dealing with death of a good friend...
January 21, 2014 10:52 PM   Subscribe

One of my closest friends committed suicide. I am having a really hard time understanding my feelings about it.

My closest friend in the world killed himself last week. He and I met 20 years ago and on the first weekend I visited him he looked me in the eye and said "You know you don't have to die, right? All your friends don't see it or think you are joking but I can see you're wounded and you don't have to die...". After two years of trying to push him away because I was mad he saw my pain we became best friends.

The type of friends that could not see each other for years but still were connected instantly. He was the first person in my life I actually loved besides my father. He helped me realize I could live. I helped him with his abused past. I told him about mine last year. He came and sat in the fog with me and cried. He sent me money to buy chocolate when I was broke and therapy was tough.

We have.... had... always been honest with each other about one of us committing suicide. Both of us believing that it is a right and an valid option for people with screwed up pasts who the medical system couldn't fix (I M med resistant... He as well... Both of us heavy therapy users). Both of us aware that we could lose each other and it would be sad but we would understand because it meant breathing just became too hard.

But we had a deal that we would always at least phone or visit to say goodbye. I had actually done it to him twice but changed my mind in the past... And he didn't do it.

He wasn't mentally ill (I believe there are valid reasons for suicide besides that... Please don't harp on that). I understand why he chose to leave. I don't think suicide is a selfish thing. I have lost people before. Attempted myself.

But I am surprised how angry I feel that he broke our deal. Not that I would have been able to stop him, or even tried or phoned for help. But I am just really really angry that he didn't ask me to come and say goodbye. He left no note. He left nothing. And I don't understand why I am just pissed off he didn't call.

I know our friendship doesn't make sense to people. Or that our views on death are weird to others. I think you have to have been the walking wounded and beyond help with medicine to get it. This is probably scattered. I can't really explain it.

But my main problem is understanding why I am angry he broke our 20 year deal. I am sad that he is no longer in my life. It won't be the same. A piece missing. I am glad that he is no longer suffering. Being wounded that bad is a painful thing. I am fighting it myself every day. I know if it was me who went he would have understood too. I don't think it was selfish. I am grieving in my own way.

But I am so angry and pissed off that he didn't say goodbye and I don't understand why. It is a 20 year vow we always believed in. I feel like he betrayed me and I feel like I am an awful friend for being angry about it. I want to yell at him for doing that. But not for dying. I understand that.

Is anger over such a thing normal? Friends of his are mad he died and I am just mad he broke our vow and will never understand why. I feel isolated in my anger because I actually am glad he is no longer suffering. Sad for myself and the hole he left but angry as hell.

I feel like I can't tell anyone why I am angry and am just faking my agreements with everyone else's anger. Which feels like a betrayal of our friendships. Do I tell them why I am angry? Or will they end up blaming me for not doing more to help?

How do I stop feeling like a bad friend because I am doing the one thing neither of us said we would do. How do I come to terms with feeling like he lied to me all these years?

Is this a normal part of grief? When friends have gone in the past I have never been angry.
posted by kanata to Human Relations (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're angry because there's tremendous pain that comes from him being gone. The anger is how that pain is expressing itself right now. When you're ready, pull the anger away and look at the emotions behind it.

I'm so sorry for your loss. It sounds like he was a special friend who you were able to share with deeply and honestly.
posted by quince at 11:18 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think that when you make yourself vulnerable to someone, and trust them -- especially if you really didn't want to give your vulnerability or trust to them at first, and they strove for it -- it makes a lot of sense to be angry if they do something that shocks you, which they vowed not to do. I also think that anger is also a very common instinctual reaction to sudden pain, like hitting your finger with a hammer. And, I think anger is sometimes a safer emotion than fear, and anger can cover fear.

It doesn't sound like he lied to you all those years. He may have had every intention of doing exactly what he said he was going to do. I just think even some of the most steadfast people among us can't predict how they will react in extreme circumstances. He may have just been at an extreme point, more than you or even he would have predicted. It also might have been something of an accident, i.e., intending to kind of teeter on the edge but not go all the way.

