Suicide Survivor Guilt

All the messages urging us to be more vigilant about suicide carry a devastating flip side for family members of people who take their lives: the sense that they did not do enough.

Comments: 100

  1. I am visiting an old friend right now who told me the she plans to commit suicide. She has reasons for wanting to end her life, the most obvious is that her husband has a terminal illness. She has attempted suicide before, and is in treatment, on medication. On the outside, she appears resilient and cheerful. I know she may execute her plan, in tme. All I can do is be her friend. i try to remind her of life's daily promise and joy, but she doesn't see it.

  2. My husband died of natural causes the night before I was to return from a ten day vacation. It has taken me five years to get past most of the “what ifs”. I still have them occasionally and do my best to get past them. I can only imagine the wrenching pain of living with the mess (and it is a mess) left behind from someone who has chosen to take their life. My heart goes out to the children or spouses or friends who are left behind to deal with this kind of loss. It will stay with them for their entire lives. It is imperative that they get help to cope with a life changing decision that they had no part in deciding.

  3. Don't forget parents. Imagine the guilt, the sense of failure of a parent whose child has committed suicide. And there are unfortunately many children who do just that. In a case I know of personally, the parents did everything they could in the way of providing help for their child whose first attempt failed. But we can never live inside another person's skin and know the world as he or she does or feel the world as he or she does. In the end, that person, that "I" makes a decision and then acts on it, alone in a world of pain which no one can lift from them--they think. The child has succeeded, but that doesn't mean the parents have failed.

  4. This is an important caution amid the new fervor to "have the conversation" about something that may not be "preventable" which does lay quite a burden on those left in the wake of someone else's action. I also lived with a parent who tried not once but dozens of times, over 15 years: pills, alcohol, car crashes, ropes, poison, plastic bags, knife. The daily job was dread (coming home: would she be alive today; or would there be a body). There were years of conversation: calling ambulances, going to hospitals, stomach pumps, therapists, medication, voluntary groups, family groups, police, voluntary and involuntary commitments. There were talk, tears, arguments, endless Trying. There was also blame, self blame, group blame, volleys of blame, and then the residue of fracturing apart in the aftermath. That may be an outlier, one of the extreme cases; it may not answer the inexplicable for those who truly "never saw it coming". But like the author I worry that the glow around these celebrity losses (losses yes, but also violations) can become a bit romantic, with life-affirming tributes, candles left by strangers, and calls for national awareness. That may help some. It can also hurt others, victims and survivors.

  5. I am so sorry you had to endure this.

  6. You are incredibly kind to share your life story with us. You are helping so many tremendously by sharing this. What a burden you grew up with. I wish you peace every day!

  7. After my father committed suicide, Lenore Terr, my sister's therapist, told me I would be angry. I never have been. Decades passed before I came to the conclusion that his death, his father's, my mother's mother's, her siblings', cousin's- this accumulation of suicide was mere statistical anomaly. I have spent a lifetime thinking about suicide, and why people decide to do it. Every one is different, every person, every reason. In my case what was the same was a last name, or two, my relation to a group that chose this way to end their lives. I am not threatened by this anymore. Importantly, I realize the way that I feel, what I would characterize as the PTSD that devolved from my father's suicide, is like the weather. There is no narrative to account for it. I don't feel anxiety because- no, I feel anxiety. That is all. It's bred in the bone. The singular benefit of my education is that I have managed to negotiate this maze, find my way through and out of the darkness I've witnessed engulf others. I thought I had twice the reason to live after my father died, even as I wondered how I could go on when this person I loved could not. Not angry. Never.

  8. Wishing you peace.

  9. By chance a friend called last night to tell me his daughter just attempted to kill herself. We recalled the biblical admonition: "I set before you death and life. Choose life." It seems like a no-brainer. Peace.

  10. “It seems like a no-brainer” Unless I’m misunderstanding it, this is a particularly unfeeling, cold and harsh statement. Please tell me I misunderstood your point.

  11. Again, I am using my real name, not my usual handle, in order to advocate for more candor about this topic. I’m a survivor of two suicide attempts. There are many causes of suicides, many types of suicide, and I won’t bore people with my own story. Suffice it to say that these stories of celebrity suicide are a catalyst for myriad thoughts and feelings. For days how, I’ve been devouring accounts and readers’ comments as I continue to try to understand my own odyssey and others’. Without intending to sound like a victim, I want to tell you that the only person who reached out to me during this flurry of publicity about Bourdain and Spade was my acupuncturist. None of my friends contacted me ( I have no family). Was I hurt and disappointed? Yes. But instead of harboring bad feelings, I reached out to them. And I called a dear friend who’s also made several attempts.I have a core group of wonderful, smart, cultured, thoughtful friends, but even they are paralyzed by fear when this topic arises. So, let us all try to reach out to one another, if we can. Please try. If you are like me, who struggles daily, try to tell somebody about it. Believe me, it helps. All this obsession with celebrity drives me nuts, but it can be accessed to do good.

  12. Dena, how brave of you to share your very intimate feelings! I don't know you (obviously), but please know that there are people in this world who want you to live a healthy and happy life. I'm sure your friends are among them, even if they didn't reach out to you when the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain broke. They may have thought it too difficult a subject to broach. Still, keep willing yourself to wake up each morning!

  13. Echoing Sherry's comment below -- thank you for your courage and honesty. I wish you continued courage, and please know that your words have directly helped others.

  14. Thank you. Gestures like yours are exactly the kindnesses that can save a life.

  15. I know it's hard not to make depressed people who are thinking of suicide feel guilty if the feelings of others are cited to them. However, it is important that they be reminded that while suicide may end their pain, it imposes a pain upon family members and friends that can never be resolved. Unless a person has absolutely no one who cares about them, suicide is not only about themselves. As a physician who specializes in pain management, I have at times had patients who have said that when the pain gets really bad they have considered suicide. I always remind them that if they did do it, it would have a devastating effect on those who care about them and who will blame themselves for failing the person. Rarely have those patients ever considered this.

