I loved him, he loved me, but it was complicated and now he's dead.
May 5, 2013 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I just ended a year-long relationship two months ago with the love of my life. He was a brilliant, creative, talented and generous man with Asperger's and a long, complicated history of severe mental illness. He was an Army vet and had lived an incredible life, full of adventures but also extreme trauma and heartbreak. He killed himself on Friday. How do I go on?

I just ended a year-long relationship two months ago with the love of my life. He was a brilliant, creative, generous man with Asperger's and a long, complicated history of severe mental illness. He was an Army vet and had lived an incredible life, full of adventures but also extreme trauma and heartbreak.

I put his needs before mine this past year, many times, and being with him almost destroyed my life. I broke up with him because I had exhausted my every last mental and emotional resource. I was contemplating suicide and told him that I needed to take a break to get my own life back together, to get into therapy and see a psychiatrist for the first time in my life, and to try to find a path to recovery for myself. I told him that I didn't want to see or talk to him for two months. We were going to talk again after May 15th.

Our respective mental illnesses weren't the only reason I wanted to take a break. He has unresolved issues with his former spouse and had some...let's call them emotional fidelity issues, at times. He was always searching for someone to save him, I think, because he was so unbearably tired of everything and had given up on trying to save himself.

I found out through word-of-mouth and the Facebook rumor mill that he ended his life on Friday. He'd had two months of turmoil...he'd immediately taken up with someone else while we were breaking up, a friend in our social circle died unexpectedly a week later, he'd been kicked out of his shared house within a month, had to go home to live with his parent, etc. But he'd been making plans to find a new place and move back to our city just as of this week, when he got some devastating financial news on Friday, and it was just the last straw for him.

He died alone in hopelessness and desperation. I hadn't exchanged more than pleasantries with him these past two months because I was so deeply hurt and angry with him, because I wanted to punish him, because I needed time to think and clear my head, to focus on my own recovery. I've been off of work these past two months and have been slowly clawing my way back from the brink.

I had hoped that after some time had passed and we had time to cool down and think, to live separately and rebuild some stability, that we could have resumed a friendship, if nothing else. He knew I loved him and he knew why I had to leave. He knew I would have stayed until my dying breath if he'd truly wanted and needed me there. I think he'd reached a place where the depression had overtaken everything in his life, and even things like love and friendship, hope, etc. were just out-of-reach intangibles for him.

If any of you have been through this, would you please share with me what helped? Did anything help, other than the passage of time? My friends and family have been so wonderfully kind to me the past two days. I had people staying with me the first 24 hours so I wouldn't do anything stupid.

I've lost other loved ones over the years after desperate, hopeless illnesses. To lose this person is...too much for me.

A friend of his said to me last night, "He was so very tired and couldn't cope anymore. It was his choice and we have to respect that. He's not suffering anymore and he's at peace, now." Her words helped...it *was* his choice. I'm grateful that he's not suffering anymore, because I know he was, had been for many years, and terribly so. That thought is the only thing that's helping me to make peace with it, right now.

The last night we spent together, he told me, "You're what's kept me alive for the past year, and I'm grateful for that."

I feel like I've failed him and I was cruel when I should have been kind, despite that I had given him all of the kindness and understanding that I'd been capable of. When does one draw the line? When is it okay to say, "I don't have the strength to do this anymore? I love you and I'm so sorry, but I can't go on like this anymore?" I feel like I abnegated my responsibility to him, just as a fellow human being. He needed someone to take care of him and I couldn't do it anymore, and now he's dead.

How do I endure the viewing and the funeral? I am concerned that some of his friends or family will blame me for where he ended up, and how. I did the best I could but I had to save myself first. I couldn't save us both.

I am lost in the fog right now, and feeling that everyone I love suffers and dies, while I have to stoically continue on, hating and enduring my life until it finally ends, trying to chisel out small bits of contentment here and there until I'm finally free. Everyone that loves me has begged me not to end it over this. I promised them I wouldn't...I know it's wrong and I don't want to put anyone else through this. But I feel so lost and everything seems black to me, right now.

