I received this heartbreaking anonymous comment on a blog post I wrote a while ago called “Caring for someone who’s suicidal”
I cared for someone who was chronically suicidal and failed to protect them adequately. During a very short time of being left alone, while acting like he was feeling well, he did end up hanging himself and died. How do I reconcile my feelings of failing him? How do I ever find peace in his passing when I feel responsible for letting him be alone for any amount of time?
I sat with it for a few days trying to think of what to say. It’s really hard when you don’t know the person or the context, what they’re being told or finding particularly hard or helpful. I came up with this, and thought I would share it here for all the rest of us who are struggling with guilt and loss:
I’m so sorry to hear that. How do we find peace in something so tragic? I don’t know if anyone has told you that sometimes people work hard to protect us from their pain, they hide it and we are deceived. We question everything after they’ve gone, trying to work out if there were warning signs we missed and what we might have done. I don’t know if anyone has told you it’s not your fault, or if you are so sick of hearing that because it doesn’t make you feel any better. How do we live with the guilt and sense of failure of losing someone we loved? Is there any peace to be found?
Sometimes when we feel guilty we don’t even feel like we have the right to grieve. We are numb, or we hate ourselves, or we carry a weight around inside that is nearly impossible to breathe around.
It’s okay to grieve hard. It’s also okay to put them down from time to time, to lay them to rest and give yourself time to breathe and feel and laugh again. It’s okay to sit down with that sense of failure and look it hard in the face, very hard, and accept that this is part of what it is to love people, part of what it is to be human. There’s no peace to be found in this kind of violent loss, and yet there is a kind of peace in coming to terms with that, learning how to hold the pain and the conflict so it doesn’t kill us.
He didn’t die unloved. That’s a precious thing. I wish it was more powerful, so powerful that it saved all of us. But it’s still deeply meaningful. That’s a failure that’s not yours. You did care, and you did protect them, probably many times, through many dark nights. Sometimes we are not powerful enough to make the world be as it should be. To bring justice, truth, hope, light. We are small and mortal and life is large and some of it is brutal. It’s hard to forgive ourselves for not being able to do what our hearts so desire, to heal all the sick children and feed all the hungry people and give hope to those who can’t find their own. We are mortal, human, we face the darkness with love, and sometimes it is not enough.
So what now? You carry a darkness of your own now, a place where hope dims and pain waits like an ocean. You meet it with love and honesty. Reach out to people – some will not be able to talk with you or bear that pain, but some will. They will remind you you are not alone, that many of us have found our limits and grieve what we cannot change. Keep his memory alive but find ways and times to put down the searing pain and weight of his life. You carried him for a time, you will carry his name in your heart forever. But hearts are not made to be graves, there must be joy and new love, there must be spring again after the black winter when you are ready.
Much love xxx