  16. Sir, as a sufferer of chronic pain who has twice tried to shed my tortured mortal coil, I’m dismayed by your words. Chronic pain, often resistant to drugs, is torture. You are guilt tripping your patients.

  17. No, I am trying to keep them alive. Unless I do that I know there is no hope of the pain getting better. What you suggest I do is a little like a surgeon getting half way through a surgery that he is unsure is going to help and walking out and saying we might as well let the patient die on the table.

  18. Easy to say when you're not the one who has to live with the pain. And neither are those who care about your patients. It's not for you or others to decide what is bearable for the people who do live with the pain, whether it's physical or mental.

  19. My ex-husband and I had spent the day together as he was preparing to move back east but he had become increasingly depressed in the weeks preceding. He suffered bouts of depression that took its toll on our marriage but we remained best friends. That particular day I tried to talk with him, reassure him, offer him words I’d hope would finally sink in. To let him know, once again, how much people cared about him. After he dropped me off, I was struck by the thought “He’s going to kill himself”. It was so forceful and frightening that I called close friends in tears and together we decided that we would collectively try to spend time with him before he left, cheer him up. Two days later, hours before he was to board the plane, he killed himself. That was three years ago. His death devastated all who knew him; I blamed myself for not doing more, for not acting sooner, for letting his years of depression wear me down. Intellectually, and with years of therapy, I know that I had no control over his depression. But emotionally, in my grief, I picture a different outcome, one where love and support were enough to outweigh the choice of suicide. It’s a struggle I live with: thank you for sharing your moving story. I’ll save it to remind myself.

  20. Sometimes unbearable pain is not a mental illness. It is just unbearable. Those who wish to help are helpless if the person who wants to and will end their life never lets on. That is often the mysterious element of suicide that have no warning. All the ramifications have been considered. The methods have been considered. The Left Behind have been considered. The unbearable pain is considered every waking minute. There is no sign. Only certainty. One day there is a decision and then they are gone. I would never have let on. I was fortunate enough to change my mind on my own...and save my life. We simply do not understand the importance of our relational reality, the need for continuous adult development, the requirement for empathy is a sustainable civilization. We humans are clueless when it comes to we humans.

  21. My best friend killed himself on March 20, 2013. The night before he left me a voicemail that was unhappy but belied any hint that he would kill himself the next day. He suffered from horrible chronic pain and had tried a couple times before. We found his body the day after he took his life. The guilt I felt was overwhelming. The sadness unceasing. But as time passed, I realized a couple things. Suicide, I think, often is a spur-of-the-moment decision that happens when nobody’s around. And survivors have to forgive themselves for having done absolutely nothing wrong. Also, survivors have to forgive without judgment the loved one who took their life. I still miss and cry for my friend 6 years later. But I know Michael’s decision was his and his alone.

  22. A very timely article that reminded me of a documentary of a family that survived the suicide of a beloved brother, and then the suicide of her child, who had an uncanny resemblance to the uncle. Both were brilliant but both tragically afflicted with bipolar disorder of the most severe kind, with daily intrusive, obsessive thoughts of suicide and despairing even in a very privileged environment and life. The child completed his suicide on the first attempt at a preteen age despite adequate treatment, oversight, and access to care. What stayed with me from this account was what his psychiatrist said: This type of the disorder is frequently called the "terminal" type, as in patients that rarely conquer the pervasive, obsessive, despairing thoughts of suicide are those that go on to complete it. Although not a direct equivalent, the analogy to a terminal disease like metastatic cancer for example, really illustrates that certain cases, despite all the treatment in the world, will end in death by suicide. We just don't know which ones will be terminal cases. Little comfort, yes, but nonetheless necessary for families surviving suicide of a loved one. Another case that still haunts me was the Brandenn Bremmer, one who gave no sign of depression or thoughts, left nothing to hint at what was going on. Sometimes, we don't really know people completely.

  23. My brother took his life by shooting himself almost 22 years ago. We lived 1,200 miles apart and had been somewhat estranged from each other. I knew he was very depressed and when I met with him for the last time, I asked him if he ever contemplated suicide and that's when he told me not a day went by that he didn't think about killing himself. One year later he did it. I felt horribly sad and guilty for months, perhaps years. In retrospect, I don't what I could have done living so far away with a family and job to consider. I think when someone decides to take his life, there is little you can do to dissuade him.

  24. When my brother, of blessed memory, committed suicide some 10 years ago, many asked if I was angry at him. I found this to be such an odd question. It never occurred to me to be angry at someone who was in such pain, who experienced such helplessness, and severe hopelessness that he thought the only way he could get relief was to end his life. I am simply sad, very sad, that my dear brother had to experience the pain of depression during his lifetime.

  25. Thank you for sharing your story. Many more need to share. Suicide becomes an option when a person is trying to escape the intense and overwhelming pain of continuing to live. While an unfathomable option for many people, suicide is an all-to stark reality. Approximately 123 people choose this option each day in the U.S., making it around the tenth leading cause of death. If you think a person may be contemplating suicide please stay with them and talk with them until they are past their crisis or are with mental health professionals.

  26. I'm sorry, but you can't stay with them until they are past the crisis or with mental health professionals. That's exactly the kind of well meaning advice that this article is warning about. Sometimes the crisis never ends. Sometimes the suffering person will not, or cannot, get help from a doctor. We have to accept a terrible reality: sometimes there is nothing we can do.

  27. The truth, the reality, is that you are both right. Of course we can't stay with someone till the crisis passes if it's never going to pass, or if we have to, like, go to work. But on the other hand, how can we possibly say DON'T stay with someone you know is suicidal? That's the problem here, it's not one or the other, it's both.