I do not think that you are a bad friend at all. In fact, you sound like one of the best friends someone could have. I think you sound extremely sensitive and compassionate. I think your willingness to be understanding and respectful of your friend's choices for his own life, were probably an enormous comfort to him, as they would be to many people. And I think you are extremely brave, to be this vulnerable and honest.

You do not have to tell anyone else why, or that, you are angry. Unfortunately, I couldn't hazard a guess as to how your friends would react. People deal with death, and other people's emotions about death, in all kinds of ways. It's hard to predict sometimes even when you know the people well.

Many many many good thoughts and good wishes to you.
posted by cairdeas at 11:23 PM on January 21, 2014 [22 favorites]

There is nothing wrong with anything you are feeling. It's okay to be angry. You don't even need a reason why. This is a completely normal response to something completely un-normal.

I think it can be helpful to talk to someone who won't judge, and this would be a great time to talk to a therapist. My condolences to you, and I wish you the best.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:55 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

He went without saying goodbye; he broke the deal; he sort of jumped the queue. Feeling a bit angry is perfectly natural and doesn't preclude also retaining all your positive feelings.

You've obviously thought about this a lot over time and developed very clear views about how this kind of thing goes and what its significance is, and for your friend and ally to cut across some of that is upsetting. You don't believe suicide is selfish, but in the manner of his going your friend has not backed you up on that to the extent you might have expected.

Also, grief can be weird.
posted by Segundus at 1:21 AM on January 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

The feeling that comes over very strongly from your question is the not understanding. It sounds like the anger is coming from your confusion as to how he could break the vow you had made, and which was so important to you both. It might be helpful to try and identify all the feelings that are around this. Betrayal? Or maybe a kind of humiliation that you totally trusted that he would do this for you and you were wrong? These are just suggestions, obviously, you will know what's really going on for you. It might help to work with a therapist to get to the root of the anger. And anger is a totally natural part of the grief process anyway, but to be totally justified in being angry at someone - "We had a deal!" - and have no way at all to express it to them or anyone else is incredibly hard to sit with. Please try and make sure you don't turn this inwards. Take care of yourself. Try to hear what he would say to you, how he would support you if he was still here.

None of us can ever know how much pain he was in at the end and why he wasnt able to keep his promise to you. Maybe he just hoped that you were the only person who would understand that sometimes it just gets too much and all the plans and good intentions get swept away. It sounds like you were both so special to each other. Hopefully in time the anger will fade and the way he died won't overshadow the relationship you had together.
posted by billiebee at 1:22 AM on January 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh, kanata, dear fellow human on this earth. I read this and wept for you, and for your friend. You two had a sacred bond, something that sustained you both through twenty years of life. In the end, he disappeared without a word, and where now is this dear friend whom you relied upon for so long? The hurt of that is unbearable, at first. When you realize that, for whatever reason, they couldn't bring themselves to confide in you one last time, you feel abandoned; you wonder, "What did I do that he forgot me? What could I have done? Could I have stopped him, one more time?" It's innately human to wonder why your friend chose to forgo honoring your promise to each other. It could have been that he couldn't bear, in the end, to hurt or burden you in that way. He could have been too ashamed to ask for your blessing or forgiveness, or too determined to do the deed and did not want to be swayed. We can't know such things, and he chose not to share his reasons.

When my loved one killed himself, the note he left was simply, "I'm sorry I killed me." We'd both suffered over the years, and he'd asked me more than once if I wanted to do the thing with him; I always managed to convince him to wait a little longer, to postpone it a bit. When we parted, I wasn't there for him. We hadn't spoken in two months, and I was crushed by my grief, but even moreso, I was crushed by the guilt that I hadn't been there for him. I was bewildered and angry that he didn't reach out to me, because I'd stopped him before and I know I could have done it again.

You have every right, as his friend, to be pissed at him for reneging on your vow. He fucked up and he let you down, and that's on him. You held up your end of the bargain, but he didn't, for reasons that cannot be known. It doesn't make you a bad friend, this anger. It makes you human.

