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Guilt After A Loved One’s Suicide: 5 Secrets to Self-Forgiveness

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Guilt After A Loved One’s Suicide: 5 Secrets to Self-Forgiveness

At the tragically young age of 59, my mother chose to take her life. She left us without any warning or explanation.

As if that wasn’t enough for my sister, our children, and me to bear, my father did the same thing 10 years later. At least, he left a note… addressed to the woman he was dating.

It’s Never Easy to Say Goodbye

Each of them had their own reasons for choosing such drastic measures. I can now accept that, for them, the decision was the right one. Regardless, their deaths left me with a toxic cocktail of emotions and a vast wasteland where family and friends had once been. It was like, if suicide was a communicable disease, my sister and I were carriers.

Don’t get me wrong, the withdrawal wasn’t over. In fact, it was years later before I even noticed. I was too caught up in dealing with the aftermath: my emotions, the financial considerations, and maintaining a sense of normalcy for my daughters who turned 16 the day after their grandfather died. Yet, when I was finally able to reach the ground zero again, I found myself in an emotional desert.

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I’m not a very social person and tend to form friendships on the basis of quality rather than quantity. However, the rather large extended family, with whom I shared numerous holidays and vacations as a child and young adult, no longer found me and mine fit company for their own growing broods.

When I look back now on the weddings I’ve missed, the teenagers and young adults who weren’t even born the last time I saw their parents and grandparents, I can’t help but wonder that things would have been different if my parents died of natural causes. Is watching them suffer through a long and painful illness, or wallow helplessly in the depths of depression, somehow easier for people to accept?

Despite Us, Life Will Go On

By the time my dad passed, my mom had been gone for 10 years, yet it hardly seemed that long. Though he will be gone 13 years in September, my mind can’t wrap itself around the amount of time since I’ve seen his face or heard his voice teasing me about not visiting enough. Yet, I’m no longer the woman either of them knew.

I spent several years encased in a tight cocoon of suppressed emotions. I didn’t grieve, but I rarely laughed either. I made a lot of poor choices as if to punish myself for failing my mom. When I finally began working my way out of the safe compartment I’d formed, it actually created a rift with my dad. By then, his health was failing, though he never mentioned it. Had I been more aware, I’d have seen it in the way his personality changed.

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I was focused on fixing what was broken within myself. Part of that process involved blocking out the emotional toxicity of others, including my dad. Just as his crankiness and negativity grated on me, my growing positive outlook was irritating him. Though we lived only 20 minutes apart, the visits became less frequent. This was just one of the many regrets I had when he was suddenly gone.

Learning to Thrive Again

It was a conscious decision to stop wallowing, feeling guilty, and berating myself for something I could not have controlled. I was not ready to curl up into a ball and let the world go on without me. So, I had to make some changes. A friend suggested me to watch The Secret, which had been released in a video available only via their website recently. I won’t say the movie changed my life, but it did give me some options and techniques to start making the necessary changes for myself.

To make a long story short, I did a lot of reading and worked on how I presented myself to the world. In the process, I began to work through the pain, anger, shame, guilt, and grief. It has not been a fast process, nor am I anywhere close to finished, but during that process, and with the help of thousands of pages, written both publicly and privately, I have learned a few things about healing after a loved one choosing suicide.

1. It’s not about you.

No matter what you do or say, when a person commits suicide, they aren’t thinking about how it will affect you or anyone else. To them, it is simply the only viable option they can see. It’s their own choice. Period. So, get over yourself and stop trying to take responsibility for someone else’s actions. You are only responsible for your own reaction. (Disclaimer: There is one area where this won’t necessarily hold true, but I am not addressing emotional damage that caused by bullying here).

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2. Suicide is not contagious.

There is no suicide germ. In 2014, researchers at Johns Hopkins University thought they might have found bio-markers which predispose people to suicide as a result of responses to stress hormones. The issue is still being debated and no one has yet stepped up to definitively say you are more likely to commit suicide if one or both of your parents did. Even so, bio-markers are not contagious either.

3. You bear no shame for your loved one’s decision.

Society makes a lot of judgements based on who-knows-what. One of those is the shamefulness of suicide. Even worse, somewhere, someone decided that the shame of the victim is transferred to their grieving family like a scarlet “S” to be worn forevermore on their foreheads. If there is one thing I learned while working my way through the emotions associated with my parents’ deaths, it was compassion.

The choices they made could not have come easily. Each one spent considerable time in the darkness of their own thoughts before they actually performed the act which ended their life. As I wrote, read, and learned, I also tried to understand. I may never have all of the answers, but I formed enough of a picture (and the picture was drastically different for each of them) to be able to accept their decisions as the ones they believed with all their hearts were right for them.

