Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness (c)2017 Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries
Patty was angry. Her sister had ended her life two years earlier, and left Patty in turmoil. Why had she done it? She knew she could have reached out to Patty and their other siblings. She did not have to die.
Pastor Jones barely mentioned the past, uttering in generalities the story of his friend’s suicide thirty years earlier. He was a fellow pastor who had called Jones and talked about feeling depressed. Then he was gone. It did not require a doctorate to diagnose the guilt Pastor Jones carried on his face.
These are only two of dozens of survivors of suicide loss I have met. They approach me, most often to tell what happened. They are not asking for advice or platitudes. Their tales are rarely welcomed in polite company, and they see in me someone willing to listen without judgment.
In every story there is one running theme: the question why.
Why suicide? Why did I not stop them? Why did they not ask for help? Why did I not listen? Why. Why. Why.
A Different Perspective
Sometimes I fear my story of surviving major depression and attempted suicide will only serve as a morbid reminder of pain for those who have lost someone to suicide. However, that has not proven true. Instead, as far as I have observed, my story helps those left behind with a perspective they may wish they could hear from their deceased loved one.
For me, suicide seemed the only option after months of struggle with depression. If we wanted, we could blame me: I did not reach out for professional help until late in the process. We could blame professionals: I was under their care when the suicide attempt occurred. We could blame the support person I reached out to who did not respond well.
We would be wrong. There is no one directly to blame.* Suicide and suicide attempts result from mixed-up minds and torn-up emotions.
The person on the edge of a suicide attempt is not thinking about all the pain their death will bring to loved ones. Rather, they are thinking everyone will be better off. They are not necessarily selfish, but unable to see beyond the suffering that is the only reality they comprehend. They have not generally lost their faith. Irrationality is due to a mental problem, not reasonable cognitive choices.
As supports, we only know what we know. There is no shame in not understanding how to help someone who may have reached out. We are only human. There is no guilt to carry for being fallible. If we could change the past, would we? Yes. It is not too late to make peace with that.
Anger, grief, confusion… these are natural after the death of a loved one to suicide. Our loss is legitimate. We hurt. We want to blame someone, to find a reason for the senseless. Often, with nowhere else to look, we blame ourselves.
Allow yourself to feel, and hear this from someone who has been to the end. The answer to why will never come, at least not in the way you want it to. Your loved one did not even know why. At least 90% of people who die by suicide do so because of impaired judgment and impulsivity. If they left a note, those “reasons” were constructed from confusion.
Often, the holidays stir up memories of loss. Gratitude might come harder. This Thanksgiving, let yourself rest. Resign blame and be at peace.
Today’s Helpful Word
The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
*********Comments are always welcome (see tab below) NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.
*In the case of someone “driving” a person to suicide, extreme circumstances, such as Michelle Carter who urged her boyfriend to kill himself, would be called murder. This post is written to the vast majority of survivors of suicide loss who cared directly or indirectly for the life of the one who died.