of a Suicide Survivor
am a suicide survivor. I am also a Christian. This article explains
how anyone, but especially people of faith, can survive or help
others to survive the tragedy of a suicidal death of a family
member or close friend.
My father, a career soldier, committed suicide with an overdose
of prescription medicine taken in conjunction with alcohol. Alcohol
is a depressant that exacerbates suicidal tendencies in those
who are prone to such self-destructive acts. I was sixteen years
old at the time. I was wrongly ashamed of my fathers suicide
for most of my life. In fact, that feeling of shame is one of
the great regrets of my life. With the combination of drugs and
alcohol, my dad might not have even intended to take his life.
It could have been an accident. There was no suicide note. He
had no previous declaration of intent to commit suicide. The answer
to that mystery we will never know. Still, officially his death
certificate declared it a suicide.
If someone asked how my father died, I would say that he died
of a heart attack. That is the response my mother repeatedly instructed
me to say. The manner in which my father died was not about him
in her mind. Rather, it was about us. My mother was concerned
about what others would think of us if they knew my dad had committed
suicide. Perhaps, she thought, they would blame us. They might
suggest that we drove him to it. They might suggest that we failed
to appropriately respond to his suicidal tendencies. In short,
my mother worried that they might blame us for my fathers
Thoughts of "if only we had done or said this or that"
constantly crept in to our minds. It was an emotionally destructive
self-imposed guilt trip. Guilt can cripple. When guilt is unjustified,
it is especially damaging.
The Christian approach to guilt, real and imagined, is in recognition
and confession of sin, and faith in the love, goodness, and power
of God"casting one's cares upon Him," not, in
any way, upon the probability of one's own, or the suicide's,
lack of, or diminished-under-the-circumstances (mental illness),
guilt. To cope with suicide one must dump their guilt. It doesnt
belong in the grieving process. Grief is plenty enough to cope
with without the burden of unnecessary and undeserved guilt.
Even in cases where no guilt is present, the conscience will find
occasion for and evidence to accuse. Its a struggle I call
the blame game. The blame game is a method of coping by blaming
someone else for the suicidal death that torments you. Sometimes
you blame another relative. Sometimes you blame the person who
committed the suicide. Often its a combination thereof.
This venting of anger on someone else tends to provide some measure
of relief in the short term. It doesnt work in the long
term. Blaming anyone for suicide is wrong most of the time. Where
metal illness is the culprit, nobody and nothing except the mental
illness itself is to blame. The sooner people come to terms with
this truth, the sooner theyll be on the path to recovery.
Most people are ignorant about suicide. That is why they often
shy away from family members or friends who are struggling with
suicide. It is wrong to be ashamed of or by the suicidal death
of a family member or friend. It is cruel to desert those who
are suffering. Feeling uncomfortable with suicide is never an
excuse for rejecting those who struggle with this most tragic
of deaths. Ask yourself, would you desert them if the person died
of a heart attack or cancer? How can you desert them if their
loved one died from suicidal mental illness?
Mental illness can kill just like cancer and heart disease. In
suicide, most often it is the mental illness that kills, not the
person. A mentally stable person does not react to angry words
or events by killing themselves. Only mentally and emotionally
sick people do that. That is why their response to anger or any
other stimuli is irrational and illogical. If they were healthy
it is unlikely their response would be suicide.
Depression affects your mental and emotional state of mind but
it has a biological origin. Depression can be triggered by anger
and resentment which have physiological effects. While the anger
can elicit an emotional response, it is the biological mental
illness (depression) that is the culprit. People get angry everyday
but they don't kill themselves because they are mentally healthy.
Hence, you ought not blame or exculpate the person who committed
suicide. This brings us to the mercy of God. He knows all, He
is just and He is merciful. Take comfort in God's mercy. Also
take comfort in understanding that with few exceptions suicide
is faultless and blameless.
Some twenty years after my father's death I had to cope with multiple
suicide attempts by my brother. It was scary and emotionally draining.