(I do have an appointment with my therapist on Tuesday and I spoke to him yesterday.)
posted by cardinality to Human Relations (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is 100% not your fault. It sounds like you did what you had to do to protect yourself, to put on your own breathing mask first so to speak. There are no guarantees that he wouldn't have done this if you stayed together. Go to therapy, talk to your friends, get sleep and nutrition. Eventually you will forgive yourself, and life will get better. This is 100% not your fault.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:50 AM on May 5, 2013 [17 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry you are going through this. Please keep surrounding yourself with friends and take care of yourself - eat food, drink water, try to get some sleep, try to get outside in the sun. Take it one day at a time right now and go easy on yourself.

You know that you did the right thing by taking a step away from him. It was the right decision. You made that decision for right reasons, and his action does not change that. He is responsible for his own actions, and as much as anyone might want to help another person, our ability to help each other is not infinite. We can help ourselves, and that responsibility of basic self-preservation and self-help comes before the responsibility to help another adult.

Still, it is very sad and horrible that a person you care about would be in so much pain, and that now that person is gone. It is okay to feel that grief and to wish that things had been different for him.

But you did not do anything wrong. And going forward you can and should continue to do the right, responsible, good, brave thing you did before: to take care of yourself.

There is an extensive list of resources for suicide and mental health crises at the Mefi There Is Help wiki page.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:51 AM on May 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Hi, this is a huge thing and us MeFi people can only do so much; in person therapy will be key for you.

That said. It's not your fault. Anyone who says it is your fault is hurting and lashing out irrationally. You are hurting too, so remember the hurt says things that are not true or real though they seem to be so.

I suggest supportive friends and family, and positive distraction. Seek out beauty in people and the world. Do kind things for strangers. Breathe. And keep that appointment.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:51 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh hon. This breaks my heart. It hasn't happened to me, but it was my worst fear after I broke up with my ex; he was similar (long history of trauma, undiagnosed mental illnesses, multiple suicide attempts including in front of me) and I KNEW that I had the ability to affect his mental state, either for better or worse. I was terrified when I finally left that I would soon hear he had done something like this, so far as I know he hasn't but I've also gone 100% no contact so I cannot be completely sure.

People will often say "it's his choice, you didn't cause it, you can't prevent it" and things like that will fuck you in the head because you feel like you "know" from experience that you CAN sometimes prevent things, you can (maybe you have in the past) talk him down from ledges, maybe you could do it again? And again. And again. Because unless he's dealing with it himself and getting himself to a place where it isn't necessary anymore, this would be a forever arrangement. And maybe it would work. Maybe not. It's the "what if" that keeps us panicked and wondering, and sometimes stuck...

The thing that gave me will to leave anyway, knowing this very real possibility, was the realization that - both practically and morally this was not a sustainable solution. To anything. If someone's ability to live is dependent upon sucking the life out of me, month after month without end, they are not even really living. They are living parasitically off me, and my right to live is as great as theirs. Truly, truly you have to believe that. YOUR RIGHT TO LIVE IS AS GREAT AS HIS. Yes, everyone needs support now and then; sometimes someone's unconditional support gives us the will to go on when we don't have it - but nobody can live off other people's wills forever. That's not moral, that's not love, that's sickness, you know that cognitively. Nobody has the right to take your life in order to try and save their own, and you did the right thing.

Aside from that, obviously it's natural and ok to feel the way you do, and definitely definitely keep the therapy and keep talking to people and writing and working through it however you need to. Seriously, if anyone has the nerve to blame you, they are way beyond naive about life.
posted by celtalitha at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2013 [43 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds hard. I'm sorry for your suffering.

I went through a similar thing on a smaller scale some years ago. All the obvious things helped of course -- talking to people, finding things to do, actively pursuing/renewing my own life. But I think the key move for me was to recognize that this thing had happened and would always be in my past -- there was nothing I could do about that, no going back and changing anything -- but that I did have a choice about how to respond to it, a choice about what kind of person it would make me. I could imagine myself drawing harmful lessons from it and being damaged, bitter, etc.; but I could also imagine myself drawing different lessons from it and becoming stronger and wiser. The details get complicated of course, but try to keep your potential future selves in mind. You can't control what happened, but to some extent you can control what it means to you.
posted by brianconn at 11:01 AM on May 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you really loved him and saw the positives in him, despite of the negatives. That's wonderful of you. Many people focus on the negatives and won't give many with mental ailments a chance. You tried your best to understand his illness, but recognized that he had other problems with values and ethics that wasn't healthy for you.