  28. Thank you for sharing your story and photo. So many messages on social media are blaming and oversimplified. I appreciate how balanced your point of view is. Your message is important and it's delivered with such respect and generosity.

  29. Still, it hurts and mystifies. As a kid, I never understood my mother's moods, and inevitably internally resolved her alcoholism and car crashes and other attempts... as partly my fault. I, mostly unconsciously, thought I could modulate my behavior and then things would be ok. I think many people were her lifeline as she precariously clung to life, then dove into death. Years later, the neighbor across the hall took his life in a terrible way. It devastated me, though I had no inkling of what he was going through. And then, interviewing someone while performing my volunteer job, was brought into the deadly drama of suicidality when a man let me know he was thinking of killing himself. I did what I could to get him help, but soon after saw a horrendous picture in the paper of a fireman carrying out his small child, who he had killed just before killing himself. Though it all, I have come to understand that for many people, there is a powerful part of their personality that loves them and wants to take them out of their unending emotional pain, by death. Suicide is usually a choice, made by a rational actor, not by a "mentally ill" person. Want to change that dynamic, talk to the real suffering person, get them to understand their own devastation, help that inner person find another way. Broken hearts never heal. That is the danger and the clue. Hugh Massengill, Eugene Oregon

  30. "Know these warning signs of suicide" campaigns tell the millions of people who have lost someone to suicide that, yes, they should have know better, they could have done better, it was, infact, partly their fault. Which is, generally, murderously untrue. It is time to compare the lives we hope we think we might be saving with these "warning signs" lists to the lives we are certainly making measurably worse, and wonder what's worth what. Cheers,

  31. I lost my sister to suicide a little more than a year ago. She had suffered for years with bipolar disorder and had recently been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) The last three months of her life she lived with me while participating in an outpatient program for BPD treatment. When her program ended she was distraught that it hadn’t helped. We discussed finding a doctor near her home, I called my therapist for referrals. I asked her if she was considering suicide and she said that there were 9 markers for BPD, and the only one she did not have was the one for suicide. She left my home on a Tuesday, her last words to me were “I need to be an adult now.” She was dead the following Tuesday. On the day she died she called 7 doctors, and spoke to one for 15 minutes. She told her roommate she was spending the night with a friend. She went to two different stores to buy the chemicals and tools she used to end her life, and on a dark street, shortly after midnight, she drank a cocktail of her medications and mixed a toxic blend of ammonia and bleach in a bucket in the backseat of her car, lay down on the front and went to sleep for the last time. What she didn’t do was call her friends or family. She didn’t express that she needed help, she wasn’t honest when asked. She was determined to succeed. The “signs” aren’t always obvious. Survivors feel tremendous guilt, please don’t add to it by telling us we could have done more.

  32. I am truly sorry for the loss of your sister. But your post troubles me. You’ve described a method I now can’t get out of my head. Perhaps if I’d added ammonia and bleach to my medications, I wouldn’t have survived my attempts. That may sound crass, and it is wrong of me to direct this to you, instead of the comments section. I just want everyone to be aware that’s there is an effect in mentioning methods; you don’t know what vulnerable person may be reading this. I also wish I didn’t know how Spade and Bourdain died; by suicide is enough said, although that would never satisfy the public.

  33. Thoughtful and perceptive..We watched a dear one suffer months of self flagilation after partner’s suicide. We finally understood why suicide is a crime of violence,not only is it a tragedy of sorrow and depression for the life taking person, it is a loud statement to the deceased’s loved ones that says “See, you did not love me enough, you were not good enough to me, so now you can suffer life without me.” Amanda as a child lived with this constant threat. I know all the psychology of reach out to the depressed ones they suffer terrible depression. Yes this is absolutely true, but somehow the survivors who suffer more than than the one horrifying day, are brushed aside to seek therapy for their suffering and terrible self blame. Let’s aknowledge them as well.

  34. This is true as well for people who deal with a family member's chronic illness, whether psychiatric or otherwise, or with a family member's addiction or substance problem. We all know, and most of us agree, that such things are real illnesses, and we're not supposed to judge. But one result of this is a lot of collateral damage to family members - caretakers, children, spouses, etc., who can be drained or devastated by years of "understanding" and trying to help, but aren't supposed to complain.

  35. Thank you for writing this very important article. Growing up my mother suffered from severe depression and a death wish. She killed herself with a gun when I was 26. I am now 48. I wish I had heard these words then and the years afterwards.

  36. The blame-game is not new -- but what is particularly horrifying with suicide ... is that it isn't just the "choice" of the person who commits/tries suicide, but also, like the author touches on, is a "choice" forced on the loved ones around this person and thus, if the person succeeds, then the loved ones around are "blamed" for not doing more to stop the person from succeeding. The family/friends around a cancer sufferer would not be "blamed" if/when the cancer sufferer died. Although, they still will ask "Why?"

  37. There's something about blaming oneself for another's suicide that strikes me as self-centered and places an out-sized importance on one's ability to influence the feelings and desires of others. The idea that our love, or our presence, can drastically alter or remove another person's internal strife, if we just try hard enough, where does this idea come from? Don't we all have our own internal thoughts and patterns of thought? How much influence can others really have? It plays our similarly with drug addiction. "Why doesn't my loved one love me more than drugs? Why do they choose to keep doing these things that hurt not only themselves, but also me?" But where is the room in these thoughts for truly imagining what the other person is feeling. Maybe it's not about you at all. Maybe not everything is about you. Definitely, love and care for those you love and care for. But sometimes, love just ain't enough. Nobody should feel this kind of guilt and responsibility for another's choices.

  38. rockstarkate, perhaps you are right that no one person can change another person's determination to commit suicide, but we all share some degree of "guilt and responsibility" for the quality of our human life together though we'll fail over and over again.

