When Love Isn’t Enough: Coping with a Friend’s Suicide
I’m going to skip the obligatory introduction about how tragic and gut-wrenching it is to lose a friend to suicide, because if this article is ever useful to you, you’ll already know that part. I’m writing this article for the living; not for the deceased. I’m writing this article so that you will hopefully have the answers you will be looking for under these circumstances—answers I did not have. So, here are seven pieces of advice I hope you’ll never need:
First, understand that everyone feels guilty. It has been said before, but it bears repeating. Guilt will creep up on you when you least expect it, insisting that you should have seen the signs. Maybe you two were very close, maybe you were suicidal before, or maybe they joked about it in a self-deprecating way that never disturbed you until now. You might feel guilty for the smallest things: for watching their favourite show without them, or for laughing at all in the weeks that follow their death. Whatever your reasons, understand that this was ultimately not your decision to make, and that guilt can’t change anything now. Focus your energy where it needs to go: to your mutual friends and the collective process of mourning.
Second, let yourself feel angry if you must, but keep it to yourself. No one in mourning needs to be the victim of the blame you might hold. You might blame their parents, their partner, or even yourself. You might blame society for the discrimination they faced, if it contributed to their death, but anger and blame won’t solve anything. We wish it would, but it never will. Your only option from here on out is to focus on the future, albeit without them, but a future nonetheless which probably involves many other mourning people. You can cut yourself off from them, but it won’t make it easier.
Third, that being said, connect with mutual friends and/or family who are going through the same emotional trauma as you. Forget the barriers of etiquette that we build for ourselves—some days you might want little more than silent company and three orders of General Tso’s chicken from the Chinese take-out place down the street. You’d be surprised how many other people in mourning crave the same illogical indulgences. Under the circumstances, you should allow it.
Fourth, don’t fixate on how they died. When you ask, you’ll find out, and when you find out, you’ll wish you didn’t. The question of how only serves to feed your mind what it needs to impulsively craft images of their last moments; images of panic and desperation. I would go so far as to say it insults their memory.
Following that, my fifth piece of advice is to focus on positive memories. This can be hard in the face of suicide, knowing that this image was likely an act on more than a few occasions, but it should serve as a reminder of how they wanted you to see them: happy, loving, and at peace. If you can, share these memories among family and mutual friends of the deceased. Let yourself laugh, cry, and applaud the fact that such a person ever walked this earth at all.
Sixth, don’t place a timeline on your mourning by comparing yourself to others who knew them. Maybe you were able to make peace with this event sooner than others, or maybe you find yourself in an emotional rut months or years after the fact, when those closer to them have been able to move on with their grief. When we say that people mourn in different ways, we also mean that people have different foundations of suffering and different coping mechanisms. If this is the first significant death you’ve experienced, you will likely have a harder time processing the loss than others who have faced death before. If you already see a therapist for other health reasons, you might have a better support system that allows you to begin recovering sooner than others. In any case, people might also present their suffering in different ways, whether they are more emotionally private or emotionally open individuals. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to mourn, and you are entitled to as much time as you need.
Finally, tell your friends and family that you love them. You can’t go back in time to tell your friend that you loved them, that they made your days brighter, that they were larger than life itself—but you can still say all those things to the people in your life right now. And you should. Not because it’s the key to salvation or because it will end the pain, but simply because it’s true and they deserve to know that. Surprisingly, that alone makes everything a whole lot better because there’s a good chance they feel the same way about you, and you probably need to hear that right now.