When Love Isn't Enough: The Aftermath Of Suicide

Thursday, September 10, 2015 by Meg   •   Filed under Depression

We watched you die. 

It was a slow, meandering type of death, one punctuated by success and woe, optimism and hopelessness. No one suspected you’d slipped so far down into the abyss as to assume that today was the day. 

But I should have known. I have seen it before, oh how many times, the quiet looks of fevered desperation, the tears that come more often, the rage that bubbles beneath the surface, waiting for a reason to erupt. The need to blame someone else, something else, anything else, for the burning, molten hatred that eats at you like a cancer until you’re hollowed out and sick. 

But you weren’t a patient, and I was just your “almost” sister.

We call it magical thinking, the idea that we could have, would have, should have saved you. Had we known, we clearly would have. Life is not all cut and dry, right and wrong, black or white. 

You started as my brother’s best friend, slumber parties in our younger years evolving into card playing marathons, betting and laughing around the dining room table until the wee hours of the morning. You were always there. You became one of us. We loved you. 

You and I weren’t always great at connecting as the years went on and high school faded into college and you got sober, finished law school and started winning awards. This was especially true after I moved away, for playing poker is harder long distance. But when you had a question about a mental health program, a concern about rehab, when I needed legal advice, we were there for each other. It always made me smile when you sent me messages about my blog. I loved watching your posts about Toys for Tots, about the no-kill shelters you loved, your volunteer work with the 313 project, your pro bono legal services with foster care youth, so many to help, so little time, but it didn’t stop you from trying. I saw you when I came home to visit and my kids would ask, “Where’s Aces?” if you left your wiener dog at home. 

Your decline was clearly marked, in hindsight. Depression, substance abuse, a divorce, a lost job. You relapsed, hard, after my father’s death, and you spent many a night at my mother’s house playing cards, struggling not to succumb to addiction. Then there was the cancer, the chemo, in and of itself a trigger for depression, a fact of which I was well aware.

There was also the helplessness that radiated off you when last we spoke about all of it. When I wrapped my arms around you and said it would be okay, you said you didn’t believe me. I knew words like that are trite and meaningless, but, in my defense, it was in the middle of a wedding. And none of us are perfect, none of us say the right thing always, even those of us trained in the talking. After I realized my error, I just hugged you and listened. I told you that you were my third brother and to call me, to reach out, to let me know what you needed. You didn’t. And I didn’t either, not in this last month. We are a family of introverts and we don’t talk all the time, though our love for one another has never been called into question. Now I fear the worst when I don’t hear from my brothers. I spend more time than usual debating if it’s too soon to pick up the phone since my last call.

Your risk factors for suicide were high. I am a fucking professional. I, of all people, should have known, even from a distance. But I didn’t know. I wasn’t there for the end.

Your family, your girlfriend, your friends, all will feel this guilt to some extent; it is a normal and expected part of the grieving process. Was there something we could have done? Could we have alleviated your pain? Was there one specific thing in that last week that could have made a difference? There are a wealth of people whose only crime was loving you too much, without regard for how it might hurt them if you faltered. I hope they understand that there is no greater gift you can give another than everything you have. Guilt has no place here, though in moments of weakness, I feel it, sharp and hot in my gut. And in those moments, I am furious with you for giving up on yourself when we never did. None of us even considered giving up on you.

People have to be willing to change things for themselves. They must desire life even in times of struggle. Not everyone does. You felt you were making the most compassionate decision you could; to find a way out of the pain. You used your last ounce of self-love to end your suffering. I can't be mad at you for that. Just sad you couldn't see what I saw, what we all saw: a man full of potential, of love, of amazing goodness; a man who couldn’t see beyond the pain he felt to realize what he meant to those who loved him. “Could be” and “should be” are fickle and disarming in the worst way. Now there will only be regret where our hope for you used to live. 

We love you, now and always. We never would have given up on you. I wish that could have been enough. But The Beatles were fucking wrong: we all need more than love. 

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a charity devoted to “understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, and advocacy.” If you have anything to spare, please consider donating here. 

For additional reading, check out the posts linked below and consider the following books: Suicide: The Forever Decision and Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain. You may also like Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide along with Healing After the Suicide of a Loved One for more on coping with tragedy. 

If you or a loved one needs help now, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-3724.

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Help Me, I'm Sad: Recognizing, Treating, and Preventing Childhood and Adolescent Depression
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When Panic Attacks
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Against Depression
Detailed explanations of the systems involved in depression along with personal stories of success from psychiatrist Peter Kramer.