  39. This belief may be imposed by our culture. In other cultures, it is a sin and the sole responsibility of the sinner.

  40. Twenty-three years ago my youngest sister's severely drug addicted boyfriend checked himself out of a rehab facility in NJ, hooked up with his old drug-addled "friends" and took a speedball (heroin and cocaine) straight to the next world. He was 25. While spending his last few days on life support, a team of medical professionals tried to harvest whatever organs they could from him. Guess what? Nothing was salvageable - at 25! He had a death wish - experienced drug addicts know exactly what they're doing and he didn't want to go back to rehab. His family - devout Catholics to the core - persuaded the doctors to list his cause of death as renal failure instead of the truth - suicide by drug overdose. Catholics can't get into heaven if they die by their own hand dontcha know . . . The fallout was, and continues to be, tremendous. My sister's mission was to save him, but she failed. His family had him safely tucked away into rehab, but they failed. The selfishness of his act, in an effort to cure one despondent screwed up person from living another moment with his pain, has begat dozens upon dozens of tortured lives, psyches, and hearts ever since. All for what? It's tough to conjure much empathy for Anthony B., Kate S., Chris Cornell and the list goes on. The wreckage all these folks leave behind among those who loved them and now have to live with the results of their actions is incalculable. Ultimately, we're each responsible for our own actions.

  41. A friend of mine committed suicide last month. His family celebrated his life, and I hope they did not blame themselves. My great-grandmother, Beulah, attempted suicide in 1918, was ostracized and rejected by her birth family, received no assistance from her husband, and committed suicide in 1920. Beyond offering emotional support, there might not be that much people can do. Keep the lines of communication open, and hope for the best.

  42. It is surely nobody's "fault"when suicide occurs. First, as the author observes, the deceased has been in unspeakable pain. That is nobody's fault but a simple and unfathomable fact. Encouraging people to be aware of this certainly doesn't make them culpable for failing to alleviate the pain when the victim of that pain was unable to do that either. But we can certainly try our best at what is indisputably a daunting, and often impossible, challenge. Let's be aware but not guilty.

  43. No one should act as his own judge, jury, and executioner.

  44. Everyone is calling for honest and open conversation about suicide. So much concern so little resources. In my area it costs any where from $90 to $120 for 50 minutes of counseling or therapy. If you call the suicide hotline and are stupid enough to tell them where you live, they will send the police, who will treat you like a criminal and haul you off to jail or force you into a 72 hour hold at the local mental institution. That is exactly what happened to me a few years ago. I would never reach out for help in todays society. I deal with it alone and while it is unlikely I will win this particular battle, to reach out for so called "help", makes it a million times worse.

  45. My little brother killed himself last year at age 24. I knew things were bad at the time, and even thinking back on it now, I have no idea what treatments/resources/fixes I could have recommended or reached for. A number to a suicide hotline would not have helped anything. Therapy costs even more where I live, too, and has never been covered by my insurance for more than a couple sessions. Try "fixing" the trauma of your brother's addiction, abuse, and suicide in only four 45-minute sessions...

  46. "$90 to $120 for 50 minutes of counseling or therapy" - Around here it's often $225 an hour for psychotherapy; a psychopharmacology consult is $400 an hour - though they will probably see you for less than an hour, maybe just 15 minutes.

  47. I've been thinking about Eric Ripert, Bourdain's best friend who was spending time with him in the days before Bourdain killed himself and was the one to discover his body. The guilt must be overwhelming. I sincerely hope that he gets counseling for his grief and feelings of guilt.

  48. "The guilt must be overwhelming". It is exactly that sort of statement that suggests someone like Eric Ripert should be feeling guilty that is so lacking in empathy and so toxic. Anthony Bourdain made the decision to suicide. I doubt that Mr Ripert encouraged him to do so. It is no one else's fault.

  49. You're not going to like this, but it needs to be said. I can't help but think of the sadistic side of suicide. Yes, they were troubled, yes, they were in extreme pain, but the effect of their actions on their loved ones must be considered. And the violence with which they carry it out is devastating on those left behind. My mother killed herself. She wanted to punish my father and his new wife who was expecting their child. My 15 year old brother found her, "gunshot wound to the head" read the coroner's report. Can you imagine how my young brother felt? She wanted to punish our father, she ended up punishing their own three children, aged 15, 12 and 8, as well as her parents and brother and family. Yes, she was troubled and in extreme pain, but we cleaned up the aftermath and suffered for the rest of our lives. There is an element of anger in suicide, and yes there is immense guilt on those left behind, could we have done more, but those of us who survive the trauma must make peace with their demons too.

  50. The ultimate temper tantrum. I think this is sometimes the case, though not always. And I realize it is not the enlightened or popular way to think about it these days and I am grateful that I have never known depression that takes me to the depths of despair. But I have seen suicide destroy families too many times not to understand where you are coming from. I'm very sorry you had to grow up in that reality.

  51. In Florida the suicides by elders at the end of life continue at a troubling rate. Increasingly, elders without family support have only one option when a nursing home bed is so relatively easy to get. As folks are sent to rehabs after major surgery and injury they get a preview of how a horrible nursing home experience can be without having a family and community to check on you. An example from my own experience: I was taken against my will at midnight from a good hospital to the wrong rehab/nursing home after knee replacement. It took me 10 days of working alone to get out. But, then I had to go to my own home early as I was not allowed to transfer to the correct home... Even home health aid is too amazingly and perfunctorily short to create the independence needed to survive alone... I really hate to even write it but when single poor older women who spent their lifetime caring for others see only a bad nursing home in their future at too young of an age aren't we backing them into this terrible choice? When you can't get the medical care you need because either you can't get a referral or you don't have the co-pay aren't we narrowing older women to impossible and few options? When the wait list for low income housing is 7+ years long, aren't we closing every other door for alone older women with disabilities? I feel like Rambo about this topic...All elder women want is for our country to love us as much as we have loved it. Why can't we make that happen as a people?

