The Suicide of a Loved One
How to resolve the feelings of guilt and regret

If only I had made more of an effort to engage my brother Henry more at our family Thanksgiving get-together. If only I had called him more often. If only I could have understood what was going on in his tortured mind. IF ONLY, IF ONLY! Regrets about things that I could no longer change echoed through my mind.

I got the call while I was at work. It was my father calling, and before he could utter a word, I knew something terrible had happened. Somehow I knew it would be about Henry. I wanted to block out the reality of this moment, I didn’t want to hear his next words, “Henry is dead.”

Confusion surrounded his death. The cause of death was elusive. He had been found in his apartment, apparently asphyxiated. It wasn’t until days later, when the toxicology report revealed poison ingestion as the cause of death, that we realized that Henry had committed suicide. He had ended his own life. This was unthinkable. How could we as a family accept this horrible reality? To have died of a heart attack or a cerebral hemorrhage would have been easier to accept. At least we could have pinned his death on some external, explainable force. To lose him at the age of 42 was painful enough without the added layer of unanswered questions and unbearable uncertainty. To make matters even worse, we quickly discovered that suicide was not a word that could be uttered publicly without judgment. This attitude was there, even if it was unspoken. The reality must be kept from the children, they mustn’t know. The stigma surrounding suicide makes it more difficult to grieve and receive the support you so desperately need at this time in your life.

The death of a loved one under any circumstances causes intense feelings of shock and numbness, sadness, anger and despair. One of the most overwhelming emotions following the suicide of a loved one is guilt. The “what if’s” and “if only’s” launch a furious attack on the surviving friends and family. “I should have known, I should have seen the signs. Somehow I should have been able to prevent this tragedy.”

Anger is another emotion that is commonly felt following suicide. This is a feeling that many people are not entirely comfortable with. Survivors may experience feelings of anger and rage towards their loved one for not getting the help they needed, for leaving them so abruptly, and for robbing them of the opportunity to say goodbye.

How can you navigate this minefield of emotion? Although direct communication with your loved one is no longer possible, a symbolic catharsis can be very powerful. One way you can do this is to write a letter to your deceased loved one. The following are some suggested topics that you may wish to address:
• what we can never do together now
• what I wish I had not said or done
• what I wish you had not said or done
• what I miss about you the most
• what I would most like to ask you
• how I felt when you died
• how I feel now
What you choose to do with the letter once you have written it is a matter of personal choice. Some people attach it to a helium balloon and release it. Others may wish to save it along with other keepsakes. Still others feel the need to burn or destroy it as a means of closure. One thing is certain, writing this letter will stir up powerful emotions. You may wish to have the presence of someone you love and trust nearby if you should need support.

It has been 17 years since Henry’s suicide. I can still recall the vivid details of the moment when I heard of his death. I remember the shock, disbelief and the unspeakable pain. Over the years I still have occasional pangs of guilt and remorse, but with time and patience, I now clearly recognize that I could not have prevented Henry from taking his life.
If I can be a beacon of light to other suicide survivors, then something good has come from an otherwise meaningless tragedy.

Author's Bio: 

Grace Tallman, Bio
Passionately compassionate for people living with grief
Grace received her nursing degree from UWO and has been a practicing RN for many years. She has worked in a large variety of nursing specialties including Emergency, ICU, community nursing, and mental health. These experiences have honed her compassion and made her keenly intuitive to the grief process that is associated with life’s various losses. Her extensive medical background allows her to understand illness and the dying process, and the very real physical manifestations of grief and depression. Her skills as a mental health nurse include training in cognitive therapy. This aids her in identifying her clients’ emotional wellness and helps them to reframe their thought patterns in order to promote emotional healing.
As a hospital chaplain for 8 years, she compassionately and actively listened to deeply hear people’s stories of loss and pain. She has been honoured to be part of the intimate journey of life with many individuals and families who were facing death and serious illness. As a Chaplain she was often called upon to address spiritual questions regarding major loss.
Grace recently graduated with a Certificate in Grief and Bereavement from King’s College at the University of Western Ontario. This extensive training program prepared her to work with people during the difficult stages of dying and grief. With her medical background, chaplaincy and specific academic preparation in this field, Grace is well qualified to provide support to people on their grief journey.
As a facilitator Grace has abundant experience in providing a safe and therapeutic environment to assist people to process their grief in a group setting. She has also developed and facilitated several training programs to train volunteers by helping them to gain insight and skill in working with dying and bereaved individuals.