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The Aftermath of Suicide: To Those Who Leave Us & Those Left Behind

A candid letter from a survivor of suicide loss.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with sensitive content related to mental health and suicide.

A few weeks after it happened, I found your friends posting “RIP” on your Facebook timeline and talking about how much they’d miss you. I saw people in the comments asking what happened and how you died. I saw the silence around those comments and the hushed conversation that probably happened privately. I saw one of our mutual friends put up a frustrated status about how anyone could believe that suicide was a solution, and how anyone could think that it was okay to put one’s family and friends through that pain. I wished I were unaware enough to be able to ask these questions.

I tried to make myself feel better about the emptiness in my heart by writing to your abandoned inbox. I asked you, “I knew something was wrong, and I asked you if you were alright. If there was something bothering you, why didn’t you tell me? Why did you say you were ‘perfectly fine’? What went so terribly wrong that hardly a month later you were forced to take your life away from me?” I felt petulant and stupid because your life wasn’t mine to keep, but I allowed myself to whine and complain.

A few months had gone by, and to a great extent, I had accepted the situation for what it was and the limited information I had about your death. And that’s why I was nothing short of shocked when your mother texted me through your phone. Her messages were calm at first, politely asking what I meant when I texted her son a month before he died, asking if he was okay. “What did you find on his social media that made you think he wasn’t doing well?” She would ask, “How can I access his accounts? I’m sorry, beta, I’m just trying to understand.” I walked her through everything I found troubling about your online activity and for 2 hours, we sat together trying to understand your brain. I told her that you may have been severely depressed and in desperate need of help; that your social media posts were clearly indicative of that. She had so many questions, and I felt the same kind of helplessness she felt as I explained mental illnesses to her and how brutal they can be. I shared my own experience with depression and for the first time since we lost you, I felt like I had company in my grief.

In today’s world, grief for an acquaintance needs to be justified. Grieving for someone doesn’t make sense if you don’t know them like you know the back of your hand. It doesn’t make sense to be terribly affected by someone’s passing unless you’ve known their life and who they really were. But when I see your photos I see possibilities of recovery, possibilities of opening up to people and asking for help. I can see group projects in class being molded by your ideas, and a curious question that makes everyone put their heads in their hands because it wastes too much time. I see your tall, slightly slouched body hanging loosely by a rope to your neck, and in your asphyxiated brain I see music that nobody else will ever create or listen to because you couldn’t stick around to make that your reality.

I can’t bring myself to be brutal about it because I must acknowledge the itching fact that I never knew you enough to know what was really going on in your life. I can’t bring myself to criticize what people would call your cowardice because I’ve felt the feeling of hopelessness and reaching a point of no return; arriving at a dark place with too many questions and doubts but no answers. I’ve felt the helplessness of not knowing how to survive and what to fix because everything seemed broken. And while I have felt these things, enough people stepped up to help me start again and leave my troubles behind. It hurts me that you didn’t have that luxury.

It’s all kinds of troubling and unsettling to know that I could tell that you were not okay, yet I couldn’t help you get out of whatever you were going through. I couldn’t tell you to see a doctor, I couldn’t tell you about the exercises I use to calm myself down. I couldn’t push you into talking to me because I didn’t want to invade your privacy. I couldn’t tell you that with some effort and support, it’s possible to get better and solve problems. I know that time will make this easier to forget, but there is a certain uniqueness that every human being inherently has, and that’s why losing people, to life or to death, is always a hard pill to swallow.

I cannot bring you back to life, but I can preserve the memories I have of you, and make sure your small but significant life isn’t forgotten. I can try to help the next person I see who looks like they could use a hand, and I can keep trying to bring people to take care of themselves because you forgot how to do that. I don’t think I will ever know why you did what you did, and I will try to live with that and remember you for what I knew of you — and not for the way your life ended.

[Words by Rtunjya Gujral]

[Author’s note: If you feel that you or someone you know is going through depression or harbours thoughts of self-harm, or if you simply wish to educate yourself, you can start here and hereHere are some helplines you can contact: 1, 2, 3.]

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