  52. Regretfully we lost Anthony Bourdain to suicide at only 61. He has been referred to in various posthumous articles as a “bad boy” and as someone with smarts, wit and cool. Many people find it difficult to understand how a tall, good looking, famous, wealthy man with that trio of qualities would do himself in. Apparently he was depressed. Four out of five of you will never suffer with depression. In my mid-20s I suffered through several clinical depressions. I can assure you they were, hands down, the worst ordeals in my 73 years. My emotions were flat. My days for weeks were filled with hopelessness. I frequently wanted to be someone else. I considered suicide but never made an attempt to end my life. I was in medical school at the time. With one exception my friends and professors seemed oblivious to my plight. I recall one prof in the depths of my miseries who actually insulted me publically humiliating me. My behavioral therapy was helpful and my depression lifted after each ordeal. Since my 20s the ailment has not returned. At a minimum to those who struggle with depression there is a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255. To the lovely family members and close friends who have tried to assuage even “an ounce” of of the problem sensitively, thank you regardless of the outcome. Brilliant, sensitive, behavioral therapists with meds available through MDs have their own tragic history of patients lost to suicide. False Guilt's the “gift that keeps on giving."

  53. My brother killed himself 7 years ago. The pain is unbearable. At Shiva, a mother of one of his childhood friends approached me, "You are a doctor, didn't you see this?" I have no idea how I responded. I believe I walked away wordless. When I play this back in my mind I have screamed and cried and screamed and cried. Thank you for writing about the survivors experience. We live a painful reality. We also live. As my father says, we have no choice but to keep going.

  54. I'm so sorry that person said that to you. How cruel. My condolences to you and your family.

  55. Grief sometimes brings out the absolute worst in people.They get angry at the universe and just have to take it out on someone, often someone who is also suffering. I'm sorry.

  56. "You are a psychic. Didn't you see this?" That would be the only way you could have prevented your brother's death. Take heart. People are idiots and say the stupidest things at shiva. Don't take it personally. Honestly, if you knew your brother was planning take his own life, would you have tried to stop him? Of course you would have tried to stop him. That's all you need to focus on. No guarantee you would have been successful in stopping him but, if you knew, you would have taken steps. You didn't know. The end. Don't torture yourself. As someone noted above: "the idea that our love, or our presence, can drastically alter or remove another person's internal strife, if we just try hard enough" is foolish. It's wrong. Completely wrong. We don't have that power. If only we did. Go live your life, honor your brother and be happy.

  57. My wife and I had a family member 38-years old commit suicide. We were as close to this person on a day-to-day basis as any two people could be. We had no clue the person was suffering such depression. We had a mutual friend 31-years old who took their own life. Despite attempts to help him with his obvious depression we knew one day we would get the dreaded call that he had taken his own life. The sudden loss of Tony Bourdain brought back our focus to the individuals we lost to suicide. We harbor no guilt or fault for what happened as we did our best to help our friend who needed it and if we had know our family member was in such a dark state we would have tried to do the same for him. Ultimately what we feel is ultimate sorrow for such promising lives who were so lost within themselves they saw death was their only way out.

  58. After a close friend took his life at age 30, I thought that if he could have foreseen the incredible, intense suffering his family and friends experienced in the aftermath of his death, he never would have done it. But then again, I don't know what it was like for him to struggle with severe depression year after year. At least he had no children or intimate partner. And he did try to help us understand what he was going through and prepare us for the likelihood that he might end his life. I did everything I could possibly think of to try to help him, to no avail. It's hardest for me to understand how someone could leave their children in that way...the children are incapable of understanding why their parent would leave them like that; why the bond of love and responsibility between parent/child was not enough to make them want to live and parent their child. I'm sure the suicidal person imagines their children will be better off without them - most likely just another lie told by depression and despair. Suicide is one of the most tragic circumstances in human experience... My heart goes out to all grappling with the grief and guilt surrounding suicide.

  59. Our bright, talented, beautiful, sweet, vivacious 17 year old daughter died by suicide almost four years ago. I offer my perspective as a survivor. Identifying mental health issues and getting treatment doesn't always prevent suicide. Alex was bipolar type 2, and had made 3 previous attempts, all leading to hospitalizations. She was on medication and I took her to therapy sessions twice a week. Sometimes, there are no "signs." In the weeks before that day, Alex seemed to be improving, and we were looking ahead to the next phase of her treatment. I took her to lunch on the Tuesday before, and she looked happy. During that week, there were no "signs." The last day was just another ordinary Sunday until my wife found her. I was a decent dad, but clearly could have done a better job. Survivor's guilt is real. I have come to terms with it and have accepted my share of responsibility. I have allowed myself forgiveness, although the guilt re-emerges from time to time. Couples grief therapy saved our sanity and marriage. Suicide survivors' group sessions are helpful because you can express your feelings to others in a supportive setting. At first, the grief was all encompassing and piercing. The intensity has decreased, but the feelings are always there. I think of Alex every single day, and I will mourn her until my last.

  60. May she rest in peace. And may you live in peace. No regrets. No recriminations. You did what you could. Had you known she would have been successful at taking her life, was there more you could have done? Maybe. But, honestly, that's a tortured road to go down. Who would have thought she would take her own life, especially when she looked happy a few days before?? You're not a mind reader. I'm sure you are a good person. I'm sure you were a good dad. There is no such thing as a perfect dad. Sometimes, things happen regardless of whether we tried 1000% percent to stop them or 85% percent to stop them. It is your daughter who holds the majority responsibility for her death. Not you. Honor her memory and Live in peace.

