best friend and ex-partner recently died by suicide. He had reached out to me a month before, but I was annoyed and busy and barely responded. He said he missed me, and I didn't say it back even though I missed him, too. I feel I contributed to his pain and loneliness. How do I not feel so terrible and like I am to blame for his decision to take his life?
This is a very tragic loss. I am sorry for what you are going through, and I am sorry that your best friend was in so much pain.
It might help for you to understand that you are giving yourself and your actions way too much power over this situation – both on the effect your actions had on your friend, as well as your ability, or power, to resolve his pain and make it better. We truly have no control, or power, over what another person does or does not do. And when it comes to suicide, no one is responsible or to blame.
This is one of those things you need to come to trust and understand about human behavior. People think they have control over other people, perhaps because they have been successful in convincing other people to do what they want them to do. But the fact of the matter is, no matter how convincing we might be, it is the other person who ultimately decides what they are going to do.
One of the many difficult things about losing a loved one is that any future opportunity to resolve or process a situation with the person is gone. This leaves words unsaid or actions undone.
The inability to resolve the past is what contributes to the difficulty in grieving. That is why one of the primary goals in grieving is to accept what you don’t like, what you don’t understand, and the fact that you cannot change it.
Tips To Help You Get Through Your Thoughts and Feelings
- Make sure you are realistic in what you need from your grieving process. Your goal is not to resolve the "why" behind your friend taking his own life or to resolve feeling okay about it. Your goal in your grieving process is to come to terms with, 1) the fact that you are not responsible for his death, 2) to learn how to be with the sorrow and be okay with feeling the sorrow, and 3) to come to terms with the “not knowing.”
- Remind yourself that there are many contributing factors to why people take their own life; primarily it is linked with clinical levels of depression and a person’s own internal thoughts and feelings. Your friend most likely needed professional support and help, the kind of assistance that you would have not likely been able to give him.
- When you catch yourself feeling to blame, chant to yourself 3-5 times in a row – “I am not responsible for his death. I am sad and I miss him, but I am not responsible.”
- When you find yourself ruminating on what you think you could have done differently to change his actions, chant to yourself 3-5 times in a row – “I will never really know why he died or what caused him that much pain. I was not responsible for knowing about his pain or resolving his pain for him.” Accept the fact that you really don’t know, nor will you ever know, the thoughts and feelings he was having the months or days prior to his death or how he felt about your responses to him.
- Allow yourself to feel, don’t try to push your feelings away. They will pass and get better. If you push them away, they will only build up and keep returning. If you are having strong feelings that you do not have time to manage privately, then allow yourself to put them away momentarily, but then find some quiet time later in the day and give yourself permission to feel them.
- Writing is a great way for the mind to process and resolve events. You can start to journal your thoughts or feelings about him as they come up. Write about your grief as you experience it. Write him questions and write yourself the answers. Write down the things you would like to say to him.
- Consider holding a ceremony in his honor to say your goodbyes. Say out loud all the things you would like him to know. Tell him at this moment how you miss him. Tell him now that you are sorry for his pain.
- If there are special activities you would have liked to do with him, such as go on a special trip, or go to a particular restaurant, or see a particular movie, do those activities by yourself and do them in his honor.
If these tips do not help you, please seek out a grief counselor. They will help you understand how mental health is related to suicide and will support you in your personal grieving process.
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.
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