QUESTION: How does one deal with the suicide of a friend? I’ve known this guy since we met in the ninth grade. We played sports together, and even took vacations with each other’s families. We couldn’t have been closer had we been brothers. We stayed in touch and I was best man at his wedding and he was best man at mine.
Fifteen years ago, my friend went overseas to work with his company, and we still stayed in communication. He did tell me his marriage was falling apart and his wife wanted to return to the states and stay here. He was willing to accommodate her wishes, but still he and his wife weren’t getting along. About three months, ago, when he couldn’t get in touch with me (I was at a mountain resort where there was little or no phone reception) he called my sister and just left a message when she didn’t answer. Right around that time, he did away with himself.
I’m so sad and in grief over losing my friend. Is there something I could have done? When he was having marriage problems should I have taken that as a red flag? Never did he mention he would plan such a thing. Please help me sort this out.
~ Grieving Best Friend
Dear Grieving Best Friend,
First, I am deeply sorry for your loss. It is never easy to lose a friend, especially young, and to suicide. During my 75 years I have had several friends who chose to go that way. It isn’t easy at any age. I have also asked the same questions you are proposing right now: “What could I have done?” “What did I miss?” Was I too self-absorbed to notice anything wrong?” The questions the survivors ask themselves go on and on.
But the terrible truth is that those who really want to take their lives seldom give out any signals for help. Suicide is a cry of despair or hopelessness, unresolved anger and revenge, but never a cry for help. In most cases it becomes a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As the person turns inward, increasingly more isolated in the pain he/she is experiencing, the solution often leads to thoughts of suicide. Without some intervention on their part it becomes a reality. The defiant nature of suicide in any form is the attitude that I Am Alone! and that there is nothing anyone can do to help me! It defies the natural creative intelligence of life.
It is important to allow yourself to go through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are essential tools to help understand the feelings and to live with the loss. Talk about your feelings. Ask questions as you are doing right now. Realize that you have choices, at every stage of this process, in how you handle this loss. Your friend wasn’t able or willing to reach out before making this final decision to act. That is a sad fact. But it is not your fault. It was a choice.
What it does to those left behind is a recognition of their own mortality. Like an accident, it shakes us into a sudden realization that we are vulnerable. It can be a moment to reflect on what we have, where we are going, what we are doing with the life we have been given. And for many it is a time to notice that life is precious, that we care.
Spiritually speaking, it is a chance to reach out to those around us in a renewed sense of love and compassion. Reaching out to the family and friends of the deceased, offering help, sharing their grief and confusion, lets all of you know that you are not alone. The most important thing to know is that there is always someone or somewhere we can turn to for understanding and comfort. Seek advice and comfort from your spiritual leader and ask for prayer. The national suicide prevention lifeline is (800) 273-8255. The Foundation for Hope is (855) HOPE-611 to help with depression. There is also the Alliance of Hope for survivors of suicide.
Gary Bates, RSCP
Dear Grieving Best Friend,
I know it can be helpful for us to give all the details leading up to a loved one’s suicide. However, I am concerned by the details you wrote where you said, “About three months, ago, when he couldn’t get in touch with me (I was at a mountain resort where there was little or no phone reception) he called my sister and just left a message when she didn’t answer. Right around that time, he did away with himself.” My concern would be that you feel guilt because he could not reach you and because your sister did not pick up the phone that led to the actual suicide.
When something tragic that we cannot explain happens (like suicide) we question every move we made prior to the tragedy. This is because our mind cannot comprehend an act that we could not control and cannot be reversed. No life crisis can determine suicide. You cannot question or feel guilty over his marriage problems, etc. as red flags. The only real red flags we can see are if someone confesses or hints that they are actively suicidal. Other than that, there is no way you could have predicted his suicide.
You are struggling with survivors’ guilt and grief. I believe seeing a therapist for a few sessions who is equipped to walk you through the process and integrate it could be exactly what you need at this time.
I am so sorry for your loss and wish you healing.
Kimberlie Zakarian, LMFT
Thrive Therapy Center
QUESTION: I have a longtime good friend whose husband is leaving her for another woman. She has a great personality and is fun to be with, but the one thing she hasn’t done over the years is take care of her appearance. When we first became acquainted, she was in good shape and we exercised and walked together daily. Then, about 10 years ago, she stopped exercising and walked with me once or twice a week and eventually even stopped walking. Now she’s gained over 40 pounds and doesn’t seem to care about her appearance.
She tells me she doesn’t understand why her husband is leaving her, but to me, it’s obvious that not taking care of herself has a lot to do with it.
Should I say something to her? I care about her feelings, but I’m at a loss about what to do.
~ Caring Friend
Dear Caring Friend,
It’s hard to watch a good friend and, as you describe her, a good person go through loss and all the emotions involved in the infidelity of a spouse. I hear that you want her happiness, for her to be loved and for her to care for herself. You ask if you should say something to her about her weight gain. It seems to me her weight gain is a surface symptom of something deeper. I think it’s a truth that from the outside we can never know what goes on in another person’s marriage. I suspect your friend has not been happy for some time and that she does know why her marriage has come to this point. She may not want to share what she knows or to believe what she knows.
There are always warning signs along the way that we choose to ignore. Your friend may have let her marriage erode her self-esteem. Very often we place more emphasis on whether our spouse loves us than we do on whether we love ourselves. Giving over our power in this way we are at the mercy of forces we cannot control. When we take back that control and know we are the center of love in our own lives we never run short of love or enough self-esteem to care for ourselves properly.
She has forgotten she is lovable and that she deserves to treat herself with care and positive self-talk and supportive community as well as with proper nutrition and exercise. She needs to figure this out for herself and if you are to speak up in any way it would be to remind her you love her just as she is, to speak to her with compassion and sincere concern. Provide a non-judgmental and safe place for her to be. When we cannot see our value for ourselves it is such a gift to have a friend who sees that for us. Be that friend, just love her, invite her to walk with you. Her weight is not the issue here, her knowing who she is, as a precious and unique and beautiful being, is. You can reflect that to her. She will love you for it. Thank you for being a caring friend.
Joan Doyle, Scalar Heart Practitioner
Dear Caring Friend,
First of all, the fact that you are a caring friend is so important. It is also important for her physical and mental well-being that she take care of herself. However, I would not approach this with the idea that her husband will stay if she gets in shape. If that’s the reason he is leaving, she may be better off without him. The likelihood is there are more reasons, so I would stay away from direct relationship advice unless she asks. Those issues should really be left to a professional counselor, which is also something you might suggest to her.
The best thing to do is what you are already doing, being there to support her and validate her feelings without judgment during this hard time. Listening and understanding is crucial. That being said, I think you should say something to her about taking care of herself. However, approach it from a perspective of wanting her to be healthy and happy, not with the idea of attracting her husband. You might even suggest getting into an eating or exercising routine with her. Maybe buy a couple of those new health tracking bracelets and start a fitness challenge with each other. Often getting in shape with a friend is much easier than going it alone.
If she does start taking care of herself for herself, that will change her mood and outlook, which could in turn go a long way toward solving her relationship issues, whether that is getting back together with her husband or making a clean break and starting anew.