There's something I heard once, on a TV show of all things. A priest is talking to an atheist about guilt and faith. He says:
"Lightbulb goes out? Most people fix it, get a new one.
Lightbulb goes out for the Catholic?
He stands in the dark and asks,'What did I do wrong?'"
That's how it feels, in a way, after a loved one's suicide. You're bereft of their light, wondering how you fucked up and what you did wrong. And you're angry that you're standing there in the dark, having to ask yourself these questions, all alone.

I am so very sorry for your loss, and I hope that you have the strength of friends and loved ones to get you through this. I think your friendship likely sustained your friend in quiet ways, for lo these twenty years. You can take comfort in the fact that, out of all the people mourning him now, you alone likely understood him more deeply and fully than words can say.
posted by cardinality at 1:32 AM on January 22, 2014 [32 favorites]

A few years ago, a former co-worker was murdered in a mass shooting. They brought in a counselor to talk to us. She said two things that I remember, at the conclusion of the session. Only the first is relevant here. She told us, you may find yourself thinking some strange things right now, and do no not be alarmed by them, because this is typical. So, according to her, yes, this is perfectly normal.
posted by thelonius at 2:38 AM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I lost my favorite person in the world to illness a few months ago, and grief, man, it's so hard. Anything you feel is normal. Any way you choose to grieve is OK.

But we had a deal that we would always at least phone or visit to say goodbye. I had actually done it to him twice but changed my mind in the past... And he didn't do it.

Even though he broke his promise, the vow was a good one because it helped save you. He wanted you to keep going and find some contentment in this world.

I'm so sorry you are going through this. My heart goes out to you.
posted by mochapickle at 3:23 AM on January 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

I was really angry when my mom died. She died of different circumstances (cancer), but the anger didn't really make sense. It's a normal part of grieving. I remember resenting being told that my grief was normal, or that the stages of dying she'd gone through were normal because it's strange being told that your devastating feelings are commonplace and unexceptional. So I don't know if that's helpful. But yeah, that's what your mind does when you are grieving. You get angry.
posted by mermily at 5:30 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your deal was your safety net. By not keeping his end of the deal, he didn't just break his net, he also broke yours. It's a betrayal. It doesn't matter that you both saw suicide as a viable, understandable choice and were not judgmental about making that choice - no one wants to lose a friend. Maybe you could have been there to change his mind, or maybe you could have been there to say "I understand" and let him go, or maybe you could have been there and it would have been a false alarm in the end. And if it helps, I suspect it's for all those reasons that he chose not to keep his end of the deal - sometimes when you really want out, the last thing you want is the possibility of a lifeline. He might have seen that last goodbye, however loving and nonjudgmental you would be, as a hard grip rather than a handshake. That he couldn't face the possibility of feeling tethered, even with love, even if it wasn't your intention to tether him in any way.

You have every right to feel upset or even angry with him. Some part of the agreement itself was a comfort to you and helped keep you going. His breaking the deal said that what you both agreed you needed only mattered to you - it's adding insult to the injury you're already feeling of losing him.

I'm so sorry for your loss. I understand why you are hesitant to tell your friends the real reason why you are angry, and you may have to feel them out to see which ones can accept your basic premises so you won't make your emotional load heavier. But finding friends you can talk to now is the best thing you can do for yourself. You need to start rebuilding your own net, and hopefully even find someone you can make a new deal with - someone you can come to at the end of your own struggles who will be there for you. Who can try to give you back what your best friend stole from you.

You are not being a bad friend for being upset or angry now. You still believe it was his right and his choice. You are not judging him for making that choice. You are being 100% true to your agreement. He broke your deal - and you have every right to be furious with him for that. Forgive yourself. You're suffering plenty already without adding an extra burden of what he would have wanted or expected from you. By breaking your agreement and acting as he felt was best for him to move on, he gave you permission to do the same.
posted by Mchelly at 5:39 AM on January 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's normal to be angry with anyone who breaks a promise, no matter what that promise is. Especially a promise that's more of a pact, because that's a big deal. Even more so if it's a pact that you'd been honoring yourself for 20 years. And if it's someone that you really trusted who let you down, that's even harder to cope with.

