Broken hearted for my friend.
October 29, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm having a rough time dealing with the recent suicide of a dear friend; looking for some resources.

The first day of college, I met a guy. He charmed me; there was love and a relationship for 6 years (into grad school). His mother committed suicide a couple of months before I met him; he was dealing with depression, sometimes severe, the whole time we were together. He saw neuropharmacologists, tried ECT, the whole gamut (me helpfully participating with rides and nursing skills when needed). I know his depression was one of the reasons we didn't make it; I just wanted more than always making tentative plans, doing a lot on my own because he wasn't up for it, the volatility.... He left the country to do some relaxation, and he basically never came back, apart from a couple of times he visited me. I always loved him, but I also chose not to be with him.

I'm ok with that. It's 9 years since I saw my ex, mainly because he lived on another continent, and I'm happily married to a great guy. I talked to my ex a few times a year; sent emails when I thought about him, etc. But then I got a call from his sister Saturday morning telling me that he killed himself. And I looked back at my email history, and i realized its been more than a year since I talked to him. Life just happened, and my priorities didn't include my relationship with him.

His sister also said this weird thing; she thanked me for keeping him alive as long as I did. I know I was a stabilizer when we were together, but we haven't been together in a long time. I think he had some flings, but no other relationships. Whenever we spoke, I always felt loved - not unrequited, miss you sexually, take me back love, but the dearness that comes after an intimate relationship ends without a lot of drama.

I just can't stop thinking about him, the anguish he must have been in, the loneliness he must have felt. And now he's gone forever, and I can't ever tell him anything ever again. This is the first death I've dealt with other than grandparents, and that part alone is tripping me out. I haven't been able to sleep these past few nights, and I just went to work at 4 am this morning to get my mind off the real, physical pain I feel in my heart.

I never really knew his family other than brief phone conversations, and I want to write them a really nice letter about how awesome he was (in a different light than they ever experienced). I want to send them some pictures I have of him where he's really happy, but I also don't want to intrude. My grief is minuscule compared to theirs, and this is not about me.

Are there any resources that you've found particularly helpful for figuring out death (without being completely overwhelmed by the enormousness of it all)? Any guides for dealing with suicide? I live in a rural area; there aren't going to be a lot of groups available. Do I need to go to therapy to figure out this stuff? Did you do anything after someone's death that helped you grieve and move on? Is this a phase that will end soon? I'm just so sad right now - for him, for his family, for me because he's gone. I'm working through this, this, and this, just wondering if there's something else I'm missing. (I am neither atheist or theist; any resources welcome.)
posted by socky mcsockerton to Human Relations (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
(Apologies for the shortness of this post. I am at work, but please feel free to ask me any questions you have, whether here or in a direct message.)

A close friend of mine committed suicide just over two years ago and I still feel the pain. The most difficult thing for me, though, was feeling that I didn't do enough to save him. He had served in Afghanistan where he had seen some incredibly horrific things, and no matter how I tried he couldn't tear himself away from those images in his mind. The PTSD he suffered haunted him nightly. I talked with family and close friends about it for months and over time began to accept, however slowly, that I was not to blame.

My suggestion is to find someone who you can talk to to reason about your "responsibility" in his suicide. It's one thing to grieve over a loss, it's another to feel responsible for it; you are absolutely not, but it's hard to accept that fact.
posted by brony at 11:44 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm very sorry. I lost a number of people to suicide and accidents during a traumatic year in college. It's hard in strange personal ways that even someone with an 'identical' experience may not share; but you are welcome to MeMail me.

The most important thing is dropping the sense of responsibility.

Feeling responsible is not only a destructive and hurtful frame of mind. It is also a complete road block to actual grieving.

Because perhaps the most vital element of healthy grief is accepting the event for what it was. That can’t be done when you are feeling responsible because responsibility insinuates agency. That feeling that you could/should/would do something that would change events makes accepting those events impossible.

It can be very painful and hard to let go of that sense of agency, because in a perverse way it is comforting. IF I could have done something then this is about me and not an unfair/complex world. IF I could be the one responsible than I can be mad at myself instead of feeling the complicated feelings of anger at the victim.

This is where a counselor can be a big help. Trying to explain that responsibility to a neutral party in safe space often exposes how dark and unhelpful that responsibility really is.
posted by French Fry at 12:14 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry for your loss.

My two cents is that you should go ahead and write that letter to his family, that they will appreciate it. Doing it in a letter form is good because they can all pass it around among themselves and don't have to respond unless and until they are feeling up to it. My brother died suddenly last November (though from a heart attack, not suicide), and my family was very gratified to learn just how many people loved him and to hear about their fond memories of him.

As for grieving and moving on... do whatever you feel like doing, as long as it isn't destructive in any way. If you feel like visiting his grave, do that. If you feel like assembling a scrapbook to document your time with him, do that. If you feel like making a charitable donation to mental health research or a related charity in his name, do that.

