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Suicide Survivors Guilt

Part 3 of my Suicide Awareness and Survivor Support series focuses on the guilt survivors of suicide experience. In this case, I talk about my guilt for not taking the handgun my friend Jim Thompson used to kill himself.

This is a long post so unless you are an SOS, survivor of suicide loss, you may want to hit the pass button on this one. I’m sure people that stopped by for a laugh today will be disappointed but this message needs to be heard. I need to speak. I need to heal.

To Survivors, Support is Available!

You are not alone. If you are a survivor of suicide loss, please check out this great resource: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide by Jeffrey Jackson. I wish had this handbook right after Jim died. I could have saved myself a lot of tears.  Update 8/6/13 – after 6 years, I finally finished my own book for survivors of suicide loss. It’s available for free, download here.

We, as survivors, don’t “get over it”. We get “though it”. We learn to move on but we will never ever forget. A survivor’s life is forever changed by the death of a loved one. Rest assured, as we put our loss in the proper perspective we can find peace. We can find the peace that eluded the ones we lost. We can learn to laugh again. We can learn to Giggle On!

Three years later and details are still fuzzy

For hours I have been trying to write down the events surrounding Jim’s death in a clear, concise and honest way. I feel the need to explain what happened, when it happened and why. I am struggling to do these things because three years later emotions are still raw. I still feel my own pain. I still hold on to some guilt.

Some of the details about Jim’s death are still fuzzy to me. I was in a state of shock for weeks. I was crippled with guilt and overcome with grief. Things seemed to happen in slow motion.

Trauma Scene Cleaners

Days after Jim’s suicide my friend Chris and I met Jim’s dad in front of Jim’s house. This was not the way I wanted to be introduced to his family but then again, none of us signed up for this mess. Jim’s dad lived out of state and he looked to Chris and me for support. Jim was like family to us and we threw ourselves into helping clean up the situation literally and figuratively.

The tasks at hand were grim. We had to meet a Wilmington cop at the house. I had to talk about the facts I knew leading up to his death. We also had the great displeasure of letting the trauma scene cleaners into the house. I remember these two gruff looking ladies pulling up to Jim’s house in a white van. They entered the house slowly and respectfully like they were entering a morgue. They erased the gore lying in the foyer of Jim’s house (the location where he shot himself). I remember they had to saw out floorboards covered in blood and clean the blood that seeped into the basement. It was gruesome. I can’t mince words about it.

We also needed to look for his will, which I knew he didn’t have, and start cleaning out his house. We gave away 35 years of his beautiful, yet troubled, life. It was a huge bowl of suck soup for all of us. I never want to have to be put in that position again.

I had the chance to take the gun

I was a sobbing and hyperventilating mess when speaking with Jim’s dad and the Wilmington cop. I told the cop I had the chance to take the gun a few days before he died, but I didn’t. I told the cop what Jim said to me weeks before his death. These words still haunt me.

Christa, I wake up every morning with a gun to my head trying to decide is this is the day I am going to kill myself.

I also told the cop, and Jim’s father, I wanted to die and I understood exactly what it was like to want to end my own life. I empathized completely with how Jim was feeling.

The Wilmington cop, whose name I can’t recall, told me something that didn’t reach my heart at the time but thankfully, it does now. He said in all his years of covering suicides it was his feeling if Jim really wanted to die, he would have found another way at another time. I may have been able to prevent his death by handgun on 10/7/05 but no one could guarantee he wouldn’t have tried to kill himself the very next day.

Did my depressed and suicidal state cloud my ability to take corrective action? Yes.

In my blog post Prepare for the Dark Side, I said, just three days before he (Jim) died I was considering the option of jumping from the top floor of a high-rise building in town“.

The short version: I had the chance to take the handgun from Jim. I would have had to steal it from his house, but I could have done it. I should have unloaded the gun and thrown away the bullets. I didn’t. I didn’t take away the means. I didn’t hide the means. I didn’t seek professional help for him. I should have done more. Coulda, woulda, shoulda! Shit.

The guilt haunted me night and day

Was I racked with guilt after his death for not taking that gun? Sure thing I was! I was sick about it. I kicked and berated myself. Pulled my hair out, physically beat on myself, cursed at myself, cut myself and prayed that God would take me for being so stupid, so unloving and the worst friend on the planet. I begged Jim to forgive me for not doing more. I begged and begged and cried for days.

I wanted to die before Jim took his life. In the aftermath of his suicide my desire to die grew. The guilt of his death overcame me. I was haunted by his face and what I perceived was MY biggest mistake.

In the days before Jim’s death I wanted to die too. I was in the throes of my own depression. I thought life was a jail and often thought about taking the quick way out.

How did I get past the feelings of guilt?

There is no magic solution to mend your heart after someone commits suicide. Honestly, I haven’t completed healed my heart. I think I’m 90% healed, or 90% forgiven myself, but about 10% of me still holds regret because I didn’t take the gun from him.

