Friday, February 19, 2016

The Guilt that Follows Suicide

It’s been about 3 months since my best friend took her life. I’m still trying to accept that she’s no longer here.

Sometimes I imagine having one last conversation between us to talk about everything that has happened. I imagine asking her endless questions, pausing occasionally to look at one another, both acknowledging how absurd the whole thing is. I see us both shaking our heads in disbelief.

The morning after her death I went to her home. There was no one there at the time, so I sat in her driveway and started to talk to her through my tears. The first thing I told her was, “I’m sorry.”

Unfortunately our friendship had changed over the course of her illness. Her illness became all encompassing and my attempts to save her failed to make her better, but instead started to come at a cost to myself and my own family. Based on the advice of several therapists, I had to create healthy boundaries.

This was incredibly difficult to do and I knew that it would be devastating to her. But I also knew that if I didn’t, she was going to pull me down with her. As the therapist explained to me, “She has a hole in her heart that you will never be able to fill, no matter how much you pour in. She doesn’t want your help, she wants you to join her by sitting in her pain.”

I sat in her pain to the point that I was now drained empty.

I think a part of me believed that if I could save her, I could save my son from such a fate. I wasn’t going to abandon this responsibility. But in the end, I had to come to terms that people can’t be saved, they have to learn to save themselves.

In the days that followed her death I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I felt responsible for her death. I believed that had I stayed by her side just a little longer, she would still be here today.

Soon after, I could feel the tug of depression weighing down on me. I would burst into tears at random times, sometimes sob out loud in the shower where no one would hear me. I would see her by my side at the gym, walking out of the room at my place of work. It wasn’t a ghost I was seeing, but her absence in every part of my life. She was always there and now she was gone. It was like my brain was trying to fill in what was now missing.

I spent hours reading through several years of texts. Our last text conversation remained incomplete. Scattered throughout my house I find gifts she has given me over the years, hand-me-downs fill my drawers. The sunscreen she gave me at her final good-bye still sits unused in my medicine cabinet.

I could barely breathe as I sat through her funeral. Seeing her once vibrant body now reduced to dust in an urn was too much to bear.

For the first time, I made an appointment to see a therapist. I knew I was in over my head.

* * *

Flash forward to this evening when out of nowhere I am flooded with old memories of my friend. I find this happens randomly by small things. Today it was a headache. I remember both of us trying to figure out the source of our headaches during this season. We both suffered them and would share our latest attempt to cure them. As my head throbbed, I couldn’t help but think if hers would too.

Some days I feel angry that she left her husband and kids to pick up so many broken pieces, other days I feel the nagging guilt. Thanks to my time with a therapist I understand that my “healthy boundaries” were not the cause of her death and that I’m not responsible, yet there’s a difference between cognitive understanding and heart understanding. My brain knows the truth, yet my heart forgets often.

Then there are days when I remember the good times. I remember trips we went on together and nights where we stayed up all night talking. I remember her adventurous nature where she would drag me to new restaurants to “try something new” and how we laughed all through our untouched dinner after being served the worst orange chicken ever.

And finally, there are days when I feel deep sadness. I’m so sad that her disease made her forget all the things that she loved in life. That she suffered so much and that I added to her suffering. I’m heartbroken that she is no longer here and that she will never know how much she was loved.

* * *

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