My brother is still living, thank God. However, he had a lot of
close calls. More than once, death was knocking at his door. The
family was notified to get to the hospital quickly. Doctors doubted
my brother would survive his latest suicide attempt. After every
attempt he would be grateful for his life. He would also feel
incredible guilt for the fear and heartache his suicide attempts
brought on his family. Then he would get depressed and regress.
Eventfully, like a vicious cycle, hed attempt it again and
My brother is a Viet Nam veteran. Like so many vets who endured
that conflict, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD). He is designated as a service connected 100% disabled
veteran. Depression is a consequence of PTSD. Fortunately, my
brother came to terms with his mental illness and sought treatment.
I have no doubt that treatment, medication, and prayer are what
saved his life. It has allowed him to live a mostly productive
life although he still struggles with his illness. Treatment,
medication, and prayer are the difference between my brother and
our father. Our dad had none of these and, of course, he died.
A little over twenty years after my fathers death I had
to deal with the suicidal death of the fourteen-year-old son of
very close and dear friends. It was shocking and traumatic. Losing
one's child unexpectedly is about the worst heartache one can
ever endure. To lose that child as a result of suicide is far
worse; it is indeed grief to the extreme.
There were warning signs, but they were not apparent to his parents.
He experienced slight personality and behavioral changes that
were more observable at school and with his friends, especially
his girlfriend, than at home. Thats why its important
to communicate in the family setting. Depression is often difficult
to see if you are not looking for it. School officials and friends
either didnt know the warning signs or they disregarded
them. Families cant rely on others to inform them.
Symptoms of depression or suicidal feelings may include a change
in eating or sleeping habits, withdrawal from friends and family,
giving away valued possessions, rebellious behavior, running away,
drug and alcohol abuse, unexplained obsessions, decline in the
quality of work or school work, and marked personality changes.
It is important that parents, teachers, counselors, and pastors
know and recognize these signs. It could save someones life.
Everything seemed normal that evening. Nothing seemed different
or peculiar. It was a pleasant evening until his mother heard
the gunshot that would be the beginning of grief on a huge scale.
This would be compounded by the prevalent "why" questions.
It would be accompanied by the expected guilt and blame which
his family didnt deserve to feel. It wasnt their fault.
Nor was it his fault. His mental illness killed him as surely
as cancer takes its victims if left untreated. But a parent cant
seek treatment or medication for their child unless they know
that the child is sick.
It was difficult to go through this ordeal with them. I genuinely
felt their pain and shared their grief. Still, it was important
to be there for them. It cemented our friendship and even took
it to a new level. That is something to remember if you know someone
who is trying to survive suicide. Be there for them. Its
the right thing to do. Its the Christian thing to do. Dont
just offer help and wait for a call that never comes. Insist on
sharing their grief. If nothing else be there to sit with them,
hold them, listen to them, or just silently occupy space with
them. They will gain a measure of comfort just from your presence.
They will know you are genuinely there for them if the grief becomes
too much for them to bear alone.
Our most recent loss was the suicidal death of my niece. This
was especially difficult to cope with. My mother is not very stable
and I already explained my brothers history. This was his
daughter, his first-born. Worrying about how grief would impact
them while dealing with my own grief was a monumental emotional
undertaking. It took the saying "be strong for them"
to a new level.
I watched my niece grow up into a gem of a woman. She was as pure
as the driven snow. She was devout in her Christian faith. She
was a registered nurse who took pride in providing for the healthcare
of others. She served her country honorably as a commissioned
officer in the US Air Force. She was only in her early thirties
but she was very sick. She was mentally ill.
My niece was bipolar. She had the most severe form of obsessive-compulsive
disorder that her psychiatrists had ever seen. She also suffered
from schizophrenic episodes and severe clinical depression. As
an RN she understood her condition. She wanted to live but she
didnt know how to with so much mental anguish. Nobody could
help her. No medications sufficed. As a woman of faith, she struggled
desperately and prayed continuously, on her knees, for hours at
She had several suicide attempts that failed. It was destined
that she would succeed at some point. When people are that sick
they are unable to reason. They cant think clearly or rationalize
effectively. All they do is suffer. Its not surprising that
they are focused on placing an end to that suffering. Mental illness
can be very deadly.
