Those who have been bereaved by suicide are often haunted by two questions:
- Why did they do it?
- Could I have done something to prevent it?
The sad truth is that we can never really know the complete answer, as the only person who could tell us is the person who died. They might not even have really understood themselves. These questions are a normal part of the journey as we try to make sense of what has happened. We might each have our own thoughts or insights however we rarely have all the pieces of the picture. Eventually you may find that you can settle on an answer that you can live with or that you can live with not knowing. Always know that help is available and there are people who can support you through this difficult journey. “After a while, the pauses between you asking yourself the questions get a bit bigger. You might stop thinking about it for a minute, then an hour, then a day and so on. It is always there but it does get less”
Why did they do it?
When a person ends their own life, it is usually the result of many factors and circumstances and not the result of a single incident. Only the person who died understood all of the “why’s” and how they fit together.
There may have been some clues about what may have led them to take their life for; example if they had a history of depression or mental ill health. There may have been previous suicide attempts. Or there might not have been any indication that anything was wrong – indeed to the outside world it appeared that everything was normal and they had everything to live for.
Some people leave a suicide note though this is not as common as people think. Even if a note is left, it may not provide answers – it may be unclear what the words intended, there may be multiple interpretations or it may simply be impossible to comprehend and accept.
You may wonder if they actually meant to take their life. Were they simply making a cry for help that went too far? Were they actually aware of what they were doing, did they make a conscious choice?
“Over the years, I have changed my mind so many times about why I thought Sarah did what she did. Different answers have felt more comforting or helpful at different times. I know that I will never know the true answer – all I can do is work with what makes most sense to me in the moment”
Know that asking why is normal and that at first it may feel impossible that you will ever get beyond that question – but eventually you will find a way of thinking that you can accept or live with. Many people find that talking with others who share something of your experience helps them to reach this place.
Could I have done something to prevent it?
Guilt and self reproach are very common reactions when someone takes their own life – we all wonder if we could have somehow prevented it. It is one of the most difficult struggles for those bereaved by suicide – especially at first.
You may wonder if you missed the signs, that perhaps you were not attentive enough to what was happening. They may have hidden things from you. You may find yourself worrying why they didn’t feel that they could come to you.
If there were indications, you may feel guilty that you didn’t do more. A common experience is that they may have appeared to be getting better, for example they had a positive lift in mood and energy, in the period before they died. This is thought to be because the person experiences calm once they have made their decision to end their life.
Blaming yourself is a common reaction but potentially damaging to your health in the long term. The difficult truth is that we cannot be responsible for what happened, no matter how close we are or how much we love people. It is important that you get support and have people that you can talk to.
“I have learned to live with a contradiction – logically, practically I know now and I accept that I couldn’t have prevented it. But I still feel guilty. Emotionally, I still feel that I should have been able to do something, that I let her down.”