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 used to kill himself, and my ‘Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda‘ complex.
This is a long post so unless you are an SOS, survivor of suicide, 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. So do you!
Survivors, please know there is plenty of support available for us. We are not alone. If you are a survivor of suicide, please check out this great resource: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide*by Jeffrey Jackson, American Association of Suicidology. I wish had this handbook right after Jim died. I could have saved myself a lot of tears. *This pdf handbook takes a few seconds to load. Be patient. If you have trouble opening it. Contact me.
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,