I can tell you that I'm sure your friend's actions were not meant to hurt you. He might have even been trying to protect you in some way- it's impossible to know his reasons. But it's ok to be angry with him. Really.

I'm so sorry for what you're going through.
posted by windykites at 6:03 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have lost a friend to suicide, and -- as someone who had entertained thoughts of suicide myself -- I was surprised at how angry I was, in the weeks following his death. I thought I could understand that decision and greet it with sangfroid. But it felt like a betrayal.

What you are feeling is normal. Healthy, even. This person made a conscious decision that hurt you. Even when that decision is within their rights to make, it is okay to feel angry that they hurt you.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by gauche at 6:12 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

My aunt (who was more like a big sister) took her own life about 7 months ago. I am still angry that she didn't come to me - and we didn't have any sort of "deal."

Let yourself feel whatever you feel. There's no right or wrong reaction.

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:21 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

A friend took his life the week of this past Christmas. We're all a little angry with him. That he didn't call. That he didn't leave anything for us to understand his last thoughts. That he didn't reach out for one last try. He just left and we're angry and I think that's pretty normal.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:48 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

First and foremost, please accept my deepest sympathy for your loss. While Suicide may be seen by the one who ends their life as a way for them to escape from the pain of their life, it leaves a great deal of collateral damage behind for those who knew the deceased and are left to wonder all the questions that have been raised, most commonly "why?"

The thing about the act of suicide is a lot like casting a pebble into calm water. One throws out the pebble - like casting ones life life away to end what needs to be stopped - it breaks the surface of the water and it disappears. Yet the ripples left behind are evidence of the life that is gone. It radiates outward, just as the act radiates to immediate friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc. and then their friends as they try and help people through the loss.

For you, anger is a perfectly legitimate feeling and thought to feel. Grief is what it is for each person. There is not a right way to grieve and no wrong way to do it, feel it or try and resolve it. The best sign is that you have reached out to others for insight, answers or support. That tells me that you not only want to work through this, but that you are open to any help that you can get.

Perhaps you are angry because he violated a vow. Maybe you are angry because he did this without asking you to stop him, or asking you to join him.

My feeling is, because this was our root of our anger when our friend took his life, that we considered ourselves to be the type of friends that he could have called up and we could have stopped him and saved him from himself.

But it took a long time for us to realize that even though we *think* we could have stopped him from harming himself physically, but none of could have soothed his pain, his confusion or his intent.

So the root of the anger isn't always how could they do this to them, but why did they do it to us.

I wish you all the clarity in the world to come to peace with this. It will come if you let in time. Keep him in your heart. You are in mine. Blessings, and may your grief be good and satisfying.
posted by AskTheCoolCookie at 7:32 AM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is the lousiest part of suicide - there is no understanding, no explaining, no opportunity to question, have it out, unburden, share feelings, hold accountable, help, change course, agree, endorse, support, attack, opinionate, or anything else after the fact. It is an end to that interpersonal conversation. That is what makes it so terrible on the survivors. There will always be things the survivors will be unable to understand, always things that cause survivors to ask "but why...?"

Of course you are angry - as others have said, anyone who has experienced knows that anger is a common and normal way to react, even without a pact. Your experience is like many other people's on learning of a sudden suicide, with the added sting that you thought you would get advance warning. Of course, even without a pact, many people who have suicidal thoughts have confided them before and made agreements to reach out before taking action, so it is not incredibly unusual that you would have had such an agreement. I hope that feeling you can't describe your agreement isn't adding to your pain - it is something I think a lot of people will understand, as a lot of people have had to say to someone else "please tell me before you take any steps to end your life," whatever the reason they wanted to be told. It is likely you would be angry either way in the eventuality. It is terribly sad. Just let yourself feel what you feel, but know that the reaction is utterly normal. I am so sorry for your loss of a close friend.
posted by Miko at 8:56 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

A childhood friend of mine (and my brother's best friend for 30 years) took his own life in October. He was a massive part of our life, like another sibling to us all. The void he left is... immeasurable. It's a him-shaped hole no one else will ever, ever be able to fill.

