Guilt vs. Responsibility and Healing by Brook Sanders

posted in: Uncategorized | 11

It is imperative that we, as suicide loss survivors, are able to differentiate between guilt and responsibility. Even still, almost two years later, I feel guilty every day that my boyfriend died by suicide. I feel guilty that I didn’t recognize the telltale signs. I feel guilty that I lived with the man and I was supposed to be the closest person to him in the world, but I didn’t see the situation for what it was. It is the true meaning of the phrase “I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” Friends, there were so many trees. As much guilt as I feel, I am not responsible for his death. He made his choice, and no matter how illogical that choice was, it was his choice and I had nothing to do with it.

It is normal for a suicide loss survivor to feel guilt. The “what if’s” will fill our heads for an undetermined amount of time following our loved one’s suicide. The guilt weighs very heavily on our hearts. What if I had only stayed home from work that day? What if I had just come home at lunch? Somehow our imperfect mind turns those what if’s into guilt. Of course we could have saved the day, right? But friends, if you only take in one thing from this post, take in this – YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE. Read this again.

You are absolutely not responsible for your loved one’s suicide.

You did not cause your loved one’s suicide.

And probably, most importantly, you most likely could not have stopped it.

So, I need you to realize that it does not matter if you got into a big fight the day before, it doesn’t matter if you accused them of something just before they died. None of that matters. Suicide is not a normal reaction to anything – not the loss of a job, a breakup, the loss of a marriage, criminal charges, nothing. Suicide is an act of desperation from someone who has a sick mind. Yes, a sick mind. The mind can get sick just like the heart or liver can. If your loved one had died of a heart attack or kidney failure, would you experience the same feelings? Would you be walking around blaming yourself? Chances are you would not. Suicide is an act of mental illness. Give yourself permission to let go of the guilt and responsibility you feel. It’s okay to do so. Friends, we are going to be okay.

11 Responses

  1. Debbie
    | Reply

    Thank you. My son died four years ago and, at times, I still struggle with guilt. It may sound
    morbid, but I am going to put it someplace where I can see it everyday for a while.

    • Terri DeMontrond
      | Reply

      Hi Debbie. I’m so sorry for the loss of your son. I lost my daughter to suicide over 5 years ago and still feel guilt and responsibility at times. Her loss devastated me and I have since changed my Life Coaching focus to Parental Bereavement ( I’ve been exploring more deeply how I define guilt and responsibility. I believe mothers feel a deeper responsibility for the wellbeing of our children. The loss of a child by suicide is very different than losing a parent or partner to suicide. I know that guilt is draining and causes me suffering, and still it sneaks up on me. Less now than at the time of her death for sure. For now I’m just noticing the relief when it comes, and getting curious and turning toward it, not away from it as it will continue to try and get my attention left unchecked. Your comment to “put it someplace where I can see it” is a wise awareness. I wish you a calm heart and peace of mind.

  2. Rebekah
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    I can’t say thank you enough for this message. They say God brings you things when you need it the most, and I for one needed this more then anything. I lost my son to suicide 2 1/2 years ago and I’m still going through the depression and heart ache of what if. Rebekah

  3. Doria Stewart
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    I went through the ” What if’s” for the first several months after my son’s attempt … due to complications of this my husband and I had to make the decision to take my son off of life support. I heard the Lord speak to my spirit. ” You did all that you knew to do” I said Ok , Lord.
    Months later I was missing him .. and my heart was broken.. wrenched with emotional pain ..trying to understand my son’s s pain to escape the pain he was feeling.
    Then I heard the Lord said, I took him to protect him, which Is friend confirmed later that this was in Isaiah 58. See this was my son’s 4th attempt.
    I have a beautiful testimony with evidence that my son received Jesus as his savior before we found him unresponsive on Jan 25, 2016.
    God will bring you peace as you are still before Him.
    Asking the whys. If God answered the why we may still not understand!

