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
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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Til next time.