  61. Thanks for this thoughtful article, and for mentioning your own personal experience. We are so much used to look for responsibility, guilt and causality. Having someone to blame seems to be the easiest way to process a tragedy. The suicide of a close person is devastating, because it becomes obvious how ultimately powerless and helpless we are when somebody else doesn´t want to live anymore. That´s, at least for me, the most painful realization. And the pain never goes away. It´s helpful and important to talk and write about it, thanks Amanda

  62. Why people live in developed country commute suicide more than those ...say, third world country ?

  63. Thank you. In the aftermath of suicide, we forget the agony inflicted on those left behind. Children and spouses and others close to the dead person suffer unspeakable pain. Comforting these people must be our focus.

  64. I am a psychologist and have worked in in-patient facilities for more than 40 years. I recall two stories of suicide. One man said if he wanted to kill himself, we could not stop him, even if he was on 2:1 [2 staff to one patient, arms length away], he could find a way to do it. If he had succeeded, three shifts of the staff would have spent fruitless days reviewing what could have been done differently and being interrogated by the risk managers, but we were helpless if he really wanted to do it. I heard the other story during training. It involved a father who shot himself in the family home on the birthday of one of his children. There are no words for the ongoing aftereffects of this tragic act.

  65. My father killed himself when I was 15 after many attempts and a lifetime of misery. His final act was to be a murder-suicide from which I escaped and ended after SWAT teargassed the house. He was an abusive monster and my overwhelming feeling afterward was relief--as it is with many people after a suicide. Other feelings came as well, and 30 years later it's still part of my life, but pretending that relief isn't one of the feelings family and friends feel afterward--and the guilt those feelings generate--doesn't do any good either. The reality is that sometimes it feels like a choker that's been around our necks for years has finally been loosened. The idea that suicide is always wrong and preventable is toxic and causes many people who are ready for life to be over to be driven into secrecy and using methods that leave family and friends shocked and horrified. Whether incurable mental illness or a chronic physical illness, these people are in more pain than is bearable to them and have not found adequate relief--it's very sad, but no reason to deny that the end of suffering is a blessing to the sufferer and usually their loved ones too. Our culture dictates whether a person is allowed a good death--supported VSED, PAS, terminal sedation... I'm quite sure that most who choose suicide to end unbearable suffering would prefer to take the PAS cocktail in the comfort of their own homes after saying goodbye to loved ones than shooting themselves in a dirty motel room.

  66. I am so sorry you experienced this.

  67. Two years ago, my youngest brother, at the age of 37, took his own life. Even though our relationship had always been very good (he was 13 years younger than me), I began feeling guilty. What else could I have done to prevent this tragedy? I still don't know, but our sister, who was also devastated, said something that lessened my guilt a little. She said, "We have to respect his decision". This made me think that maybe he had some agency over his final act, some measure of dignity even in the grip of despair. He was no longer the little child I would take to amusement parks and to the airport to see the planes come and go. He was an adult who decided, for some reason, to fly away.

  68. We understand when someone with a debilitating and painful physical illness takes their own life. We fail to see that a mental illness can be just as painful to the sufferer because we don't really accept that it's an illness and somehow feel that if the person just tried hard enough he or she would be able to overcome it. This attitude, whether overt or not, just adds to their suffering.

  69. Suicide has a very personal impact to many who have written as it does for me. While we should grieve the loss of the love one we should feel no more quilt than if they had died from cancer. Depression is an illness with suicide the outcome if one succomes to their disease. Not all illness will respond to the therapy offered. Depression may be a life long illness but if it results in death the surviving loved ones should not blame themselves any more than if they had lost someone to cancer.

  70. I will not read any of the news or essays about the suicides of Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdaine. She was only a brand name to me in upscale stores; his food videos entertained my husband. This is not a topic for scintillating stories about spectacular people. It's about all of us, and trying to give hope, and always giving compassion and, most of all, time for one another. But then we must accept that ONLY the person who chooses suicide is responsible for that choice. I will also say this: from the time I was ten until 40, my father routinely threatened suicide to me as a way to "get" at my mother. Only until I was emotionally exhausted with my own family responsibilities, which were considerable, did I find the courage to tell him to "go ahead, but don't tell me about it." So then he targeted my brother with his threats. Sometimes people use the threat of suicide to manipulate others, and that is massively traumatic.

  71. Thank you for this brave article. To fellow readers, there is an story by Roxanne Robert the Washington Post just reprinted that also speaks of the devastation following her father's suicide. As hard and painful as these stories and comments are to read, it helps to feel less alone. It has taken decades, and finally finding the right therapist (I'm very lucky to have insurance) to stop tearing myself up with blame for my mother's suicide. Other resources that helped - the Friends for Survival newsletter (they have support groups if you're in the Central Valley area of California), and mindful self-compassion (Christopher Germer or Kristin Neff - books and websites). If there's any way you can attend a mindful self-compassion training, do so. I took an 8 session training last year offered through a mindfulness center. It was healing, and has continued to be healing, in ways and to an extent far beyond what I could have hoped for.

  72. I just read the Roxanne Roberts article thank you for the recommendation.

  73. "We need to recognize that if their attempt is a success, it is not because our love was a failure." Strong, vital words. Those who remain should take them to heart.

  74. This is the most meaningful article I have read about suicides. I wonder how many times have Kate, Anthony, Avicii attempted before their last one... We all need to show some form of existance to others who do not feel like they exist while they are alive. This is a wake up call from all popculture vegan eating happy thinking fake emotional mantras. This is real and we all need to be aware of our loved ones' mental/emotional well being. It all starts with a sincere 'how are you'...