So you stopped the relationship.

You did the healthiest thing you could think of, and you WERE kind to him, keeping him alive. But who says you had the responsibility to keep him alive?

Being away gave him a chance to take care of himself, which may have been within his abilities. However, his demons haunted him, and he was weak. This was a tragic story, but you had loved him and still care for him.

Sometimes, things go this way, and we have to learn from it. I wish you all the best, and though his choice hurts everyone, he made it himself.
posted by rhythm_queen at 11:02 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is not your fault.

For me, not much helps much except the passage of time. But time will help, and you will feel better again - I promise. You just have to make it through each day, one hour at a time. Sometimes one minute at a time. But eventually, you will feel okay again.

Check your memail.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:06 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In the Talmud, the question comes up: if you are in the desert with someone, and you have only enough water for one of you to get to civilization, do you share the water and die? Or drink all the water, and live. And Rabbi Akiba said that you drink all the water. Because your obligation is, first of all, to live.
posted by musofire at 11:55 AM on May 5, 2013 [14 favorites]

I put his needs before mine.
being with him almost destroyed my life.
I had exhausted my every last mental and emotional resource.
I was contemplating suicide.
I needed to take a break.
I needed time to think and clear my head, to focus on my own recovery.
He knew I loved him and he knew why I had to leave.
it *was* his choice.
I'm grateful that he's not suffering anymore.
I had given him all of the kindness and understanding that I'd been capable of.
I did the best I could.

You followed pretty much all these lines with "but" ... but what you offered wasn't enough, but you couldn't save him, etc. Try to read these back to yourself without adding the "but."

I loved him, he loved me.

That's all anyone can ever do for anyone else.
posted by headnsouth at 12:08 PM on May 5, 2013 [36 favorites]

Best answer: We cannot be someone else's savior even when we really really really want to be.

I know that it doesn't feel that way, in your heart, right now, but I want to join the chorus of people who are telling you, over and over and over again, till you can grok it:

This was not your fault. You could not have prevented it.

This was not your fault and you are not to blame.

posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:10 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have known people who took their own lives. They seemed to fall into one of two categories, one being that they couldn't stand the agony of living, and the other being that they just got tired of the burden. Broad distinctions, because we are all snowflakes that way. One of my in-laws was chemically out of balance. At one point he was feeling so good he stopped taking his meds, and then he just sort ran off the end of the world and killed himself before he had a chance to even try to deal with it. Another drank himself, first into oblivion, then finally to death. I would like to mention the shameful aspect of my own pain related to both these people: I was angry at them. How dare they hurt me like this! For a while I wished that Hell was a real place, and they would be there forever for what they did, not just to me, but to others who loved them. That feeling passed, though, just another phase of grieving for them. I'm left with the complex soup...relief that they are now pain free, and sadness at the wasted life they led, and my loss--the days they threw away because they took not just their own lives, but pieces of mine as well.

Nowadays, when I think of them, my thoughts are accompanied with the same sweet pain that comes with similar nostalgia that I have for the relatives and friends who've died from misadventure or disease.

I don't mean to simply toss grim anecdotes at you. I'm pretty sure you get it that he made this decision, and the responsibility for it is on him. Yet we all share issues with those we love, and we are discomfited when things go badly for them. In a real way it's reasonable to assume that you could have done something to help....hell yes. But what? No way can you figure that part into the real world. How do you know which bus to take, or which route to take that will let you avoid a traffic accident? That's what I mean by that. You are connected, and you'll feel pain through that connection. Responsibility is a whole other thing. How do you know what magic word you might have said to get him to step back into the sunshine? Seems like his history speaks for itself. He was a fragile soul, and it didn't take much for him to slip away.

Your own circumstance seems to amplify the tragedy that overtook your friend...sadness upon sadness upon sadness. I'm glad you have a direction, that is, a counselor, to help you sort through this. I know it sounds awful, but as a survivor myself, I can offer you this insight: life is good. Pain is transitory, but leverage is on the side of the scales reserved for beauty and love.

