Why You Should Forgive Your Friends And Heroes Who Commit Suicide

Get insight into suicide from someone who's been there-on bettysbattleground.com

Suicide recently came into the public consciousness because of the death by hanging of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. Whenever I hear about someone dying from hanging, I think about this kindhearted, sweet as hell, alcoholic teenage gutter punk I knew who hanged himself. The last time I saw him, I was in a van going to the Oregon Country Fair. I saw him walking outside on the side of the road. We lived in Seattle so this wasn’t expected. I considered asking the driver to stop so I could say hi to my friend, but then I figured–and I remember this thought so clearly–“Oh well, it’s okay, I’ll see him again.” I didn’t.

We never know when we will lose the people we love. Whether by suicide or something else, our lives are these tenuous, crazy things that can be shattered without a moment’s notice. We need to better appreciate the people in our lives, but we also need to forgive those who leave us on purpose. I’ve written this post to help you understand why you should let go of the anger you feel at your loved one who committed suicide, even though that anger is totally justified.

Why You Should Forgive Your Friends And Heroes Who Commit Suicide

Being suicidal is a sign of a mental anomaly. Learn more on bettysbattleground.com

We lost another icon to suicide last month. It doesn’t really matter when you’re reading this. Before it was Chester Bennington, it was Chris Cornell, and before him, it was Amy Bleuel. There will be another one. There will always be another one, whether it’s a headliner or not.The World Health Organization estimates that every 40 seconds, someone somewhere on this planet commits suicide.

Maybe you know someone who tried. Maybe you loved someone who succeeded. Or maybe it was someone you really, really admired, even if you never actually knew him. That can be enough to make you question the foundation of, well, everything. If this person whom you loved and trusted and admired made the choice to end it all, what does that say about you? Why should you keep enduring pain and disappointment?

Then there’s the anger. You feel rage because a person you believed in let you down. In just about the biggest possible way. You’re sad and you miss them, but let’s be frank: You’re also pissed. Really, really pissed. You gave this person your love, your admiration, your attention, and, apparently, it meant nothing. Losing a loved one to suicide can make you feel lost and meaningless.

If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, I know what you’re going through. Not because anyone I loved has died by suicide, but because I tried to kill myself, and I remember how the people closest to me reacted after it happened.

I tried to kill myself eight months after giving birth. I was a breastfeeding mom to a delightful little girl. I was married. I had three wonderful children. It was my birthday. I spent the morning with friends, and I doubt any of them suspected that I would end the day in a hospital being treated for an intentional overdose. Like many attempted or completed suicides, mine left the people closest to me baffled. And angry.

My husband was the worst, though there are other family members who still haven’t called me since that birthday. I remember my husband raging at me over the phone, threatening to divorce me while I was in the psych ward; sometimes refusing to bring my kids to visit. I cried and wondered why my husband was being so abusive. I thought it was obvious that he should be sweet and gentle to me after I had tried to end my life. Clearly, I was in pain. Why wasn’t he caring for me? Only later did I come to understand that he was grieving. Even though I survived, I had, from his point of view, violated the most intimate promise of our marriage. I tried to abandon him.

So I understand why you feel angry, even though I’ve never been in your place. Whether your loved one survived the attempt or succumbed to it, you are grieving, and anger is a natural part of that process. You have a right to be angry. I don’t want to talk you out of your anger, but I do want to talk you out of your hatred. I want to help you understand why you should forgive your loved one who committed suicide.

She–and I am choosing that pronoun for the sake of grammar, but this applies to any gender–did not mean to hurt you. That may be hard to believe, especially if the two of you were very close, or if she was a caregiver or mentor to you. I promise, though, that it is true. She did not mean to hurt you, nor did she forget you. In her mind, she was doing you, and the rest of the world, a favor.

Hear me out, even if that sounds totally crazy. I’ve been there, remember? I’m not saying she was right, but most people who try to end their lives believe that they are doing their loved ones a favor. Maybe she felt her depression was too much of a burden on those around her. Maybe she was so consumed by self-loathing that she felt unworthy of the physical resources which kept her alive. When I was suicidal, I actually felt guilty for the oxygen I breathed. I felt like I was cursed by misfortune, and that ending my life was a way of keeping my family safe. As aberrant as the belief is, she probably thought that her suicide was an act of love.