  75. Why take a shot at Vegans. Because we live longer?

  76. The abuse of "survivor" hit a new media low. Did you survive a murder, fatal accident, or deadly disease?

  77. What? The term refers to the family and friends left behind.

  78. Your comment's lack of compassion/empathy highlights a relevant point in the article, which is (paraphrasing): that being more aware, connected to others, and empathetic is much more productive. survivor || noun || definitions: •a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died •the remainder of a group of people or things •a person who copes well with difficulties in their life •a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks

  79. mainliner, where I come from, obituaries (no matter what the cause of death) include the names of the people who "survived" the deceased... i.e. "He was survived by his wife of 20 years, 3 children, two brothers and a sister..."

  80. Research shows that survivors of suicide report experiencing more shame, blame, guilt, need for concealing the cause of death, and stigma than do those who are bereaved by other forms of traumatic death. Additionally, a family history of suicide is a risk factor for suicide, leaving survivors as collateral damage in the wake of a family suicide. The lingering effect of suicide on individuals, families, and communities through contagion, grief, and increased risk for suicide is a serious problem. My research on psychotherapists who have had a patient die by suicide while in treatment shows that many experience the event as a traumatic one that may alter their willingness to treat suicidal patients and often leads to ongoing personal and professional distress.

  81. I am truly sorry for the loss of your father. Thank you for this thoughtful piece about suicide, death and guilt. I struggled with suicide, both personally and in my family, for many years. A while ago I was reading an article about the death of a severely schizophrenic man who had killed himself, and his family was deeply guilty about how they would never see him again. I'll never forget what one of the experts quoted in the article said: "For some people, suicide is a terminal illness." We do not blame ourselves for cancer, but there's an epic of guilt around this issue.

  82. Thank you for acknowledging the affect that the "how to help" messages are having on those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide, those of us who survive a suicide loss. My beautiful, talented 20 year old daughter took her life 6.6 years ago. Today I found myself sobbing in the car while listening to a news feature of a man telling his story of surviving a suicide attempt in order to help others understand. He spoke about how no sooner had he initiated his attempt ,he found he wanted to live. The pain of wondering if my daughter may have felt this way is unbearable.

  83. I am so very sorry for your loss and your pain. The next time I am in the depths, I hope I will remember what you wrote.

  84. Dear CTCF - I am truly sorry for your loss, and I hope that you come to terms with never being able to answer that question. We can't ever really know what is in the mind of another person, and most of us behave in inconsistent ways - at itmes, at least. It sounds like you wrote this out of love, and I'm sure that if there could be a way to get that insight, you and many others would seek it. No effort spared. Our words and ways are inadequate.

  85. Thank you for writing such a powerful and insightful piece.

  86. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful and honest writing. As a fellow survivor of a parent who has made multiple suicide attempts, your words described many of my feelings over these past few days -- such sadness for the loss of life and loved ones left behind.

  87. Thank you for this.

  88. Seems to me that no matter how much you give of yourself to a potential suicide in the hope that you are helping them stay alive, might just drain your own psyche. Perhaps it is best to let them go as they did in ancient times as this quote from an assisted suicide article illustrates. "Assisted suicide did not always carry the stigma it does today. It was an accepted practice in the ancient world. Athenian magistrates stockpiled poisons for their citizens, with the admonition “If your life is hateful to you, die; if you are overwhelmed by fate, drink the hemlock.”" From: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/03/death-becomes-him/7916/

  89. Thank you. My dad was successful many years ago. He came to see me at school earlier that day. For years, I replayed the "what if..." could I have saved him? Suicide has many sides. Like others, I wish the second it takes to make a decision that has no do over could pass with a glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow. My heart is with the immediate family, especially these two young daughters. We go forward but the pain of that final act is a piece of the fabric of our lives. Sometimes, we can accept we loved all we could but it isn't always enough. try we must, to see, hear, and be present for one another more.

  90. My mother regularly faked dying when I was a child. She'd make a threat, and later I'd find her 'dead' in a doorway. She taught me to hate her. My stepfather said, "The next time she threatens to take all her pills, just tell her 'Go ahead and take them!'" I did, and she didn't kill herself. Then one day he told me he could not go on, and begged me to quit college to care for both of them. I did NOT, and he killed himself. Life can be strange. I was 18 then, and in my 70s now. I've flirted with suicide myself over the years. I think most people do. But I will never, ever use such thoughts to manipulate people.

  91. We blame ourselves for a loved one's death, because he was a loved one. It is simple and brutal. We can't bear the loss, and can't help rewriting the script that if only we'd (fill in the blank: been there; known he was in trouble; called him that day; insisted he go for help...) he'd be alive. We blame ourselves because we don't want to admit that sometimes we have no control and cannot save people we love more than ourselves. Just as we cannot always keep those we love safe from disaster - cancer, car wrecks, flu, falls - we can't always keep them safe from themselves even if we are vigilant and loving. But we wouldn't be human if we thought that we could surrender control, and admit we don't really have that much.

  92. And in being "there" for the other, who is in existential need over time, or during a particular period, and whoever s/he is to us, as well as being in touch with ourselves, learning how not to be trapped by the distorting either/or hindside: If I had only said...done...been there...extended a hand...myself.Being, feeling and communicating "available," and "accessible" are dynamic,multilevel and quality continua. Not YES/NO states.What do I need to know and understand (two separate processes and outcomes) about myself, my own strengths and limitations, as well as the other person, in order to begin to help. In order to continue? What will enable/ help this? What can/will interfere? What would enable any of us, after a loss from suicide, or perhaps being involved in someone's slow lifestyle suicidal behaviors, to accept in some ways that feeling guilty, anxious, angry, helpless, etc. is part of the human DNA. What would enable us to functionally integrate that valencing (+ +/- -) any type of feeling can and does result in unexpected well being issues and problems, for ourselves. As well, perhaps, as for other survivors. Coming to terms with "did the best that I could, at the time," along with grieving, mourning, and whatever else makes up our interacting identities and behaviors is a way of life to consider. It may not be THE answer to whatever each of us experience as being the existential questions at the time.