Please know that you'll move through sadness, and encounter other aspects of living. That's what time is for. The tools you seek are those that will allow you to direct your journey.
posted by mule98J at 1:28 PM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have only managed to skim the other answers. I apologize if this is a repeat.

1) He said you were what kept him alive for the last year. You need to focus on that: He would have died sooner if not for your care. You need to take credit for that. None of us is getting out of here alive. Some problems are very intractable. Sometimes dying later is the best triumph available. (I say this as someone with a deadly genetic disorder who has belonged to email lists and forums where someone's death is a routine announcement. Living a little longer, suffering a little less, those are still triumphs in the face of impossible odds.)

2) You draw the line at "This is killing both of us. I can't save both but I can save one and that one is me." That is exactly what you did. That is the correct decision for a situation that is crashing and burning and not getting better. Plus, you did not reject him outright. You only wanted a breather to stabilize yourself. You did not dump him. I am sorry he ended it before you could get back together but it really isn't the same thing.

Cyberhugs are available if you need/want them. ((((hug))))
posted by Michele in California at 1:45 PM on May 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Time. That's what will help most.

In the meantime, keep up with your therapist, and when you're ready, start looking for a suicide survivor's group. It took me ten years, and I don't recommend waiting that long, but losing someone to suicide is a very unique trauma and the best help I ever got was sitting in a room with a bunch of people who had been through the same type of loss.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's local chapter search.

Also, don't avoid the funeral for fear of people blaming you. Most of his loved ones will be busy blaming themselves-- survivor's guilt is the worst.
posted by jenad at 3:12 PM on May 5, 2013

My friend had a boyfriend who killed himself 10 years ago. She's gotten married and had a baby, but this is still something that affects her a decade on. She just posted his picture because it was the 10 year anniversary. I know she does the out of the darkness walk every year and she's found support groups through the American society for suicide prevention.
posted by bananafish at 4:52 PM on May 5, 2013

Best answer: I went through similar. The hurt doesn't go away but it lessens with time.

Some ways of thinking that helped me:

- Thinking of it as a disease that took him, like Multiple Sclerosis. Or any other. Sad, but out of my control.

- Learning more generally about the world's harms and losses. Genocides, various types of abuse, human slavery, etc. Watching documenatries. Having conversations with God about the crappy things in the world.

- If he loved you, you honor him best by being happy. If he loved you, sort of by definition, that's what he'd want. The way to honor your love best isn't by memorializing, it's by having a fucking awesome time and making the most of your life. (That's actually a challenge because it feels right to wallow for a period of time, but eventually it's a challenge worth rising to.)

- As for you not having enough to give him. It helped me to think of this as a bank. In my case the person was mentally ill and needed a lot more than I could give. It felt like he took all the money out of my bank account and I simply didn't have any more. I'd get away, rebuild my resources, and he took them again. At a certain point I was simply out of resources. It got so bad, and I was so devoted, that even I ended up taking emotional resources from my friends, family, and job because he needed so much. Eventually it got to a limit. I ran out. We all ran out. There wasn't anything to do in that case. It's wrong to think there was a choice. The bank account was at zero. I know in my heart that I did my best and gave all I could give. It might help you to get to a similar conclusion.

- No matter how you might think about this, there is nothing you can DO about it. he's dead. In this case you have that finality so you have to keep facing forward. i find it useful to remind myself of that as a concrete fact, when my head was spinning with confusion.
posted by htid at 9:38 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: He had a severe mental illness and that was what killed him. You rescued him time and time again and changed your own life to meet his needs, but you couldn't cure his illness or save his life - at some point, sooner or later, with or without you in his world, he would suicide, because his mind was sick.

Every person who has died this way has left behind a train wreck - every person who knew and cared about him has derailed. That's not something to blame the person for - how I hate the old crap about suicide being selfish; the person is as sick as someone with terminal cancer in his brain and he can't be blamed for having a scrambled mind. But neither can anyone else be blamed. It's simply what it is - a terrible mess that sometimes just can't be fixed.

You were his gentler - you comforted him and made life easier for him when he was here, and for that he would tell you that you are wonderful, and you are. But my dear, he would not want you to be disappointed in yourself because you couldn't work the miracle that would save his life. Instead, he'd want you to cry for him for a bit and then move on, knowing that some day - and it won't take forever, I promise - you'll be able to think of him with sweet nostalgia, not as the entire focus of every day of your life. Make a good life for yourself, seek therapy if you need it but don't rely on it to be necessary forever, get out there and make him proud.