Secondly, she was trying stop herself from hurting. It’s true that suicide is not an end to pain; it’s a transference of pain. When someone ends her life, she gives the pain she was feeling to the people who love her. But when someone is in that much pain, she can’t see past the end of it. Have you ever broken a limb, or given birth, or even just had a really bad headache? The kind of pain that totally consumes you? Psychic pain can do that too. When the pain gets to a point that a person is considering suicide, you better believe that pain is all-consuming. If suicidal people could get a break from their pain long enough to see clearly, they would realize that killing themselves was going to hurt a lot of people who they never wanted to hurt. But when they are in the middle of that pain, all they can think about is ending it.

Finally, your loved one was sick. Not everyone who commits suicide suffers from clinical depression, but everyone who makes an attempt is sick. As humans, we have a survival instinct built into us. It’s part of our DNA. When we’re in danger, our biology reacts in amazing and sometimes shocking ways to save our lives. We are physically built to live as long as we possibly can. If someone willingly ends her life, then something has gone wrong with her biology. The mind of a suicidal person does not compute in the same way as the mind of person whose survival instinct is functioning properly. I’m telling you this from personal experience, but science backs it too. Scientific American published an article citing three separate studies which found abnormal neurochemical levels in suicide victims. So be angry all you want, for as long as you need to, but in the end, please forgive your loved one. You can’t blame someone for being sick.

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10 thoughts on “Why You Should Forgive Your Friends And Heroes Who Commit Suicide

  1. I never felt like it was a process of forgiving the person who committed suicide, it was a process of forgiving myself. Yes I harbored anger and I hated that person because they did an ugly, selfish act. I felt at the time that they took the easy way out or unwilling to struggle or fight for their own sense of self worth. But I was really mad at myself for not noticing the signs, for not listening to the warnings, for being completely inept to do something about it. I hated that person because of my own ineptitude and my own failures. It took years to realize that fact. I dont know that I could have changed how things happened, I feel much more equipped to deal with that situation, in the end probably not. So I choose to remember the life and celebrate it, and the sorrow is for the decision she had made and not the person she was. The Anger? I was young, I was ill-informed, and she was sick. It was not my fault, it was not her fault, we all failed each other in some way. The powerful play goes on…

    • Hi Jason. Thank you for leaving your candid and thoughtful comment here. I’m so sorry for your loss and I can’t imagine what that is like for you. I’ve lost people I liked to suicide, but never anyone I deeply loved. As I mentioned, I wrote this coming from the perspective of someone who has made an attempt. I know what it feels like. I can tell you this: it’s not motivated by laziness, selfishness, or unwillingess to work. It’s motivated by exhaustion…for some of us, simply continuing to breathe is work and working that hard all the time is exhausting. And then also the feeling that we are a burden and the people we love are better without us. It’s really crazy thinking, and it is so important to show the people we love how much they mean to us, but at the same time, please don’t blame yourself. For one thing, sometimes nothing you do can save the person. If they’re really bent on ending their life, they will. And second, we have our own lives to live, our own anxieties and problems and dreams. It’s entirely natural to be focused on your own goals and perhaps not to notice when someone else is slipping. Very depressed people often do a good job of hiding just how much pain they’re in, again because they don’t want to be a burden. It sounds like you’ve realize all this, and I’m glad that you have found at least some measure of peace within yourself.

      • Dear Elizabeth

        My partner died by suicide in june 2016 and everyday i cry for his loss…
        I am trying to movr on but his last words were….that i was going to remember that night for the rest of my life…i only thought that he is going to leave me because he had someone else…i never imagined that he would do that…. now i am totally misearble and lonely. How can i forgove him if his words were that????
        How can i trust another man???
        Pls help me
        Lisa

        • Hi Lisa,
          I’m so sorry for your loss and for the pain you’re going through. I really cannot imagine how that must feel. And I don’t know the circumstances of your relationship at all…I don’t know if he was an abusive person in general, and those last words were a part of that? But you have said he took his life, which means he must have been in an enormous amount of pain. More pain than one person could handle–including you. When someone gets to that point, it isn’t because one person said or did something wrong (unless it’s an egregious act, like rape). It’s because a series of pain, and trauma, and disappointment has led that person to become overwhelmed. Those last words were cruel, but they probably came from a place of hurt and desperation. Maybe it was his way of trying to feel important. I don’t know. I do know it wasn’t fair to you. I do hope you can heal. I can’t tell you how; healing is individual, but getting help from other support people is probably the best place to start. Friends, family, a therapist…
          I hope you find peace, I really do.

