Suicide and Saying Goodbye: Leaving Survivors with Love

Rear view of family dressed all in black walking down cemetery path with rosesI hardly dare to write or even think about suicide, a topic difficult enough to discuss when it is not outright painful. Suicide, attempted or completed, has touched the lives of many. You may know someone who has died by suicide or someone who has made an attempt. You may have experienced thoughts of suicide yourself.

There are people who consider the act of suicide to be a sin, an act tantamount to murder, and consider it unforgivable under any circumstances. My personal belief, though, is that some situations, such as long-term physical pain or terminal illness, may make suicide seem like a rational course of action. Of course, emotional pain can be intolerable too. Severe depression, for example, which may feel endless and can be a match for tormenting physical pain, can often play a part in the development of suicidal thoughts.

When someone we love dies by suicide, whatever the reason behind their choice, we are likely to feel unspeakable grief. We may feel angry or hurt; we may perhaps experience guilt. Along with these emotions, we might feel a desire for answers and explanations. We want to know why this happened, how it could have happened.

When A Loved One Dies By Suicide

People who complete suicide sometimes leave notes or discuss their plans with loved ones. Other people might say nothing. Even when we have some knowledge or understanding of a person’s reasons, suicide leaves us ungrounded. We need something to hold onto.

I myself know people who have died by suicide. My father’s cousin, who was fatally ill, asked to be removed from his respirator so he could die on his own terms. Another of my cousins who was incurably ill and in pain did something similar. They both said goodbye to close family members before passing on.

One lovely young man I knew who was battling addiction also chose to end his life. He was extraordinarily kind, funny and smart—a feeling soul. Before he died, he took his mother on a trip to the northwestern United States, a place they had both wanted to visit. I don’t know if they discussed his plans, but I do believe this was his way to say goodbye and tell her he loved her. I do feel he was, in some way, looking to be close to her and compensate, in a way, for his death. 

Some months after this young man’s death, I read a Facebook post from an older woman, a message that was unusually warm.  Her wishes to her friends and her thoughts about life were so lovely—it took time and rereading to realize it had been a goodbye to those of us reading, a suicide note—that, in fact, she had already passed on by the time I read the post. Many of us wrote back, remembering her gifts and her compassion, expressing their love. I was not the only person who couldn’t believe she was dead.

A colleague with an incurable disease planned her suicide very carefully. She wanted to make sure she would succeed. She wanted to protect her husband and children. She wanted to live as long and as well as she could, and then she wanted to die.

Again, I hesitate to write about suicide. My intention is not to inflict pain, to challenge anyone’s beliefs, or to cause difficult feelings. I only want to help those left behind, the survivors, survive, but I’m not sure if I can.

The people I’ve written about just now had deep relationships with others. They took care of the people around them, both in their lives and in their deaths. Each of these people understood what they were doing and knew their choice would have an impact on the people close to them.

They said goodbye, either directly or metaphorically, to make sure those who survived them knew they were loved. And though their absence left a painful, unreal space, a hole, they are all still alive inside of me. There are always reminders that they are gone, as there should be. They were here, but now they are physically not, though they live in memories and as part of our emotions.

Some might consider love and suicide to be antithetical. But I believe death and love are both so big that they encompass their meanings and their opposites, their synonyms and their antonyms.

To me, the most touching death of all was that of the young man who traveled with his mother before he died. The enormity of his love, and of all that he left behind, is almost more than I can bear. I find his death so poignant because he was young—not yet thirty—and because he and his mother embodied the primal pair of mother and child. Birth and love. Ultimate connection, followed by the ultimate disconnection. But not. (The iconic image of the Pieta—the Virgin Mary holding the body of the dead Christ in her lap, appears before my eyes as I write this.)

When your life has been touched by suicide, working through the complicated feelings that develop can be a challenging process. The support of a qualified therapist or counselor can often be of benefit. If you are having thoughts of suicide, we urge you to reach out. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255, TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY) is available at any time, day or night. Additional crisis information and resources are available here.

If you would like to read further on this topic, I suggest Linda Phillips’ book A Beautiful Here: Emerging from the Overwhelming Darkness of My Son’s Suicide.