Its important to understand that healthy people do not kill
themselves. A person who is depressed does not think like a typical
person who feels good. They live in the here and now. Depression
keeps them from looking forward to a better time. They cant
comprehend positive thinking. Sometimes they dont even realize
they are sick much like my dad and our friends son. Sometimes
they are very much aware of their mental illness like my brother
and my niece. They seek help and struggle as best they can but
sometimes nothing works for them. Not medication, not therapy;
absolutely nothing helps them. These are the most severely afflicted
with suicidal mental illness. My niece was one of these. They
will continue to attempt suicide until they succeed. You cannot
help them. You cannot save them. All you can do is pray for them.
It is disturbing when some so-called experts say that suicide
is preventable. It suggests that everyone who ever committed suicide
could have been saved. While it is true that suicide is often
preventable, it is likewise true that sometimes it is not. Suggesting
otherwise can lead to endless suffering and needless guilt by
suicide survivors. The reality is that in severe cases of mental
illness, nothing short of divine intervention can save a suicidal
Remember, nobody who commits suicide asked for their depression.
They would do anything to rid themselves of it. Being depressed
isnt the result of life choices any more than catching a
cold is. Some people get it, and some dont. Such is life.
It is hard to imagine suicide being a sin in these clinically
depressed people. One cannot offend God by involuntarily contracting
an illness, regardless of what the illness may be. If suicide
in such a circumstance constituted sin, then it would be sinful
to catch the flu or die of pneumonia. It is comforting to know
that most mainstream religions understand and share this viewpoint,
especially Christian denominations. The Catholic church of my
faith was once notorious about guilt associated with suicide.
It taught that the commission of suicide was a mortal sin. This
explains why my mother is still living a lie about her husbands
death. However, the Catholic Church has since clarified their
position on the issue of suicide. The Catechism of the Catholic
Church plainly states, We should not despair of the eternal
salvation of persons who take their own lives
This does not mean that suicide is never sinful. If someone is
of sound mind and premeditatedly acts to kill himself/herself
for the purpose of punishing or harming another, that would be
a sin. If they avoid deserved punishment by the state for a criminal
conviction by committing suicide that is arguably a sin. Anyone
who commits a suicidal act with malice aforethought for evil purposes
is at grave risk of mortal sin. That is tantamount to murder,
which is a crystal clear violation of God's commandment: Thou
shall not kill.
If a person, because of mental illness, sincerely believes with
their heart and soul that dying will somehow end the suffering
and anguish of others, regardless of how wrong they may be, who
could doubt that it is nonetheless a selfless act in the eyes
of God. Remember, No greater love has a man than to give
his life for another.
Some people who commit suicide exhibit enormous courage in the
undertaking. Consider the soldier who deliberately throws himself
on a hand grenade or a land mine to save the lives of his comrades.
Did he knowingly kill himself (i.e., commit suicide)? Yes, of
course, he did. Was it also a courageous and selfless act of courage?
Absolutely! It was courageous and selfless. We correctly
label this soldier a hero. People who commit suicide are not cowards
as some suggest. Jesus serves as a perfect example of one who
suffered immensely and sacrificed his very life for the salvation
of others. Sometimes we do need reminding.
Depression is usually a treatable disease. Most people who are
depressed do not commit suicide or even attempt it. But they are
more vulnerable to the risk of suicidal thoughts and they and
their family members should be aware of this. Most people, who
suffer from mental illness, unless it is extreme, will benefit
from therapy, medication, or a combination of these. In the case
of depression medication very often can permit these people to
live completely normal and happy lives. The key is first to recognize
the problem and then obtain treatment as soon as possible.
Some people are more prone to suicide than others. They should
be particularly alert to the warning signs of depression. Suicide
tends to run in families. My family is living proof of this. Suicide
most often results from brain disorders such as clinical depression,
anxiety disorders, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, and severe
obsessive-compulsive disorder. All of these brain disorders have
a genetic component that, if left untreated or mistreated, can
result in suicide. The risks of suicide increase considerably
the longer a person goes without treatment. That is why it is
dangerous for a depressed person to avoid treatment for fear that
he or she might be labeled as being crazy. We are living in modern
times. We are way beyond such foolishness; at least we ought to
If you suffer from depression dont take a chance. Get help.
