The Guilt We Carry

Today started out as a regular day. Getting off of work early, I decided to go see my old colleagues from my old firm to pick up a document that was waiting for me. 

I couldn’t wait to just hangout, eat some chocolate and catch up. I could not wait to hear about my friend’s recent trip. And then I got the text that altered my day completely and had me crying on the bathroom floor. It said simply: please don’t ask her about her trip, her mother had left us.

Having been a crisis responder my entire adult life I just had this gut feeling. 

So, I picked up some chocolate (which is like the language of love and care with us) and went on my way. Walking up to the building from the subway station I ran into one of the other girls from the team, she was feeling sick and was going home early. I asked her what was going on and she only said she didn’t know any more than that the mother had passed away. I know that my friend isn’t one to put all of her feelings out there for everyone, especially not the really deep things, but I knew that she would have said something if it was a stroke, heart attack or accident. 

When I walked into the office, she was the only one there. She looked at me, looking tired and exhausted and blood shut eyes. She got up and walked towards me to hug me. While she was hugging me, she fell apart and just started crying. I mean we have been hugged and cried together in the past, but usually it involved a big party and a little too much wine. This was different. 

After a moment, I asked her if she didn’t mind telling me what happened and she just said that her mother had decided to end her life three weeks ago. While all the red flags in my head came out, I realized that this wasn’t the time to educate her on suicide. We talked for a moment about the situation, but as soon as others joined in, we switched to lighter topics. All I could hope for is that this small moment of human interaction gave her some comfort and insight from someone who understands what may have led up to her mother’s death and to know that she isn’t alone. People have rallied around her to make sure that she comes out of it on the other side. 

But here is the thing, once I left that office I couldn’t help but feel guilty and I suddenly remembered why. When I last saw her a few weeks ago, we talked about her mother’s depression. But, for some reason I never brought up suicide. Usually it is the first thing that I tell people to be aware of and to be ready to talk about it, but for some reason I didn’t with her. 

I never met this woman. All I know is what she meant to my friend, but yet here I am working through my emotions because I feel guilty. I feel guilty for knowing that a symptom of depression is suicidal ideation and I didn’t bring it up. I feel guilty for never following up with my friend about the conversation we had. I feel guilty for knowing that if someone would have asked my friend’s mother about suicide, she might still be here and my friend wouldn’t be suffering such a tremendous loss. 

I could talk for days about the warning signs for suicide; I see them in the people I engage with and I am not afraid to talk about suicide. So how I did miss it here? How come that when it mattered I didn’t even think of mentioning suicide? 

So I wonder whether her death is partially on me. I think this is a question that every survivor of a suicide loss asks themselves. And while I know that I am not the survivor of a suicide loss here and I also know that this woman’s death is not my fault, it doesn’t change how I feel.

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