  4. Lon Crow
    | Reply

    I thank you for this. I am sure many feel the guilt. My wife had Parkinson’s. She started to have movement problems. That was not supposed to happen because she was early in the disease. I started researching why. I spent every day searching for why. On a Sunday, I started at 8:00 doing the research. At 4:00 that afternoon, my precious wife said, “I am ruining your life”. I said, “No boo boo, I want you around for the rest of my life”. That last day she again said, I am sorry I am ruining your life. I told her that she was my life, my whole life. I failed to look at the impact I was having on her. I failed to look at the big picture. You are right, there is always the question of “if”. But, here is the problem. You can always advise people to let go of the guilt. At least for me, that is not going to happen. I myself have contemplated suicide as a result. I can honestly say that I am just tired of existing. The ONLY thing that drives me is the need for as many people in the world as possible to know her; to build a legacy to my precious wife. The guilt is huge and the only way to put it out of my mind is to work on this legacy. I need to find purpose in her passing. You can advise people to look past the guilt but, for me, working on something that brings the compassion my wife showed to everyone she met, is one way forward. It is my only way forward. I spend every hour of every day working on this legacy. The knowledge that I can make life better for someone in her memory is what makes me wake up every morning. My advice is to find purpose in that loss.

  5. Brittany
    | Reply

    Thank you for this reminder it is a really hard thing to come to terms with.

  6. Iris Riewer
    | Reply

    Thank you for your words! My companion ended his life last Bew Years Eve, and I was there. I have and continue to see a brilliant therapist, write in a journal, and slowly but surely picking up the pieces. I am active with The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, which also has helped. The guilt for me is slowly going away.

  7. Kelley
    | Reply

    Thank you for this! I feel like a magnet drawn to the words, Guilt and Responsibility. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel “not responsible” but many of your sentiments echo with me, perhaps I’ll get there. In my heart though, I believe we are all responsible for each other and the impact we have in each other’s lives. Our society is “me” driven and quick to shirk responsibility in so many aspects of life. This is not to say I am responsible for my loved one’s suicide, but I am responsible for my words, lack of words, actions or lack of action that may have contributed along the way. There will always be a piece of me that will feel this way because my heart knows it. Yes, I know this is where the work of forgiveness comes into the equation. Suicide loss is so difficult. Thank you again. I am so thankful for this site and every contribution to it.

  8. Pam Jung
    | Reply

    This is so helpful. My son took his life 4 months ago. I appreciate the statement that suicide is not a “normal” reaction to anything. My son’s mind was ill. I knew he struggled, but he was high functioning, and didn’t want to talk about his depression to anyone. He left a wife of 17 yrs and two sons who he loved dearly. Their world is drastically traumatized. As their Grandmother, my heart hurts so much for them.
    I can barely grasp that this has happened. I know grief takes time. The first 3 months I cried alot, talked often with my support friends, and sat quietly in the Lord’s presence.
    The past month my sorrow feels deeper than tears. I feel depressed, and I have very little motivation to do anything other than what must be done. I force myself to get out of bed, and reach out for support. This is our 2nd child (out of 5) to die in a traumatic way. I lean heavily on the Lord, and am depending on Him to bring me through this to a “new normal” vs. this “limbo” I presently am in.
    It takes alot of time and patience to go through this journey. If I didn’t believe in the God of the Bible, I’d have no hope. But I do have hope. It’s just such a horrific experience. I appreciate all of your comments. My heart goes out to all of you.

  9. Wendy Faust
    | Reply

    Thank you for this I needed to read this my son Has been gone 2 years , we are still living with the heart break my younger son struggles so much and has been in therapy weekly to try to feel better , missing someone is the worst feeling in the world
    Learning that you have to have some sort of mental illness to have taken your life was the hardest part of this whole night mare , yes we are not at fault but what IF I have gotten my son on some kinda medication earlier in life maybe we would of had a better out come who’s to know , I have learned to love more worry less about small stuff and try to live the rest of my life with peace and love in my heart never forget the good times we had with our precious son !

  10. Linda
    | Reply

    What a great article. Says all that I have felt in last few days.

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