And it's only been two days since you heard about this. Give yourself time.
posted by orange swan at 12:16 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was first given the book Night Falls Fast. I couldn't put it down. It expanded and shaped my views on death, and prepared me for further reading and change. You mention that you were a grad student, so you might want to try something like that.

As for the practical stuff… I don't believe in "moving on". That's what society emphasizes, sweeping the hard stuff under the rug. Life and Death are the same coin, and it's messy, not neat. This will take time; give it the time it deserves.

Oh, and don't do it alone.
posted by polymodus at 12:22 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

To put it in perspective, I had a friend who passed away of natural causes recently. She was in her late 80s, and we knew each other through music circles. I didn't even see her every day, or the like, but we'd known each other for 30+ years. She'd taken me to some community band practices when I was in school and not driving yet. In more recent years, I'd help her with her TV and electronics problems and we'd go to lunch occasionally, and that was about it.

And I still sort of have regrets, disorientation over the fact that I can't talk to her any more, etc. No matter how "easy" the circumstances are, for lack of a better term, it's disorienting, and there is a grieving process.

I think the family should absolutely welcome any letters, photos, etc. from you. His sister's statement should be a great comfort to you, and should help you to feel that his end, while unfortunate, is absolutely not your fault. But it will take time to process all that, and that's normal.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:31 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lost my grandmother recently. Part of the loss is all the parts of her that I will never know about. Or even the reaffirmation of the things that I knew but have forgotten over the past few years as she struggled with dementia and her "real self" seemed to vanish.

I'd love it if someone chose to share their memories of her with me. I think you should write the letter. (Or even put together an album of stories and photos, if that seems like something that would be a healing activity for you).

You can put a post-it on your folded letter before it goes into the envelope to explain what it is, and they can open it whenever they want, whether that's today or in 6 months or a year.
posted by bunderful at 12:45 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lost a friend (R) to suicide earlier this year. Every loss is different, and everyone processes grief at different rates of time-my experience is not yours. That said, here are some things that helped/are helping me:

1) By all means send that letter. I know R's family really appreciated the outpouring of support and shared memories they got.

2) Are you in touch with any other people who knew this friend? If so, absolutely reach out to them. You will be each other's best support in the coming days/weeks, and maybe even longer. I found the one suicide support group meeting I went to not particularly helpful-sure we all shared a similar loss, but talking about that loss in an environment of almost-complete strangers felt strange and raw. Much more helpful, even now, is a book group I'm in, composed largely of people who knew R. R's name comes up occasionally, and I know the group will be supportive on bad days, but the focus isn't explicitly on R or his loss.

Also, don't underestimate the power of facebook if you have mutual friends-of-this friend who are geographically far from you. I'm now "friends" with several former friends of R's, plus his mom and sister, on facebook. Even though I've only met most of them once, I like having that connection.

2a) I go to therapy as well. I recommend it, with the caveat that of course your therapist won't know the specifics about your friend, the little details you remember so well. It helps, for me, to think of therapy as a place for working through the bigger-picture issues about death and grief and feeling guilty. When I think of a specific story about R that makes me smile or cry, I'd rather share that with people who knew him personally.

3) One thing that's helped me enormously is making up little rituals that both remind me of R and make me happy too. For instance, I started polishing my nails regularly a few weeks after R's death, as a conscious tribute; he often had beautifully polished nails. Now, five months later, I still love my brightly colored nails. What small things can you do that will remind you of your friend?

4) If movement and activity helps you cope and clear your mind, by all means do it. Starting work at 4 am may not be healthy in the long run, but channeling some of your grief or anger (if that's what your feeling-I was angry, but my experience is not yours) into other kinds of physical activity certainly is. For days after R died, I pretty much never wanted to get off my bike.

5) If other friends, whether they knew your friend or not, ask if there's anything they can do, take them up on it. Sometimes these friends will be clueless at emotional-support kinds of roles; have those friends help you cook, or clean, or do other more concrete things. Some will be good listeners. Some may unexpectedly 'come out' as being a suicide survivor too. The things you learn about your other friends will surprise you.

6) Feel free to memail me if/when you want to. Maybe you want someone to talk at right now, maybe everything will hit you full-force in a month, or after his memorial, or even in a year. Write, or don't write, whenever the mood strikes.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:25 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Really sorry for your loss.

I don't have much to add to what's been said, except -

Write them that letter. I'm sure they would love to get it.

Death hurts the people who are left behind. There's no way to make it hurt less. It will take as long as it takes. Grief takes longer than you think to work itself out.

I think one always feels guilty after the death of a loved one. There are always things one feels one should have done. As for suicide, once his parent committed suicide it was a possible outcome for him. That's why it's such a dangerous act: it's catching. His suicide is really not something you have any responsibility for whatsoever.

He sounds like a beautiful person, and it sounds like what you had was precious. That's not something you can lose.