The realization of that makes me want to weep; this person is gone and forever stretches out without him. It takes the shine off the future, that's for sure. Moreover, with his death, I feel like the parts of me that only he saw, that I only let him see have died too. We all display different faces to different people, and I don't open up easily. He was one of the only people I was really comfortable with. It helped he really got my jokes.

It's normal to be devastated at that realization; I feel you're at a similar place.

I wish I had advice for you about how to look forward and not have it feel kind of devastating at the realization he won't be within reach. The truth is, he's irreplaceable and it won't be the same.

But all I can say, is that in my case, I wouldn't have traded away the pain of his loss, because I am better for knowing him. It's hard, and, I'm really still not over it-- but I'm glad I got as much time as I did. Memories, thoughts. So many silly in-jokes. I treasure them, and no one can take that away. And I'd rather have had this friendship and lost it, than have kept him away or not been his friend or such to spare the pain.

This pain means I loved him, and in that way I am glad for it.

Also, having gone through the loss of someone close before, I know that one day it won't be as hard. It'll never really go away, and at first, the thought of a world without this person feels abnormal, but you do re-define your definition of 'normal' with time.

I think a lot of emotions get kicked up when things like this happen. Shock, betrayl, sadness. They're hard to process, so I think they just manifest as anger a lot of the time.

I think for you, part of it is indignation 'I'm suffering too-- yet I'm still hanging on!' Maybe part of you is thinking, 'if I can hang on, surely you could've too.' And sure part of you is probably resentful that he went first and you have to pick up the pieces and keep fighting.

My brother was very, very angry at first, too. He never had a pact like you and your friend, but occasionally they talked about it. My friend said he'd never do it, once. Absolutely he felt betrayed; they were in similar life circumstances, and he felt like he gave up-- that he quit-- and that always upset him. His guilt at not being able to 'be there' more in his final moments and being wrapped up in his own problems also added to his anger.

I was different. I was angry for a small time, but I forgave him, and, I understood why it was just so hard for him-- he also had health issues he was struggling with. I feel it's selfishness of mine that wanted to keep him here-- I think some people are just not fighters, and he wasn't one. That made it easier, too.

I found that talking about my feelings and how I felt about it all with anyone and everyone who would listen helped a lot. Friends, counselors, my brother, his friends, his brother. It didn't matter I was repeating myself, I just had to get the thoughts out. His reasons. Speculation. Memories. In-jokes. Anger. The last time I saw him. My feelings. The fact I never got to hug him or tell him I loved him. Guilt. Do you think I could have helped him? Even random thoughts I don't know the answer to, like, "Did the Police find him?" Just basically everything I was musing on. I got it all out to people and after about a month even I got sick of thinking and talking about it all. But it was cathartic and it helped a LOT to process it. It also helped us come to terms with it and answer the question of, 'could I have prevented it?' The answer is always no.

So get it all out, however you want it to manifest. Anger is normal. I wouldn't unload any guilty thoughts or angry thoughts to those within an inner circle who mightn't understand. By this I mean The Circle Theory. But definitely dump out. Don't be afraid to sort through your feelings and don't be afraid to confess that you're angry, and why.

Hang in there, okay? I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by Dimes at 8:59 AM on January 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

Anger is complex, usually. Many times it's the front line reaction that masks another emotion, for example, fear or raw pain. My experience in this area is pretty snow-flakey, but I'm guessing that your anger rests on a couple of issues, one being the broken promise. You can't bounce your feelings off your dear friend, so they do not resonate, cannot be modified by a touch or smile. Your anger no longer has an objective--he can't apologize, and you can't move toward a better understanding (of the event). Maybe the other part has to do with how grief, perhaps the most intimate of feelings, must work its way into some sort of acceptance of your loss. In my world grief comes at me sideways, for brief moments where an intense image fixes me in time and space, predicated by a smell, a song, a familiar place. I am stabbed in the heart, sometimes momentarily useless. When it works well, the after effect leaves me with a temporary sense of relief.

Maybe one aspect of grief (regarding the loss of a loved one) is an abiding sense of incompleteness. Maybe it's related to the sort of nostalgia you might feel if you went back to your home town, let's say to drive by the house where you grew up, and found a Circle K in the lot where your house used to be. I mean to say that the loss is real, but it has no particular form, cause, reason, and you can't do anything about it but put it in the luggage rack you tote around.

