[CW: Suicide] What has helped you to grieve a suicide?
January 27, 2023 9:05 AM   Subscribe

My brain seems to want to be processing and grieving the suicide of a work colleague from 15 years ago. I'm looking for advice and things to read to help the process.

Of course, there are complications. We had been close colleagues in a very toxic work environment, and things changed so that they started treating me poorly as well. I was angry and hurt, and to protect myself managed to get myself transferred to a different project. There was a big mess with the politics of the toxic environment that I handled to the best of my ability, but not as well as I could, for example, today. They died by suicide within a fairly short window of my leaving.

I'm struggling with feeling guilty about 'abandoning' them or letting them down, or something.

I'm struggling with this weird pull of how my impact on people, my being kind to people, does matter in their lives, and that it is really important to my own sense of self that I matter. And, I know intellectually that I was both relevant in their suicide and irrelevant. In that, it wasn't my responsibility but that my actions likely made things harder for them.

I might be struggling with survivor's guilt of having escaped the toxic work environment (I had more means to leave than they did).

My therapist was just asking questions to try to understand the situation better, and asked basically whether I was close enough to them to be talking to them openly about their mental health, and I had a total freak out because, ack, maybe if I had been it would have been different. And I know that's not my fault, and my body doesn't believe that to be true.

I have the intuition that I haven't really grieved their loss, and that would help. I think that all of the guilt and complicated feelings are getting in the way.

I'm obviously in therapy and working through this in therapy, with good support.

I'm wondering what has helped you most if you've been in a related situation.
posted by do puppets wear socks? to Human Relations (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I’m sorry for your loss.

I write letters to the people I am grieving. I tell them the things I want them to know. I get very real; if I’m angry or disappointed, I’m not afraid to say so. If I need to apologize for something, I do so. I usually spend a while crying while I’m writing, so it helps to have a private spot and a chunk of time.

Be kind to yourself.
posted by gauche at 9:23 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]

I lost a former partner to suicide a few months after I left him (about 10 years ago). Grief is weird and unpredictable and nonlinear, and in my personal experience grieving a suicide can be more unpredictable than other kinds of deaths.

I may have more later, but for right now: your impact on your late colleague’s life was more than just your actions towards the end of it. You were close colleagues and things changed and they died, but that doesn’t mean that your relationship was reduced to one thing. You probably made things easier for your colleague a number of times too! Our relationships are complicated and nuanced, and death doesn’t take that away.

I’m sorry for your loss. Try to be gentle with yourself, and try not to pick on yourself for your feelings, even if they seem disproportionate or unexpected. Your feelings are your feelings and they are valid. You were part of someone’s life, and they were part of yours. It’s okay to have complicated feelings.
posted by Kpele at 9:31 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

A lot of my feelings around suicide, and maybe yours too, have been connected to trouble accepting tragedy and terrible things as being sometimes out of my control. If you had known, if you had been closer, if you had been in a position to help maybe you could have helped - but for me at least, when I took this and started trying to be closer to the people who seemed at risk to me, they didn't necessarily want me there - friendship isn't actually something that you alone have the power to conjure out of acquaintance, and you didn't know, so all the things that would have been different "if I had known, if I had been there" aren't actually possible. It's your brain flailing wildly to get some control over the situation. Surely horrible tragedies like this aren't part of normal life. Surely this is something I can keep from ever happening again. Surely if I know the right formula and have enough virtue and give enough of myself to the effort...

I also was using the "what if" in a way to try and find another way things could have gone, like I could load my save and play it out some different way. But what I needed was to let myself mourn it as a terrible thing that really did happen rather than trying to mentally solve it as though finding the solution will change the past. And for other people I know, I can do what I can, I can be kind and open... but I can't actually control someone else, and none of my efforts and love can guarantee it will never happen again either.
posted by Lady Li at 10:11 AM on January 27

It’s been 2.5 years for me. I had a pretty big grief, triggering a crippling depression. For me, the grief was involuntary. I wanted to die and nothing else in my life mattered. I don’t know if you can really force grief. When it’s ready, it comes.

I did many different therapies to feel human again after this loss. Targeted suicide bereavement therapy helped. It’s often offered in groups and can supplement individual therapy. My bereavement work included a specific lesson on guilt. Like you, I exited a relationship with the deceased. Almost all of the time, you can exit a relationship and your counter party stays alive. Your needs are valid, and you made a decision for yourself that was right for you with the information you had at the time. Bereavement work helped me here in a very short time.

I will say that I continued to suffer this depression for another year after I finished bereavement therapy, the fourth or fifth treatment modality was after that the most effective for my depression. My problems weren’t all grief, maybe yours aren’t either.
posted by shock muppet at 10:18 AM on January 27

I had a work colleague who committed suicide decades ago, and I only processed my grief many years later.

When I finally experienced the grief, I realized I was extremely angry at her then-boyfriend and also her boss. They did things that looked supportive on the surface, but looking back, I think they undermined her.

My colleague had anxiety around math, which was a portion of her job responsibilities. Both her boyfriend and her boss acted as though she's permanently bad at math and can never improve. They never acknowledged the deep societal sexism about women and math. Instead they would say faux-supportive things like "Have you considered other jobs that don't require math?" or "We all have natural talents, and math just might not be one of yours". As her anxiety spiraled, they would comfort her in a patronizing way, instead of empowering her. It deteriorated into a worrisome state, and they just condescended to her more & more as unstable and unreliable. Back then, I didn't understand the patriarchy or gaslighting enough to see through these.

You mentioned that you and your colleague were in a toxic workplace. Have you allowed yourself to feel the full force of anger towards the leaders that created that toxic culture?
posted by vienna at 10:18 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're still having some really strong feelings about this. Have you discussed EMDR with your therapist? I think that's something that might help you process it without having to kind of live through the emotions of it again and again.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:29 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]

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