When a Friend or Loved One Commits Suicide: Why?

John McManamy Health Guide
  • I tend to write this blog on a Friday, but I am moved to do so today. As you may be aware, I now write on topics that you, the reader, raise here at BipolarConnect. The obvious source is the "Ask" feature, where I answer questions in my capacity as an "expert patient." But this week's issue comes from a comment from a blog piece I wrote three years ago.

    The blog piece was on hypomania, but the comment I found posted there from yesterday was only marginally related. Kathy wrote: "My son committed suicide."

    Ooh boy.

    "He was very successful in his profession." Kathy went on to say. " ... He left a wife and two young girls. I am afraid that my grandchildren will have what their father had and it will not be picked up."

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    Suffice to say, there are no words to comfort a grieving loved one in this situation. If there were, I would have found them by now. I did the best I could, but, believe me, I felt totally inadequate. As if a mother losing her son is not bad enough, death from suicide plays cruel mind games on those left behind.

    Why? is the question. Why?

    I tell suicide survivors (that's the term for those left behind) that there was nothing they could have done to change the outcome. What happened was a failure of the brain, just as a cardiac arrest is a failure of the heart. There is no choice, only inevitability. One does not commit the act; rather the act commits the person. In this sense, suicide is death by natural causes.

    Only we don't see it that way. Suicide survivors are perpetually second-guessing themselves. Why? is the question. Why?

    There is guilt. There is anger. There is unbearable grief. Why? Why? Why?

    I know. This happened to me. Mine was the grief of a good friend, rather than a loved one. Six months ago, I came home to a message on my machine left by my former wife: The day before, my good friend Kevin had thrown himself in front of a train. He was 28.

    I met Kevin in a DBSA support group I was facilitating in Princeton, NJ. A certain quality to his being combined with a wisdom way beyond his years, together with a humility that belied his natural gifts, assured that there would be no age barrier to our forming a fast friendship.

    Two and a bit years later, my life suddenly changed. I was booked one-way to San Diego. I popped into the DBSA group one last time. Kevin was facilitating. He gave me a heartfelt tribute for my work there. I felt goodness, pure goodness. That was the last time I saw him alive.

    "He had so much to live for," I wrote in a blog piece here on BipolarConnect, "so much to offer. Yet, on a miserable muggy New Jersey morning, his brain tricked him into believing something else. I can fully understand, even if I don't understand ..."

    Why? Why?

    My brain refuses to stop asking.

Published On: March 25, 2009