  93. I’ve started a toe-to-toe movement. Toe-to-toe encourages dialogue among friends/love ones during a walk together. Placing our toes together following a communal walk requires balance and a reminder that leaning on each other is part of our collective journey. #toetotoe

  94. The closest we can come to knowing why people commit suicide, and whether "survivor's guilt" has any basis, is to talk to people who were saved from suicide while their attempts were in progress. From personal experience, the answer is both yes and no. Major depression is complex, Mine was rooted in child abuse by loving parents who had no idea what they were doing was wrong. There was nothing that they had done near the time of my suicide attempt. But had a caring person not had a hunch he should check on me and then pulled my head out of the gas oven, "survivor's guilt" would have been both appropriate and also inappropriate, as they had been prisoners of their own upbringing. "Survivor's guilt" definitely would have been apt for the therapist whose words earlier that day had been the trigger which sealed my belief in my worthlessness. In her inexperience, she had resorted to telling me that I was making her feel bad when, in my distraught state, I could not articulate for her what I was feeling. My siblings, friends, and coworkers would have had no reason to feel even the slightest twinge of guilt. They knew nothing. It was my inability to communicate, not their lack of discernment, which was the barrier. The man who saved me was a Marine just back from Vietnam. In addition to his night shift factory job, he volunteered on a suicide qhotline, and knew the signs.

  95. My brother killed himself 23 years ago. In these intervening years, I have built up enough spiritual "muscle" to carry him with me, but in the beginning, I was reduced to what felt like nothing. I lost any sense of who I was or what I was meant to be doing. I was, during that time, a fraudulent human being whose existence and accomplishments could be summed up by the one prevailing fact that I could not, did not save my own brother. If I couldn't do at least that much, what good was I and why was I taking up space? I went looking for things to read on the subject of suicide, needing to understand it better. I didn't find much that was written for the lay public, but I do remember this quote: "When someone you love kills themselves, they leave their skeleton in your closet." My brother's skeleton is still in my closet, but I am less afraid of it now and it has become part of my inner landscape. If I could say just one thing to those who are trying to survive this particular devastation, I would tell them that they were loved and that their beloved would have stayed if they could have.

  96. I have known three people who killed themselves, a high school friend who killed herself in college, and two former co-workers. I also once spent an afternoon with a stranger who a week later committed suicide in a spectacular way that ensured his young children would find his body when they came home from school. Each suicide was different. The amount of care each person took to protect their loved ones was different. I am haunted by my memories even though I wasn’t a family member or even especially close friend. I cannot even begin to imagine the grief and guilt close survivors. If we want to make a difference, I think it’s to them we owe care in what we say and do, because they’re the ones who have to wake up every morning and find a way to keep on going. Fwiw, even when a loved one dies of natural causes (as my mom did when I was 20), we are wracked with guilts and “what ifs.”

  97. My only sibling ended his life on March 20, 1993 at age 23. Basically, I still exist into midlife, while my brother opted to end his life in early adulthood. While we both experienced crazy amounts of various kinds of child abuse (also see child developmental trauma). My largely futile efforts to keep my little brother safe ended in "fantasy land," where I acquired a useful (albeit magical) belief that prompted my conviction that he was tough enough to always bounce back. For a time, it seemed a verifiable reality, since he would always heal up. There was no obstacle then to stop us getting on with the real business of "living happily ever after." (Mere glimpses of hope, however imaginary, helped strengthen our shared resolve to not only survive the insanity, substance abuse, and toxic violence, but thrive despite our undeniable misfortune in the parent-selection lottery.) Central to this case, IMHO, is the indesputable fact that my kid brother definitely bore the brunt of assaults. Traumatic events, especially those ranking high in both application severity and administration frequency are damaging enough to impede childhood development as well as ensure subsequent generations reach adulthood with at least a potentially compromised stress-response, including increased risks of developing serious health disorders which in turn, can shape the context for yet another incredibly tragic, but unremarkably mundane repeat performance of the multigenerational family violence show.

  98. At times of high suicidal feelings, I have felt the heavy burden of not doing it because I know my family would be devastated. So, instead of them hurting, I continue to carry all of it. I have been felled to my knees sobbing by my depression, and all I could say was, "Let me go, please, let me just leave." In that dark moment I felt so much anger towards those who loved me, because if no one loved me, I could leave. I felt resentment, then guilt because of that resentment. Some days I just want to leave. I am aware that suicide would cause my family great pain. And these days, that pain is only barely outpaced by the pain I feel inside everyday.

  99. I lost my parents to addiction, my mother's death was more or less suicide. The last conversations we had ( 17 or 4 years ago) will stay with me forever. Depression got me at full force a few years ago and I am just recovering from a severe and long episode. Due to several other setbacks I lost trust and hope. The medication and treatment I get is a blessing. It has saved my life. It will also saved me from a relapse and that gives me peace of mind. I am starting to enjoy life and friends again. My thoughts are with everyone here who is struggling. May you find kindness towards yourself and kindness in other people. R.

  100. You are absolute right, Amanda. suicide affects a lot of people. Even the tiniest ripple can have long lasting repercussion. No, it is not your fault; but it is a huge burden, especially when you get tired at times and feel guilty subsequently. Like other caregivers of people with natural sickness, you need to give yourself space and find your support system. Death is not the worst; rather, it is the psychic pain the suicidal has to endure. Consequently, those of us who are empathic may end up getting a piece of it. Like what they say in air travel, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others to do the same. The aftermath can be long lasting. Questions like "have I done enough?" sneak up behind you when you are least prepared. Chances are you have done more than enough. So don't let self-doubt to pull you under. I said this with utmost sincerity because we are all susceptible