My friend of over 50 years--brother, really--passed away a few months ago. Every now and then I have a thought about something he and I knew, and now I'm the only one who remembers. I no longer feel the spike in my heart, but every time I think of him I miss him.

I don't have any right to promise you that your sadness will pass, or that your anger will evolve. However, I really believe that eventually your life will provide context for this sad event. Your memory of this relationship does not have to be a burden, for it has no weight. Your friend already has a permanent space in your life, and I don't see any reason to evict him from it.
posted by mule98J at 9:02 AM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Anger is one of the stages of grief. If you weren't angry, I would be concerned that you were pushing down your feelings.

I wrote this in another thread on suicide:

Zoketsu Norman Fischer, abbot emeritus of the SF Zen Center, said this during the memorial service for someone who had committed suicide:

As many of you know, the first of the ten grave precepts is not to kill. This extends to our own life, we should not kill our own life. This means that we have to give ourselves respect. So if someone comes to talk to me and says that they think of committing suicide, I always say, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! You should preserve your life.” Sometimes people have a great deal of suffering, but there’s always a way to work with suffering and to find some relief. So I always plead with the person not to do this. But when someone does commit suicide, we don’t think that they broke a precept and we don’t blame them. When someone dies, we honor their life, including the end. We honor their suicide, and we don’t think that it’s a failure. We don’t think there’s some mistake.

You know, it’s impossible to understand another person’s mind. It’s impossible to understand another person’s heart. Sometimes there can be suffering that is inexpressibly terrible. Sometimes the compulsion to take your own life can be stronger than your will. We just don’t know. And it’s wrong if we think we can know someone else’s actions and blame them or blame ourselves for something that has happened. So at the end of a life we always celebrate that life and we celebrate its perfection as it was. And even though, because we love the person, we may wish that it was different, we accept the way it is and we recognize that we don’t understand what this life needed. Perhaps it was just as it needed to be.

Here is a link to the whole talk. It's pretty wonderful.
posted by janey47 at 9:07 AM on January 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

You are allowed to be angry.

Grief is a bizarre thing. It's not comparable to anything else a person can experience.

I am so sorry for you loss.
posted by inertia at 10:53 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recently found out a good friend of mine committed suicide. The family wanted to hide that fact so, for a couple years, I was sad at the loss of her. But then I was told that she actually committed suicide. And I became angry.

I think anger is a completely normal feeling. You have lost and you are at a loss. And he left you. If this was about a good friend who didn't commit suicide but didn't do something very important he said he'd do, your anger would be a natural reaction. So, why not now?
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 11:47 AM on January 22, 2014

I want to say that your friend would be very sad to think of you and your feelings of betrayal right now - he didn't want to hurt you.

I've lost a couple of very dear people to suicide and it's like being hit by a tornado - flying debris hitting you in the head left and right and no easy way to stand up or hold your balance - it's so, so devastating. But the promise you had made with your friend makes it even harder on you.

Here's what I have learned through my own grief, though: People who are chronically depressed or just plain down or those who feel alone dance around the idea of suicide many times in their life and they attract as friends others who do the same thing. It makes sense, of course, because who can understand someone else's pain better than someone who feels the same pain?

But - if the time comes that this person moves into the actively suicidal position and is 100% serious about taking his own life, he steps into another dimension completely - a place where he's barely even aware of this world or his place in it, his friends, his past, or anything else. The absolute ONLY thing he sees is relief from his pain, which is the only way he can find the courage to commit the act that takes his life. He can't do it if he's still thinking of his friends, his promises, his parents, his dog, his church. He has to step farther away, to a place that others can't go, in order to be able to actually kill himself.

In the end, after your anger abates and some time has passed, you'll forgive him - because you love him and always will, and you know, beyond any doubt, that he didn't do this to hurt you.

Please take care of yourself. Get help if you need it, and hang around here - you'll never run out of fun things to think about if you do.
posted by aryma at 7:55 PM on January 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

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