4. Forgive and Accept

Two of the most powerful and cathartic things you can do for yourself are to accept the choices of others and forgive them for any pain you suffered as a result. However, that’s only the beginning. You also have to forgive yourself and accept that you had no control over the situation. WHAT? Forgive myself, you ask? Of course! Who else is wandering around in a fog, playing the what if game?

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What if I’d noticed something was wrong and got them help? What if I’d spent more time with them? What if I’d been less impatient? What if…what if…what if…? You could “what if” yourself to death, but they’d still be dead. Suicide doesn’t come with second chances when the person is intent on success. Unlike many teen suicide attempts, most adults do their research and make sure they’re successful the first time. Forgive yourself for all of your failings, both real and imagined. While you’re at it, accept the amazing person you are.

5. Talk to people about your feelings.

People are naturally inclined to want to help others. I don’t mean they want you to dump on them, but humans (especially people who care about you) are compassionate beings. The worst thing you can do for yourself (and for them) is to wall yourself off and handle things alone. Trust me, I made that mistake.

Until one night, the dam broke and I collapsed into a soggy puddle of withheld grief. It wasn’t pretty and it could have all been avoided if I’d let someone in, instead of building walls and pretending I was fine. You’re also not a lot of fun to be around while you’re hoarding all of those unspent emotions.

Let someone hug you. Cry on their shoulders. Talk about the person you lost. Share the special moments, especially the ones that made you laugh.

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Heal, So You Can Enjoy the Rest of Your Life

This isn’t a complete process, but merely a few things I discovered through trial and error. You can choose to spend 5 or 6 years in a darkness of your own making like I did, or you can take a few baby steps outside those walls, where you’ll find love and hope to help you getting past one of the most horrific life events a person can endure. The choice is always yours.

Featured photo credit: Charli Lopez via flickr.com

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Last Updated on November 22, 2021

Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

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Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

Thanksgiving, a day of pure gluttony, football, and possible uncomfortable situations with family members that you may or may not like. Oh, yeah, and the whole “know and reflect on what it is to be thankful and grateful.”

During the holiday season many people forget what this time of year is bout and are too worried about getting the “early-bird” deals on Black Friday and making sure that they have the perfect gifts for their loved ones. I am sort of a “Grinch” when it comes to the holiday season, mostly because of that mentality by many of the poeple around me.

But instead of being grinch-like this holiday season, I decided to simplify things and get back to what this time of year is actually is about; being thankful for what I have and what I can give.

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Simplify

I’m not a “minimalist” in any real sense, but in the last few months the talks of Patrick Rhone and others have got me to rethink my stance. Can you really have too much stuff?

Absolutely.

And with all that stuff comes the burden and the weight of it on your back.

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If you feel that the things around you are out of control, maybe it’s time to simplify and be thankful and grateful for what you have and use. Here are a few things that you can do to simplify:

  • You know those gadgets in the drawer that you said you were going to sell? Well, time to get the listing on eBay and sell them. Or, send them to a place like Gazelle. Even if they are old and won’t get money, you can at least recycle them.
  • Get rid of things you don’t need. Like old books, clothes, tools, etc. Have something that’s been laying around forever with no use? Donate it to a charity or church. If you aren’t using it, someone else could be.
  • Find your productivity tools and stick with them. Use tools and gadgets that serve multiple purposes so you can simplify your tool set.

Be Mindful

You don’t have to be a master Buddhist or meditator to be mindful (although, it can definitely help). Being mindful comes down to being cognizant of the present and not keeping yourself in the past or future. It’s about living in the moment and being aware of yourself and everything around you. It’s just being.

Without getting too “California” on you, it is super important to be mindful during the holiday rush. Rather than worrying about the things that you forgot at your house on the way to relatives or thinking about the next stop in your endless holiday travels, just breath and think about what you are currently doing.

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Spend the time with your family and friends and don’t crush the moment. Try not to concentrate so hard on getting the perfect photo of the “awesome moment” of the day and actually miss the awesome moment.

Being mindful over the holidays will help you be with your families, friends, and yourself allowing you to enjoy your time.

Reflect

As the year is coming to a close (yes, it really is that close!) it’s a great time to start reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you haven’t. Within the next few weeks we will have a more throrough reflection article here at Lifehack.org, but reflecting every now and then over your holiday break is a great way to see where you have been doing well in your life and where you need to improve.

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Reflection shouldn’t be used to “get down” on yourself. Reflection should be used to take an honset inventory of what you have accomplished, how you handeled situations, and what you can do better. If you journal everyday (a daily form of reflection) it may be a good time to start going over some of the things that you have written and start to put together a year’s end journal entry. I mean, how else will you write your autobiography?

But, seriously, reflecting on yourself makes you aware of your successes and faults and helps you plan and make goals for the coming year. It makes you a better person.

So, while you are stuffing your face with bird, stuffing, and mashed taters’, remember that the holidays are much more than the superficial things. Use this holiday to become a better person.

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Featured photo credit: Libby Penner via unsplash.com

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