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© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Errol

    Errol

    February 17th, 2017 at 12:14 PM

    It is definitely a process in which you feel not only immense grief at this senseless loss but also anger and indignation, as in how dare they leave you in this way when it didn’t have to be like this? It is important for all of us to understand that this was someone who was dealing with so many things that they could not deal with any longer and that they were probably doing the best that they could as well. It can seem to us so selfish,but they could be making the decisions that they believed would be right for not just them but for their family but then you have to think about what they must have been experiencing and that right there should be enough to allow some forgiveness.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    February 17th, 2017 at 5:09 PM

    Thank you Errol, for your tender and righteous response.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Jo

    Jo

    February 18th, 2017 at 7:59 PM

    This must be the most understanding and kind article I have read on here, thankyou for your compassionate writing. I hope many read this as it is so misunderstood. I haven’t experienced it directly except for in my own thoughts I have very often felt and thought that this is what I must – must do. Currently not thinking that way but it will return and each time it does I do my best to let it pass, which is all one can do. Let thoughts come and go, invite them, but don’t make tea for them! :) before long they will be gone and others will replace them. best wishes

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    February 19th, 2017 at 1:36 PM

    Dear Jo,
    Thank you for you wise and empathetic words. They mean a lot to me.
    And I think we both read Shunryu Suzuki.
    Lovely meeting you,
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Terri

    Terri

    February 20th, 2017 at 7:37 AM

    I am not that sure that my mother ever got over the fact that my brother took his own life. He was so far away from home when it happened and I think that there is not only this anger that he didn’t let any of us know what was going on, or maybe he did and all of us missed it. Or the fact that we couldn’t be right there with him so anger at all of us for not stopping it. I think that in many ways she feels guilt too and wants the rest of us to feel that as well but what good will that do? Nothing like that will ever bring him back.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    February 20th, 2017 at 4:40 PM

    Hi Terri,
    Yes, you’re right, guilt does nothing positive to help all of you digest this horror.
    My heart goes out to you all.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Ginny

    Ginny

    February 26th, 2017 at 1:43 PM

    I started with three children, lost one to suicide and one to cancer.
    The child I lost to cancer, although young, I guess we had that time to make peace with the fact that her death was inevitable.
    But my son who committed suicide?
    There are still many things that were left undone and unsaid that it doesn’t feel like I have ever had closure from that at all. You look back and see the clues but you do see it all in hindsight once it is too late to stop what has happened.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    February 27th, 2017 at 8:42 AM

    Ginny, how terribly sad. Of course much was left undone and unspoken, you son’s death was unexpected, and that makes closure so difficult. Still, for you, I hope that you will find a creative ways live with that awful pain and go forward with your life.

    I hold you in my heart.

    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Terri

    Terri

    October 6th, 2017 at 1:27 AM

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been struggling daily… wondering why I continue to wake up in the morning. I’m a failure as a parent, failure with money, disappointment to my parents…im struggling every single day to find a reason to breath another day, I’ve been so unhappy. I’m finally sharing as much of my life as possible with the love of my life, and ironically..I feel I disappoint him with my money troubles, and so…i don’t tell him, bc I can’t bear the thought of his eyes looking at me with disappointment, like my father has. I’m rambling, there’s just so much swimming around in my head. My son Zachary is at the forefront…..I’ve broken my own sons heart, and made my daughter a cold, distant person, my youngest son is stl with me bc he doesn’t have a choice yet..one more year, and I’m alone. What then? I serve no purpose, contribute nothing.
    If you’re wondering, no, I don’t even have the guts to end it myself. I’m afraid I’m going to inconvenience someone if I jump in front of a train, and I’m afraid I’ll live. Pathetic.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    October 6th, 2017 at 8:19 AM

    Dear Terri,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Jo

    Jo

    October 6th, 2017 at 3:14 PM

    Terri, I’m sorry to read your pain here and just wanted to say please go and see a professional, they really do help. I understand those worthless feelings and thats what they are worthless, not you, no one is worthless. Life is tough and we need help and support to get through it. Thats why people keep saying, “if you’re feeling this or that…” its not really you, you would be so much better in yourself if you had some good support to help you to deal with your inner critic and your low feelings and also help you to get with good feelings more – best wishes

  • Tracee

    Tracee

    November 18th, 2017 at 6:42 PM

    The suicides I have know we’re violent and angry. One was a client of mine, he jumped off an internal balcony at a shopping centre. Many people witnessed his horrible death. He was a young man. Another hung himself after sending his ex girlfriend a text message. His younger sister found him. Another was a drug overdose, a sweet bit very lonely and withdrawn young man. I don’t know who found him, his parents probably. It is too easy to sentimentalise suicide. Suicide should be seen as distinct from euthanasia. Suicide devastates.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    November 18th, 2017 at 6:59 PM

    Well said, Tracee.
    Take care,
    Lynn

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