  2. This is an insightful article. I lost my spouse two years ago to suicide. I am coping with my grief and my emotions (which have included anger) with the help of an amazing family and group of friends.
    I am writing to ask if the author would consider adjusting the language around the subject of suitcase used in this article. . We are now being urged by numerous mental health groups to not use the word ‘committed’ suicide, but rather ‘died by’ suicide. The connotations connected to committing an act are generally criminal in nature – as in one committed a crime. As the writer so rightly put it, people who die this way are suffering from illness. Therefore – one does not commit suicide any more than one commits a heart attack.
    Thank you for considering this request and for passing along this rational to anyone you hear using the word committed. The language we use around this issue is extremely important to changing the perception of the general populace.
    Best wishes.
    ET

    • Hi ET, First: I’m very sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be on the other end of a suicide. It’s good that you have a support system to help you work through these feelings, and I hope my article was able to help you resolve some of the confusion that follows this kind of loss.

      Thank you for your suggestion about the language we use to talk about suicide. I definitely think that language is an important tool and we need to be conscious of the ways we use it. I’ll certainly take your comment into consideration and look into the matter further..I hope you understand why I won’t be changing my writing style based solely on your request. Language is very important to me as a writer and I definitely need to be sure I’m in agreement with an argument if I’m going to make these types of changes. One thing I’d like to note is that while I do, of course, recognize mental illness as legitimate, and also believe that suicide is usually (at least in the West) an indicator of mental illness, the act of suicide can’t be compared to a heart attack. A heart attack happens to a person. Suicide is committed a by person–often because of forces outside of his control, certainly, but it’s still something he does. Without having done further research, my jerk reaction is to say this kind of thinking about suicide could be dangerous. If someone who has suicidal ideations feels as though suicide is something that is passively happening to her, something out of her control, then she may feel powerless to stop it, when in fact that’s not true. Suicide can be prevented. I don’t mean that to place blame on your spouse or you or anyone else who has experienced suicide–often we’re not able to see all of the factors that could have led to its prevention, and that’s not our fault–but it is not a passive act. People take this action against themselves, and it’s something they do with the full knowledge of what they’re doing. Whether or not they are mentally competent to make that kind of decision is up for debate, but whether someone performs the act isn’t. I also don’t agree that the word “commit” has inherently negative connotations. Sure, it’s used to describe criminal acts, but it’s also used to describe marriage, or the act of writing something down…and a whole lot of other things that have neutral or positive connotations. You certainly have the right to choose how your own experiences with suicide are discussed within your own family, but at this time I am respectfully disagreeing with your suggestion. I will look into the matter further though! I do have an open mind that can be changed if I meet an argument that makes sense to me!

  3. I tried to kill myself last summer. It was a moment of weakness. I suffer from depression and I was off my medication.
    Thankfully, I did not succeeded. The minutes I took the pills I realized the mistake I was making and immediately asked for help ( my husband and son).
    Since then, my relationship with my son was never the same. He says that he seems me in a different way, that he has lost respect for me.
    I don’t know what to do to make him understand that I never meant to hurt him. That I love him very much and that I wish I could changed what happened.

    • I’m sorry you went through all this, and I understand the frustration of being in such pain but having other people see it as an act of selfishness rather than the actual act of desperation that it is. How old is your son? He may need time–and it may also be worth sitting down and talking to him, or writing him a letter telling him how you were feeling and how you feel about him. He might not respond right away, but he’ll at least hear you, and likely think about those words in his own time. My husband was very angry at me when I attempted suicide as well. It’s a really hard reality to live through on both ends. <3 <3

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