If your child is depressed, get your child help and do it quickly.
Do this even in the face of resistance. You just might be saving
It is estimated that mental illness is the cause of 95% of all
suicides. The #1 cause of suicide is untreated depression. Ninety-five
percent of all suicides are the direct result of the aforementioned
brain disorders. According to the National Mental Health Association
the teen suicide rate has risen an astonishing 200% in the last
40 years. That is a rate three times what it was in 1960. Suicide
is the third leading cause of death for 15 - 24 year-olds. About
five thousand 15 - 24 year-olds kill themselves every year. These
are alarming figures.
In conclusion, it is important to point out that maintaining your
faith will increase your rate of recovery from the tragedy of
suicide. Dont pray less. Instead pray more. Your faith will
be your greatest source of comfort. Dont be mad at God.
God did not betray you by letting your loved one die. He understands
the pain of death. He endured it with the sacrificial death of
his only begotten son for your sake and everyone elses.
Jesus understands the pain of death. Remember how He wept for
Lazarus. Remember how He suffered in His own blameless death.
Remember how His blessed mother Mary suffered when He died. Remember
the painful deaths of His Apostles.
Remember, everyone dies of something; its preordained. We
cannot escape death, at least not in this worldly life. Your loved
one just happened to die of mental illness that resulted in suicide.
Even in this worldly death we still remain spiritually linked.
You have not lost your loved ones. You have merely postponed being
in their company until such time as God calls you home. He will
do that plenty soon enough so dont try to rush the process.
Remember its about His will, not yours.
If ever you have to endure being a suicide survivor take comfort
in knowing that you can survive even though the anguish of your
loss may at first seem to be insurmountable. Everyone must go
through a grieving process when a loved one dies. The grief associated
with the suicidal death of a loved one is manifestly more difficult
to cope with than other types of death. But, it is also similar
in that it will likewise end. You dont necessarily get over
your loss; that void is always there. However, you do learn to
cope and deal with it. Your pain will go away. You will come to
understand that your loved one remains with you in spirit and
you with him or her. You will laugh again. You will experience
love and joy. You will obtain peace of mind even though youll
always have the sorrow associated with loss. But we feel sorry
when we lose our youth and vitality, too. That doesnt mean
that we stay miserable because of it.
Definitely grieve, but also let go. Get professional, spiritual,
or other help if you need it. Accept the fate that you are dealt
just as Jesus and his blessed mother accepted the fate of the
Holy sacrifice at Calvary. Jesus, while suffering the pains of
crucifixion asked of his heavenly father, Why hast thou
forsaken me. Even the Son of man asked why. He also said
Thy will be done. Our Lord in faith accepted his fate
and in so doing taught us to do the same. We dont have to
know and understand everything. In faith we must just believe,
as Jesus did, that God understands and knows what is best. He
will take care of things, perfectly. Accept, as Jesus did, the
fate you are dealt no matter how much it hurts at the time. After
all, you cant change it and you are not responsible for
Understand the difference between holding on to a memory and clinging
to a soul. Release the soul from your mind so that your loved
one can be with our Lord where he or she will prepare a place
for you when your time comes. You will be together again and the
next time it will be for all eternity. That will be a joyful eternity
with God almighty. Trust in God and maintain your faith. God will
make it right. You will survive.
Coet is a retired U.S. Army officer. He is also a professional
educator and a published freelance writer and poet. Ed Coet has
had numerous articles published on a wide variety of topics. His
hugely popular and top-rated article "Testimony of a Suicide
Survivor" can still be read on Soldierworks.com, Amazines.com
and Ezine articles.com. Ed Coets short story, "Davids
Angel," will be published in the popular e-zine Bewildering
Stories (issue 234). His poems have been published or have
been accepted for publication in Purple Dream E-zine, Soldier
Works Magazine, Children, Churches & Daddies
Magazine, Scars publication, Steller Showcase Journal,
Both Sides Now Journal, Because We Write Magazine,
Authors Den E-zine.