Suicide: guilt, blame, responsibility

Here we are another V Day. It is so hard for me to believe it has been 11 years since my husband took his own life on this day. We’ve grown and learned so much in that time. More things make sense now than they did 11 years ago but so many more questions still have no answers.

I wanted to share something extremely personal, raw and difficult today because suicide is a HUGE epidemic in our country and because of its stigma many of the survivors, as we call those left behind due to suicide, struggle with so much and often blame themselves and take on the guilt that truly only belongs to the one who took their life.

I know I did. When my husband pulled that trigger, he not only killed himself, he killed me, he killed our family, he killed our hopes and dreams, he killed everything and changed all of our lives permanently. There was no going back from what he did.

He made his choice and we all had to live with it. And there were the questions, the guilt, the what if’s, the should I have ___. Was his life with us so miserable that this was his only choice? That burden of guilt that the suicide victim…no, I’m not going to keep using term. You see, I think that’s one of the problems with suicide. The perpetrator is his own victim and we give them that victim role so easily. We make excuses for their behavior.  The police explained to me that suicide is a crime and that I was a victim!  Yes, he killed himself, but the police considered me a victim and they offered me the same support that other victims of violent crime are offered. 

My how that changes one’s perspective.  Now, his suicide becomes not just some act of a desperate man, but now it becomes what it truly is… a crime that one commits not just against themselves but against everyone who knows them.  You see, what I’ve learned in the last 11 years is that suicide is the ultimate passive-aggressive act.  It takes all of the feelings that one person feels and instead of them being responsible and dealing with them, they, in one act, dump all of their mess onto you and leave you holding the bag trying to sort it all out.

So instead of the suicide being seen as the innocent victim, feeling sorry for them because they were so distraught, they had no other choice, we should consider them to be a murderer.  They actually murdered someone.  Usually, it is premeditated sometimes thought about and planned for years and the people they leave behind, their families are the victims of that action.  We suffer the same emotions that other victims of violet crimes suffer.  We are angry at the perpetrator of the crime but then we are made to feel guilty for being angry at the perpetrator because they were also our loved one who was murdered by the perpetrator.  The perpetrator and victim are the same person! 

Suicide is a messy thing.  It leaves behind so much carnage and so much more guilt, I think, than most other violent crimes.  We always feel sorry for the suicide victim.  We always look for the whys.  We always wonder how we could have loved them more, etc.  I think this is where we go wrong.  I am no longer going to refer to the perpetrator of a suicide as a suicide “victim”.  I’m going to call them what they are…a murderer.  And I’m no longer going to wonder what my part was in their choice because what I’ve learned over the last 11 years is that the people who choose to commit this crime usually do so knowing exactly what they are doing and most of the time, they intend to cause hurt and pain to those they leave behind.  People make excuses for them saying that they were in so much pain they had no other choice, but I know they do and did.  If, in fact, they are miserable in their life, all they have to do is walk away, change something, take a step in some way.  Unless they are being chained up and held hostage somewhere, they always have the choice to leave but instead they choose to leave in a way that leaves others holding the bag for their choice.

In our case, my husband chose Valentine’s Day.  The day created to celebrate love is the day he chose to commit his heinous crime.  If he had chosen any random, average day on the calendar, sure we’d have that date to remember but it would be its own tragic day of memorial.  Instead, my husband chose Valentine’s Dy, the day of telling your loved ones how special you think they are as the day to dump all of his baggage onto his wife and children leaving us to forever remember him on this day and to be reminded that he never loved us.  That’s harsh you might say.  Is it more harsh than his action?  When my children see hearts, flowers and candy they are reminded that their father didn’t love them enough to want to see them grow up, to want to be there when they cross those milestones of life.  No, their father chose selfishly to take his own life on a day.

If you are the victim of a suicide, then I encourage you this day to let go of the guilt that they dumped on you.  You are not responsible for their choices.  You did not make them commit murder.  They had other options and they made the choice to take this action that has caused you so much pain.  Let the responsibility of their action rest where it belongs…with them. 

So many times over the last 11 years I’ve heard from others whose spouse committed suicide and there is also this blame game the extended relatives play.  There always seems to be at least one relative of the murderer who blames the surviving victim for the murderer’s actions.  They often do so in passive-aggressive ways never directly making accusations but planting their little seeds, making comments, and blaming the surviving victim.  Most of the time, I’ve found, it is one or both of the murderer’s parents who cannot accept the idea that the child they raised grew up to be a murderer.  I’m sure they feel the same shame, remorse and guilt that other’s do when they find out their child has grown up to be a criminal. 

I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to find out that the child you raised turned out to be a murderer.  But there is something in them that cannot allow them to see their child as the criminal, as capable of committing such a horrible crime so instead, they blame the surviving victim.  They try to alleviate the guilt they feel by placing it onto someone else and that someone else is usually the survivor and the only thing they did wrong was they are still alive.  They suffer the same problem the surviving spouse does, feeling anger towards the murderer while at the same time grieving the loss of the victim.  All these feelings are too much for them to deal with, so they separate the anger from the grief and wind up most often redirecting their anger towards the spouse that survived.  This usually winds up alienating the extended family from the children and is yet more carnage caused by the murderer tearing apart families many of whom are never able to rebuild any kind of relationship.  If you are in that odious position of being the parent of a suicide murderer, then please, take some time, seek counseling and examine your feelings and don’t do more harm to the family of victims by blaming them for your child’s actions.  They need love, support and encouragement, not your blame, condemnation and criticism.  Instead of tearing apart a family, you have the opportunity to bring a family closer together through this tragedy.  You raised the child, you have the knowledge of them that the surviving family does not have, you have the memories of them growing up that you could choose to share with them so that as the children grow, they can learn more about their missing parent.  By alienating yourself from the surviving family, you destroy their opportunity to keep good memories of the person alive and they are left with only the bad memories and no one to share those little nuggets of who they were before the crime. 

And lastly, if you are the one considering suicide then I urge you to seek help.  There are so many reasons people consider and commit suicide and, in every case, they had other options they were just too cowardly to choose them.  Life is hard.  Life is often messy.  Life takes work.  But anything worth having usually means more if you worked hard to get it.  Things we get easily we tend to take for granted but those things we had to struggle to get, we tend to value and cherish.  I urge you to not take the coward’s way out but to take a step towards your own future, do the work necessary to deal with your own feelings and don’t dump them on others.  “They” cannot make you happy, “they” are not to blame for how you feel, “they” aren’t responsible for your actions.  Only you can change you and if you aren’t happy with your life, then examine yourself to find out why and then take responsibility to make the changes necessary to improve it.