Dear 100 Hour Board,
How do you cope with the death of a loved one? My girlfriend killed herself about a month ago and I really don’t feel like living anymore.
-My Name Here
Dear My Name Here,
In the very best of times, in the least complicated of grief situations, coping with a loved one's death is a very emotionally challenging experience. When a loved one dies by suicide, though, the grief is highly, highly complicated. In addition to all the feelings from the sadness genre, there are often feelings of anger (at the situation, at your loved one, at anyone or anything) and guilt, just to name a couple. All of this can be almost impossible to navigate. Because people don't know quite what to say or do, they often stay away completely, which also complicates the grief. There are other people's ignorant judgments and stigma to contend with, as well as feelings to be sorted out about what your relationship meant and what your life means now. There is existential angst to get through. Then there is the fact that people who survive a loved one's suicide are at an increased risk of suicide themselves. If I could lock eyes with you right now, I would, and I would say this: This is serious. Your pain is real. You deserve help. This is potentially dangerous for you. Please get support.
Get a therapist, yesterday. If you have one but you don't like them, get a new one. This is what therapists do. They help us through these kinds of traumatic situations so that things can get dealt with in a healthy way and our quality of life can increase. You deserve help. Take it.
Just as importantly, get a support network. Suicide is not as uncommon as we think. There are support groups, and I hope you join one. Get into a room with people who have been where you have been. Listen, and talk. In the words of Andrea Gibson, one of my favorite poets, "the most healing thing we can do is remind ourselves over and over and over other people feel this too." If you're in Utah, check out NAMI Utah's suicide survivors network, Intermountain Healthcare's suicide survivor support group, Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition, NUHOPE, LOSS, or Caring Connections (University of Utah) for resources and support. Similar resources are available in many parts of the country. If you need help now or if you are having a hard time connecting to resources, call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Because it needs to be said, your girlfriend dying was not your fault. People have autonomy, and no matter how attentive or supportive we are we can't always help them. Your girlfriend was not trying to hurt you. I've been suicidal many times in my life, and I can tell you that once someone gets to that place, they either really believe they are helping you by removing themselves as a burden or they are too overwhelmed to think of the consequences at all. Your girlfriend left the planet on purpose. I'm so unbelievably sorry that happened. I hope you stay here with us. You are important.
Please, get support. Today. Right now. You deserve it.
- The Black Sheep
Black Sheep's awesome response gives you good advice for what you should do. My purpose is to write about my experience with a friend's recent death by suicide to describe my feelings and reactions in hopes that you might find solace or comfort in common experience. I do not presume to speak for you and what you're feeling since our experiences will definitely have some differences. I just hope that maybe our combined suffering might produce some healing (something I'm finding I still need after this).
My friend died by suicide about 6 months ago. We were not particularly close friends at the time of her passing, but there was a period in our lives when we were very close. She was one of the happiest people I've ever known. Her suicide was related to chronic pain and depression and a feeling of helplessness as others had to almost literally carry her through life during her pregnancy. Doctors refused to refer her to mental health specialists and in an act of desperation, she took her own life.
Even as I write this, all of the old feelings well up in me. I'm furious at the doctors who told her she had "baby blues" and that she just needed to wait it out. I want to literally hurt the people who refused to provide help for her. I am overwhelmed with sadness at the thought of her last few moments in this life as she was forced to conclude that this was her only respite. I am heartbroken when I think of her family, her husband, and her son having to live their lives without her.
Over time, the pain has diminished, but it hasn't really gone away. I don't think about her every moment of every day like I did for the first few days after I learned that she had died. But I do think about her frequently. She had a beautiful voice and I think about her when I sing or when I hear other people sing. I thought about her recently when I went to the retirement concert of our high school choir teacher a few weeks ago. I know she would have been there and it hurt not to see her there (and even more so to see her mother in the audience). When I think about her, I still get sad and angry. I'm not honestly sure if I'll ever stop doing that and I'm not sure that I should either.
Your question is how to cope with that. I don't really know the answer. I think I would do you a disservice to give you a list of things to do because I think that this is the kind of grief that takes a long time to come out and I'm not sure that trying to speed up that process would really make anything better. I am, at least, grateful to have loved someone to the degree that her passing has caused this much grief.
I'm not really sure if any of this has helped you out at all. I know that your situation is different from mine because you were so much closer to your girlfriend than I was to my friend. I can't offer you anything other than empathy and the support of a stranger. I do hope that you reach out in the ways Black Sheep has suggested and that you find a way to handle this. Mostly, I hope that you find some way to heal from this.
The Man with a Mustache