Grief consists of a tangled ball of emotions: sadness, anger, guilt, blame, rage, abandonment, trauma. It is not necessarily a neat predictable ordering of emotions. Each person can experience different emotions. Suicide grief has conflicting emotions and an intensity of emotions. Abandonment and rage, yet love and sorrow are felt.
I distinctly remember what I thought was a strong English writing assignment for Romeo and Juliet as a high school teacher. The assignment was called: “Who’s To Blame?” The essay prompt was asking who was to blame for the death of two teenagers who died by suicide. Was it Friar Lawrence and the Nurse who allowed them to marry? Was it the Capulets who had insisted that Juliet marry Paris? Was it the circumstances–including the killing of Mercutio? Was it fate? Was it timing? In none of these situations was abuse involved. Many movies are the same. The parents, antagonists, or others are typically to blame. The focus is on who is to blame instead of signs or suicide awareness or mental health awareness or the grief of the families/friends/communities afterward.
Blaming others or self does not take away the piercing pain, it creates more pain: more anger, more bitterness, more hatred. Blame/guilt has been the hardest part of grief. Every action of parenting or relationship is analyzed. Maybe I tried too hard, maybe I didn’t do enough. The deepest sense of failure is felt.
But, this is the truth: you are not responsible for your loved one’s death in any way. Why do suicide survivors blame themselves: “Psychiatrists theorize that human nature…resists the idea that we cannot control all the events of our lives” so strongly that people would rather blame themselves than “accept the inability to prevent it” (SOS). The closer you are to the person, the more harshly you might blame, “I should have known or seen the signs.” However, we are human. We are not perfect people. We do not foresee perfectly. We do not have perfect discernment. Think of all of the things that you DID do to help your lost loved one.
As I was reading the Gospels during the Covid shutdown, I read about the disciples not being able to cast out demons when they went out on their own in Matthew 17. They were human and not God. They were imperfect people, and even with Jesus right there, they did not have perfect discernment and power!
So, who is responsible? Notice, I said responsible. Responsible simply means an acknowledgement of fact. Blame is accusatory. This is the tricky part of grieving a suicide: many times (90%) clinical depression or mental illness is involved. Therefore, one is suffering in a black, treacherous pit of despair. Never did I know how powerful depression could be: a power unto itself. Likely, the forces of evil assaulted more than intensely, a frenzy of attack and ambush. However, on some level, “there was a conscious choice made…even if made with a clouded mind” (SOS). This is tough to swallow and survivors find it easier to blame themselves many times. Acknowledging this does not mean that you do not love them or that this defines their eternity. Just as I should not blame people for my actions, I should not blame myself for others’ actions. Free yourself from guilt.
(SOS Handbook) For those who have lost someone to suicide: suicidology.org/resources/suicide-loss-survivors/