In the days and months after Jim’s death people told me “time heals”. I couldn’t imagine any truth in that statement because I hurt so badly. Three years later, I can honestly say, those people were right.

Time DOES help heal. Life goes on. Laughter, if you let it, will resume in your life.

Don’t Give Up!…Giggle On!

With love and in service,

Christa

Related posts:

25 Tips for Survivors of Suicide

How to Help Suicidal People

Walk to beat depression and suicide

Wilmington’s Out of the Darkness Walk, photo essay

When a loss becomes a gain

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Comments

  1. Christa..thanks for sharing this difficult part of your journey.

    I am inclined to believe the police officer that if Jim wanted to take his own life he would have found another way.

    I may have mentioned earlier I had a staff member of mine commit suicide. She was such a beautiful caring person and no one suspected she was suffering a debilitating torment.

    I still look back and wonder why I did not see what was happening. And that I might have done something to stop the events. I did not see because she was so good at doing what she did, including suicide.

    I tormented myself for a long time and then found a book at the local library called: “The Savage God” by Alvarez. He spoke of suicide and what it meant for the tormented soul. I always remember his statement that suicide may not make sense to those around the person. But to the person involved it makes the ultimate sense. For my friend it was her resolution to a still unknown problem or series of problems.

    Continue your healing journey Christa. There are people here who care and are with you as you soldier on….Carry

  2. Christa, thank you for sharing this. Thank you for putting yourself out there. You truly are a survivor.

    I have nothing near the same level of tragedy to speak of, these are the only words I have to offer…just thank you.

    Matthew Drydens last blog post..A Warm Place

  3. In my world, all is choice and there are no wrong choices. We make choices in order to have experiences from which to learn. We have interactions with others so as to give ourselves opportunities to make choices from which to learn.

    Your life has changed as a result of this admittedly horrific and shocking experience. You are the person you are today, as evidenced by this blog and your efforts at awareness and understanding, because of that experience. You may have even chosen to continue life because of Jim’s death.

    So, is any of that wasted?

    You are a living example of the connectedness we feel and know, yet seldom acknowledge.

    Also, Jim’s choice was HIS choice. If not then, then perhaps another time, another way. Your actions or inactions likely didn’t change the outcome of HIS life, only yours.

    Does knowing this make anything easier? Not really. We are still human and being human means we feel a loss when someone dies. We feel responsible when something happens that we feel we could have changed or prevented. That’s being human.

  4. @ Carry – You have been one of my biggest supporters here at Giggle On! & I genuinely appreciate your comment. Many of the folks who kill themselves are suffering from debilitating torment. You hit that nail on the head.

    @ Matthew – All I can do is put myself out there with the hope it may help someone else. We all have pain and suffering, whether it’s from depression, loss of a loved one to suicide, postpartum depression, cancer, HIV/AIDS or a host of other ailments and conditions. We pick up the pieces, turn our losses into gains and move on. Such is the journey called life. And that journey is blessed.

    @ Karen – I am not sure how you found me but your words brought me GREAT comfort. Your message about “choices” rings true. Jim made a choice and I choose to move on with my life. I hope to see more of you here. Namaste.

    @ Susan – your friend Kevin’s story and your love for him touched my heart. Thank you for the compliment, too. I hope to earn your continued support as time goes by. Giggle On my survivor sista! Giggle On!

    @ Kiki – thank you for the compliment Kiki. Your post hit me on a day where I needed a lift. Gracias, big time.

  5. Now I understand why you said we had similar stories..(ie. gun/2005)..and like you I kept kicking myself–I should have not let him have his guns–except him & his friends used to go out to the range practice shooting…and in fact he was so safety conscious…he had to tell me correct procedures/handling of guns…..I trusted him completely. One night we joked (i thought) about there was no way he could commit suicide–unless he had very very long arms (his shotgun)…we laughed…if only I had known)!!! thank you for having the strength to share yourself

  6. Christa,

    On December 24, 2013 my fiancé took her life… How you felt is much of what I am feeling for the last 51 days. I can hardly move. I have been reading on line all the various survivor of suicide posts but yours is the first to describe my feeling today. Guilt…. I had been indirectly told by her several time in her last week. I just couldn’t imagine it! She was in a custody depute for her six and eight year old. I did not think woman with young children would ever kill themselves. That! is the biggest misconception I will ever have. It helps to know someone felt like I feel today and you now feel 90% better. I could live with that.

    Rob

  7. Rob,

    My heart nearly stopped when I read your message. I am so very sorry to learn of your fiance’s suicide and the aftermath of pain you and her children and family face. The second “Jim” in my life also dies by suicide. He was also in a custody battle for his son when he ended his life. http://giggleon.com/another-man-down/

    I am glad to know sharing my story and feelings has helped you in some small way. Although I may always hold a piece of guilt and regret in my heart, I can truly say my heart has healed in so many ways, least of which is the fact I no longer have the desire to take my own life.

    I encourage you to check out my free e-book for survivors of suicide loss and if you need to reach out again, you know where to find me. If you don’t mind, I will keep you in my prayers.

    Christa

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