No one can know the depth of despair to which a person may sink upon contemplation of suicide. Possibly, the black hole in which one finds him/herself gets deeper and darker as the days go by. Soon, even the smallest sliver of light is blocked from view. And then -- instead of being frightening -- the darkness becomes comforting and safe. It cradles and protects the person from all outside forces – from life and all the decisions to be made, both large and small. Eternal sleep and “supposed” freedom from worry beckon the suicide until he can no longer resist, and life is snuffed out. Unfortunately for the person who just took his life, death is not sleep. Instead, from a spiritual point of view, death is to be wide awake and suffer the pain one’s passing instills in others. After all, death is all about the survivor and the loss and sorrow that must be addressed.

From a more worldly vantage point, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And while over time problems may dissipate, there are no do-overs when it comes to taking your own life.

Suicide is a very egocentric act. Any thought of others, and the subsequent pain that will be inflicted on those left behind, is brushed aside because the suicide can not see past his/her own pain. Ironically, the suicide survivor also acts egocentrically because after the death, he/she immediately wants to shoulder the blame and make it all about him or her. Accordingly, the following “I” statements are commonly heard.
-- “Why did’t I see this coming?”
-- “If I had just been paying attention, I would have seen the signs and stopped this tragedy.”
-- “It’s my fault; I refused to listen and answer the cry for help.”
-- “Why did I have to start an argument over something so inconsequential?”

These questions, and similar ones, are asked in the quest for the survivor to make sense of this irrational act. He/she attempts to apply logic to the situation, or look for a cause-and-effect, because that is how we, as humans, understand and bring order to our world.

Herein lies the dilemma, and the root of the guilt, of a suicide survivor. It is virtually impossible to successfully apply logic to an illogical situation and expect to arrive at a satisfactory answer. In truth, there are very few good explanations why someone would choose death as a solution to a problem, with the exception being the case of euthanasia.

When logic fails to supply any answers, guilt and self-blame are always there as alternatives. The survivor continues to berate him/herself for missing the signs and stopping the fatal act. Keep in mind, it is very easy to recognize clues in retrospect, but we can only live our lives going forward. Thus, we can only make decisions with the information in front of us and from our current frame of reference.

The survivor’s guilt is compounded by that fact that a person’s emotional and rational minds do not travel along parallel highways. Here is a perfect example.

At bedtime, two nights before my husband took his own life, he said, “I’m so weary.” To myself, I thought, “Of course he is weary. He works 24/7; never takes a vacation; and is under incredible stress.” Aloud, I say to him, “Well, I hope you get a good night’s rest.” Two days later, in retrospect, I’m beating myself up because now I know he wasn’t saying he was tired; he was just weary of the everyday struggle.

Looking at the situation rationally, I couldn’t have been expected to put his comment in the context that he was ready to kill himself. We are not programmed to think that way, and, if we were, we would be second guessing every word that emanated from our mouths.

However, emotionally, I blamed myself for not catching the nuance of his words. After all, how could I know him so well and not at all?

One of the greatest tasks of the survivor is to work towards having these two pathways of emotionality and rationality travel more concurrently and eventually merge to come to a resolution.

In order for a survivor to move forward, he/she must accept that responsibility for the act lies solely on the shoulders of the suicide. The only person for whom one can be responsible is him or herself. It is not possible to change the facts of one’s life and erase this terrible tragedy; however, it is still possible to take charge of one’s life.

If every event in life is truly neutral, and we merely empower a situation by assigning a positive or negative emotion to it, then, sometimes, the only control we have over a situation is how we handle it. In this way, it is possible for a seemingly bad situation to be a wonderful opportunity. Instead of simply reflexively reacting, one has the choice to decide how he/she will, instead, reflectively respond to the situation and how the lessons learned can be utilized to move forward in a new life.

Author's Bio: 

Ellen Gerst is the author of "A Practical Guide to Widow/erhood". Born out of Ellen's own experiences as a young widow, "A Practical Guide" provides suggestions to help a griever re-adjust each aspect of his/her life without his/her loved one. Ellen has also written "Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story", an instruction manual for redesigning your future to include a new love connection. This book is for both the divorced and widow/ers. To learn more about Ellen and her books and services, visit