Bless your heart - yes, indeed.
posted by aryma at 11:30 PM on May 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't have any advice to add but just wanted to say that I'm sorry that this happened. Read this thread every day, there is some good stuff up there.
posted by dawkins_7 at 2:57 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, I'm so sorry this happened. What a tragedy.

I didn't lose a lover... but I lost a friend. A classmate of mine from a year ago killed himself in early January, in his dorm. I don't know why... although I can guess. Whoever above said that the reasons are "the agony" and "the burden," well, they're basically right.

It's not your fault. Even if you were there right then, in that moment, to stop him... you wouldn't be around the next day, or later that day, or another week. It's not your fault. You did what you could, and that involved taking care of yourself, so that maybe you could help him again later, as a friend.

It's not your fault.

Suicide is a crazy beast. Once, I thought that everyone who feels that way should be stopped, period. And then I went through it myself, spent a month in the psych ward, spent hours desperately holding on to my sanity because the desires weren't what I wanted. Everyone deserves help -- or the offer. Everyone deserves the chance to try. And you gave him that. You were in his life, you bettered his life, and he told you this. It's not your fault. I'm repeating this, but earlier in the thread someone said that yes... it's his choice. It's a hard choice, and of course, it's horrible for the survivors. But would you* really rather someone go through life so miserable all the time that all they can think about is suicide? I know I wouldn't, both for me and my friends. It was his choice. It's not your fault.

Now... moving on. It's hard. I'm not going to lie. It sucks. Some days all you can think about will be him, some days you can work and think and play, and be reminded of him and cry at the smallest thing, and some days you can kind of make it okay. Everyone's different, I can't tell you what will work for you. Some days all you can do is cry and scream at the universe. Some days you laugh at the memories you have. You'll see everything, and it may not make sense at the time, but memories are weird like that.

I also urge you to seek therapy for yourself if you haven't already. This is a Big Thing in your life, and you'll need to process it and a therapist should be able to help with that.

But it does get better. I swear, it does, and slowly the days of endless crying will diminish, and the times you can smile and laugh over your memories increase, and it becomes a bit duller. It won't go away, because nothing ever really does. but it gets easier. Every days, just a little bit. And the little bits add up to a great big something: like the sea wears down rocks and glass to sand, a little bit at a time.
posted by gloraelin at 3:56 PM on May 6, 2013

Response by poster: Hi everyone...it's taken me a long time to be able to come back to this thread, but I've re-read it so many times over the past few months, and I wanted to finally come back and update it. I can't express my thanks enough to everyone who answered. Every single one of you, your answers really helped me get through the service and the immediate aftermath, and provided comfort when I was feeling completely out-of-my-mind with the grief and the over-analyzing.

Mefites are good people. Thank you.
posted by cardinality at 1:43 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Hi. Yes, I know about this.

Please take what he said as he meant it. You kept him alive for a year. An entire year. That's a very long time for someone who suffers routinely. That was your gift to him, and he appreciated it, maybe more than you understood.

There are doctors who can't keep people alive for a year. Therapists. What kept him alive was that you loved him and you understood him, or near enough, and were willing to accept him.

That's rare.

You gave all you had to give and more, and my guess is he knew that, and expected little of it. Perhaps even resented it sometimes, waiting for the other shoe to drop. People who are chronically rejected expect rejection, and it can be difficult when it doesn't come timely.

AS can make a partner good and nuts even without mental illness attached. It's a lot of work, and if you're already vulnerable, it can hurt. That part he may not have understood well.

The truth is this society is extremely unkind to those on the spectrum and to the mentally ill, also, often, to the brilliant and talented. One person cannot provide the support and care an entire society should be giving them.

I don't know that things fade. If you have a will to live, though, you live. I remember feeling grotesquely, obscenely alive afterwards. But that is just what happens, you can mark a distance you didn't know about before.

In the aftermath, lying on a friend's floor, I remember she told me that I looked empty. She also told me to remember that he had died but I hadn't. It was true.
posted by amy charles at 7:46 PM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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