I'm sorry. Please accept hugs from a stranger { }
posted by glasseyes at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm really sorry that this happened. I've been there, and this kind of loss is incredibly hard.

Everyone is different, but I can say the thing that probably healed me the most was spending time with other people who were our friends at that time in our lives. It helped to be surrounded by people who we had laughed with, shared our wild days with, and just generally been young and alive together with. People who loved him as much as I had. People who knew what I and the world had lost. It was a comfort not to have to explain everything.

What we did was everyone got together out in the suburbs one weekend in his honor. Not in a formal way, just because we needed each other right then. We got wicked drunk and told stories and cursed his name for leaving and thanked the universe for letting him love us in the tiny brief time he was here. We felt lucky, and angry, and sad...but the healing thing about it was feeling it together. It got me out of my own head and helped me to reconnect with the world.

I also talked to him. One night there was a huge thunder storm and I just went and laid out on the lawn and talked to the sky. I don't believe in god or heaven or anything like that, I simply had some things I needed to address with him and him being dead wasn't about to interfere with that. And as dumb as it sounds it helped. I think it was the ritual of it. I needed to say goodbye. Especially if you didn't attend the funeral, it might be helpful for you to take an evening aside, listen to his favorite music, make his favorite drink, look at his pictures, tell him you love him, thank him for everything and say goodbye.

You're grieving and that's just about the hardest human emotion to endure. So be gentle on yourself. There's no timeline and no right or wrong way to feel. It does get better, but it can take some time so try to find things that give you comfort in the meantime.
posted by troublewithwolves at 2:31 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Channel some of your grief & distraction into writing his family that letter about how awesome he was, and sharing those memories and photos. That is an absolutely perfect thing to do -- an etiquette duty, really.

After my dad died, it meant a lot to be able to go through the bundle of condolence letters from different people -- his peers telling risqué stores, an old lady who remembered him as a teenager. Don't worry that you'll be intruding if you mention your own sadness: that's why it's called 'condolence'.
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:20 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

After my brother committed suicide in 2007, what helped me most was counseling: individual and a grief support group. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ( has some wonderful online resources for survivors of persons lost to suicide, including referrals to grief support organizations around the country.

Please DO send your letter and photos to the family. It will mean so much to them.

There is no timetable for grief. Please let yourself feel what you feel, whenever you feel it. In the 5+ years since my brother's death, my life has returned to its "new normal" (because it IS different now), but I think of my brother often and I don't think the sadness will ever completely go away. Some things help me: sometimes I light a candle; sometimes I write him a note, then burn it (as though sending the words into the smoke will mean that he gets the message?); I often talk to him in my head; I love listening to music that I know we both liked; and I look at pictures of him. It's important to me that he not be forgotten.

Don't be afraid to accept help from the people who care about you. You will feel better in time. I'm truly sorry for your loss.
posted by Boogiechild at 4:56 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am sorry for your loss. It's awful that anyone has to experience something like this, but alas it's reality.

For resources, look up things related to suicide survivor or survivor of suicide. There should be lots of reading material and potentially some groups. You don't have to go to therapy to heal, but it sure can help to get connected with others who have been through the loss of a loved one from suicide.

posted by getmetoSF at 5:22 PM on October 29, 2012

I am so sorry for your loss and pain. I lost a friend to suicide almost a year ago now. These resources were a useful starting point for me. What I got from them above all was an acknowledgment that grieving a suicide can be particularly complicated.

Be prepared for many phases, like possibly an anger phase and a guilt phase. I think of grief like being in an ocean with high surf, where one emotion after another washes over you with some moments of calm in between. It's natural to be overwhelmed by the enormousness of it all, unfortunately.

I just can't stop thinking about him, the anguish he must have been in, the loneliness he must have felt. And now he's gone forever, and I can't ever tell him anything ever again.

I know what you mean. For me, writing letters was a huge help. I turned to it for lack of anything else to do with all my questions.

Another thing that helped a great deal was to be in touch with people who knew the person. You should definitely write to the family if you'd like. Your memories and photographs could be a great comfort to them.

Hearing their memories might help you, too. As I wrote in another AskMe about her death, "Hearing other people's memories made the loss feel both smaller and bigger. It made it less 'my' loss and more the entire world's loss of a wonderful person. My pain itself didn't grow fainter, but the wonder of her and her life shone brighter." May your memories of him be a blessing to you.
posted by slidell at 10:57 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Send those letters and those pictures, send everything you can. They may not be able to thank you for it immediately or possibly ever, but they will appreciate it more than they can ever express.

I lost a childhood friend (not to suicide, but still, suddenly) and I wrote his parents a letter about all my memories from childhood spent with him. I was asked not to attend the funeral because it would have been so hard for his parents to see me, and I was okay with that. Found out later that the letter was appreciated beyond words by his devastated parents.
posted by canine epigram at 6:09 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

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