Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Loss: Blame

Okay, if you're reading this, I'm going to assume that you're either struggling from the loss of a loved one to suicide or you're debating the thought of ending your own life.  Either way, I've written this for you.  I know where you're coming from.  Two years ago, I lost a friend to suicide.  One of the biggest barriers you have to overcome is blaming yourself.  The loss of a loved one is so difficult to go through.  I understand that.  I'm writing this to encourage you not to give up hope.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  It's possible to heal... maybe not forget, but it's possible to heal

After a loved one commits suicide, it is easy to begin searching for a cause or a reason for the death to have happened.  Many times, while searching for answers, you begin to blame yourself.  Tell me if any of these thoughts seem familiar:

"If I was a better friend..."
"If I reached out to her more..."
"If I hadn't have pushed him so hard..."
"If I would have looked harder for the signs..."
"If I would have been there for him more..."
"If I would have known, I could have stopped her..."
"If I listened better..."

If any of these thoughts echo your own, then you've been seeking blame in yourself after the death of a loved one.  In fact, as you read this, you may be thinking, "I know I'm blaming myself, because it's my fault."  I know how this feels.  I know what it's like to feel blame.  I know how difficult it is to stay strong and not despise yourself for not somehow stopping your friend or family member's death. 

Were you truly a bad friend?  One of your reasons for blame might be that you were not a good enough friend.  You didn't show your love well enough.  You didn't reach out enough.  You didn't provide a good enough reason for your loved one to not want to die.  Does this describe you?  If it does, I want you to start thinking about the good times you had with your lost friend.  Don't think about the last fight you had or about all the times you felt disappointed in each other.  I want you to think of the times when you laughed so hard, you both cried.  I want you to think of the deep talks you had, the moments you spent together, the last smile you shared.  That was you being a good friend.  Not a bad friend, not a disappointment, not a failure.  A good, loving friend. 

Did your loved one consider you a friend?  Did he or she care about you?  "Obviously not enough," you may want to tell me. "She still did it."  I realize that, but I also want you to realize something: your friend was not thinking correctly at her time of death.  He or she was not feeling rational enough to view life as something valuable.  He or she wasn't thinking about the consequences that you would face.  He or she was only looking for a way out of his or her pain.  What your friend did wasn't because you were a lousy friend, even if you feel that way now. 

Try to continue to remind yourself about the good times you shared and about how many times you tried to be a true friend.  If you nitpick until you find all of your failures as a friend, you're going to find them.  Nobody is a perfect friend.  You're going to disappoint yourself.  However, think about how many times you've "failed" all of your other friends and loved ones.  Have they committed suicide as a result of that?  No, of course not.  It's not your fault.  Honestly, even if you were the worst friend in the world, it's not your fault.        

Whose decision was it? 
This is one of the easiest and one of the hardest things to accept.  Did you put the gun to your friend's head or force the pills down her throat?  Did you take your friend captive and force him to kill himself?  "Well, practically," you might say, but that doesn't cut it.  No.  Suicide cannot be your fault because it will never be your decision unless you do it to yourself.  Your friend's death was not your fault.  You didn't murder your friend.  She did it to herself.  It's sad, it's painful... I know it's hard.  I realize that it's difficult to accept and I'm so sorry that you have to go through this at all.  I'm so sorry.  But you can never honestly and truthfully blame a friend's suicide on yourself when it was ultimately his or her decision. 
Stop searching for minute details.  Your blame process may be something like this: "I know it's my fault because two summers ago, we had this conversation about how we loved this one song and then it turns out that her parents hated that song and the night before she died, she was listening to that song out loud in front of her parents and they got into a huge fight about that song and then they got into a fight about how messy her bedroom was and she died the next day.  That's why it's my fault."  Your story may seem more rational than this to you... your story may be crazier than this... your story may be about the same.  But to make a long story short, stop searching for these tiny, minute details that could put you at fault in your own mind and link you to your friend's death in the most irrational, bizarre way.  No.  Don't let yourself go there.  Stop tormenting yourself.  It's natural to feel blame, but don't strive to put yourself at blame.  You don't need to be at fault.  You aren't at fault.
Missing the signs.  There are basic signs leading to suicide that you've probably heard somewhere before.  Recklessness, giving away possessions, speaking carelessly about death or lack of hope, writing a will, sleeplessness, sudden change of attitude for better or worse, loss of interest in usual activities and hobbies, social withdrawal, and loss of appetite.  Since your friend's death, you may look back and start to notice signs that weren't there before.  This may shame you, horrify you, and make you blame yourself for missing what now seems like the obvious.  First of all, it's too late to change these things.  Right now, you need to focus on you healing rather than dwelling on your guilt.  You weren't the only one that missed signs.  It's difficult to find signs of suicide in a friend when you aren't looking for them, and what kind of friend would you be if you were constantly badgering and probing your friend for signs of suicide?  Just because you overlooked a sign that may or may not have been there, that doesn't mean that your friend's death was your fault.   
Stop making your friend the hero in this situation.  You may look for blame in yourself because you don't want to blame your friend.  You loved your friend.  You don't want to make her sound like a terrible person.  You want to visualize her as a heroic, amazing person who helped everyone around her.  This is extremely difficult to accept, but your friend was not perfect.  Suicide was a mistake on your friend's part.  Don't give your friend a break and throw yourself under the bus because of something that your friend has done.  Remember your friend for the good memories and the good things about her, but don't give yourself blame because you don't want to blame her for anything.
Sadly, you can't change the past.  I know this is hard.  I know that it hurts to lose a loved one to suicide.  I know you want to look back and sort through every facial expression, every word, every conversation... but the past is the past.  You are the one who matters right now.  You are the one who needs to heal.  Torturing yourself by searching out blame in yourself is not going to help anything.  You need to focus on looking forward, forgiving yourself and your friend, and reminding yourself about the good memories rather than the painful ones. 

If you are considering suicide, I hope this helps you realize how truly painful your death will be for those around you.  You may be thinking that your death will put blame on those who have hurt you and made your life miserable.  But instead, your death is going to hurt those who love you and care about you- probably even more than it will hurt your enemies.  Close your eyes and think of two or three people who you care about the most.  These are the ones who I wrote to in this article.  These are the ones who will be tormenting themselves, blaming themselves, and hating themselves for what you will have done.  Do you realize what you are doing to those around you?  If you want to commit suicide, please talk to one of these people about your thoughts.  Please reconsider.  Your decision has the potential to crush the hearts of many, many people around you.  Please don't do this to your loved ones. 

Thank you for reading this article.  If you have any additions or comments about this article, then you can leave them in the comment box below.  I'd love to hear from you.

I'm sorry that you're reading this right now.  I'm sorry if you feel blame towards yourself.  Please continue to remind yourself that the death of your loved one was not your fault.  You are not at fault here.  The sooner it takes for you to realize this, the sooner you can heal. 

Check back next week for my article about coping the right way after the death of a loved one to suicide.      


  1. thank you so much. I still think I will have to fight and refight this idea that it IS my fault...but at least this time around your article really helped me.

  2. Thank you for your blog. It was extremely helpful.

  3. Two of my friends both took their own lives in less than one month. Being only 13 its really hard to deal with. This whole week i have been blameing myself for not being good enough. Thank you so much for you blog it has made my life eariser to deal with.