"There are always two parties to a death; the person who dies and the
survivors who are bereaved." Arnold Toynbee, Historian
Dear Marty ~ I lost my husband to suicide last year. . .
Q & A by Bereavement Counselor Marty Tousley
I lost my husband to suicide last year and I am trying to cope. I am trying to move on,
but I cannot do this alone anymore. I feel responsible, because he asked me to say
something I could not say, and subsequently hanged himself. I feel so much remorse,
guilt, pain, and it won't stop. I continually have thoughts to go to him. I am losing it by
the day and don't understand what's happening to me. I need contact of some kind to
know he is okay and does not blame me. I know we are all responsible for our own
choices, but "yes" instead "no" would have made the difference
in whether he was living today. I know this to be true. I don't know where to turn
and am hoping you can save my life.
I am so very sorry to learn of your husband's suicide this last year. I can only imagine
how horrible this must be for you, and even though there is nothing I can do to take
away your pain, I hope that I can offer you a few words of encouragement.
Suicide is one of the most difficult and painful ways to lose someone we love, because
we are left with so many unanswerable questions and so many mixed feelings: How
could our loved one do such a horrible thing to us? Where do we put all the anger,
remorse, guilt and pain that we feel? What more could we have done to help? How
can we ever get past the shame and embarrassment we feel when others find out
what happened, and seem all too quick to judge us for not foreseeing this and for
not doing enough to prevent it?
Please know that anger and guilt are the two most common reactions in grief, and
most especially so when the death is by suicide. And anger at God is very, very normal
too. Losing someone we love is so very difficult to accept and to understand, and it is
a process that takes place over time. This news is just too big to take in all at once and
way too big for us to digest. We must let it in a little bit at a time over a very long period
as eventually our minds come to accept what our hearts cannot.
I understand that you're feeling very guilty for something you failed to say that you
believe would have prevented your husband's taking his own life. I hope you realize
that when someone is determined to commit this act, there is very little if anything
someone else can do to prevent it. We simply do not have any control over the choices
and actions of another human being, no matter how much we may wish it to be
otherwise. To believe that you could have prevented this simply by saying
"yes" instead of saying "no" to whatever your husband was
asking of you is to give yourself a tremendous degree of power over another person.
If you truly had that much power over him, you could have "made" him do
anything you ever wanted him to do, and you and I both know that was not the case.
For reasons known only to him, your husband acted on an impulse and, as someone
once said, his suicide became for him a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Unfortunately, you are the one who is left behind to deal with the pain and hurt and
guilt that have resulted from his action.
As the first anniversary of your husband's death approaches, I am not at all surprised
that the fresh pangs of grief have re-surfaced for you. This is not at all unusual and
certainly it is not abnormal.
You also say that you don't know where to turn and you are hoping that I can save
your life. First of all, we both know that I have no power to save your life, any more
than you have the power to save mine. What you choose to do with your life is in
your own hands and under your own control. Nevertheless, for whatever reason,
you did turn to me by sending me that e-mail message, which in itself is an
indicator that you have the power within yourself to reach out to get the help you
know you need. In the beginning of your message to me you say that you cannot
do this alone anymore. I agree with you completely. Grieving is very hard work,
and you ought not to be trying to do it all by yourself - especially when you are
coping with a death by suicide. There is plenty of help out there, just waiting for
you to find it. I will offer you some suggestions, and my prayer for you is that you
will resolve to get busy and get moving on finding the help you know you need.
My own sister-in-law died by suicide over thirty years ago, and it still makes me sick
to think about it. Since I am a therapist and "should've known how to help",
I went through all the guilt you can imagine. But in the end, I had to come to terms with
the reality that even though I did do all I could have done, it still was not enough to save
my sister-in-law from herself. Eventually I learned that the person I most needed to
forgive for that was me.
I know that you are tormented with questions about the afterlife and whether your
husband is all right and if he blames you for what he did to himself. If you are like most
suicide survivors, you're probably also wondering whether your husband is united with
God or forever alienated from Him. I am neither a cleric nor a spiritual advisor, so I
wouldn't presume to tell you what to believe in this regard -- but as a bereavement
counselor I can assure you that, when we lose someone we love, it is perfectly normal
for us to question all the spiritual beliefs we may have held since childhood. Death
forces us to puzzle over the biggest questions in life: Why are we here? Is this all
there is? Where do we go when we die? What does all of this mean? I encourage you
to use this time to ponder these important questions -- and know that finding your
own personal meaning in this loss is one of the most important tasks that lie ahead of
you, as you come to terms with your husband's death.
For whatever reason, your husband obviously believed that life in this world was just
too much for him, and at the moment he took his own life, he saw suicide as his only
option, as the only way to end the emotional pain he felt. If as mere human beings,
you and I can see the tragedy in that and forgive your husband for being human and
at his weakest, it just seems to me that God can do so, too. I can't tell you what to
believe, but I'd like to think that God's heart is a lot bigger than ours. And He must be
at least as capable as we are of giving your husband the sort of understanding and
forgiveness he needs.
Grief is something that we get through and learn to live with but not something we
ever get over. Death may end a life, but it does not end a relationship. The bond you
have with your husband will remain with you as long as you choose to keep his
memory alive in your heart. Remember that your husband's entire life was much more
that those few final moments when he chose to hang himself. I promise that the day
will come when the good memories you have of him will outweigh the bad. The way
you come to peace about all of this is one day at a time, and if that's too much, you
work at it one hour or even one minute at a time. But if you still find that you're unable
to get to that point of peace all by yourself, I urge you to find someone to talk to about
it -- someone who knows something about suicide as well as about grief. That can be
the best gift you could ever give yourself and your husband. Pick up the phone and ask
your primary care physician to refer you to someone who specializes in loss and grief;
call your local library, mortuary or hospice organization and ask what bereavement
support services are available in your community. If you don't have the energy to do
this research, ask a friend or relative to do it for you.
I hope this information proves helpful to you, and when you're ready to do so, I hope
you'll let me know how you're doing. Meanwhile, please know that you are in my
thoughts and prayers. Take good care of yourself. You took the initiative to write to
me. You can do the rest. You are worth it. Now get going!
Wishing you peace and healing,
Marty Tousley, Bereavement Counselor
Marty Tousley is the creator and instructor of the Self-Healing Expressions course
The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey.
Click button to learn more about Marty and her grief-healing course.
Copyright © 2004 Martha M. Tousley. All rights reserved. If you are interested
in publishing this article, please email .