How planning memorial events helped me cope with my friend’s death by suicide.
During the last two years of the pandemic, I have lost three friends to suicide. Each death has been difficult to process for unique reasons, but the most recent loss has gutted me.
It’s the type of grief that leaves your body feeling weightless and unbearably heavy at the same time. Heartbroken is what we say, but for the first week, I didn’t feel heartbroken at all. My heart wasn’t broken, it was ripped out, leaving behind an empty, aching space.
I sobbed without control for days; sometimes I still do. The tears only stopped when I was busy notifying mutual friends. To lessen the blow for others, I’d pull myself together as I fielded calls and messages about the death and details. I had to do what I do best in a crisis situation, I had to be strong.
Over and over, I repeated the same, simple sentence about his death. It became a foul, twisted mantra. My grief had a taste — salty and bitter, like metal stained by endless tears.
My mind went into planning mode the day after finding out. The pain demanded structure, or I would shatter. I created an invite for a virtual friend memorial, which took place on his 33rd birthday. He hated people knowing his birthday, so it was fitting. And I made a memorial playlist for friends to share the many songs he loved.
He had died almost a month prior, but only his family had known. He had been traveling, and dealing with his own recent grief. It took time for his friends to realize that no one had been in contact for weeks.
His friend groups began to overlap, circling across the country, and continents. Then, we found the coroner’s report online. It was awful to see, and I felt conflicted about how to mourn him.
On the fourth day, I made a post in the Modern Loss group page. I asked for advice about how to handle the sensitive nature of his death, while respecting his family. I understand his family’s grief and why they kept it private. Processing death by suicide is beyond difficult and painful. It can feel impossible. The group advice was helpful, with the responses centered around honoring his memory.
Speaking with longtime mutual friends, and as more of his friends that I didn’t know reached out, I came to a realization. His death wasn’t just about his struggles, or his family’s grief. Hundreds of people are grieving him, many in vulnerable mental states themselves.
Many of his friends have struggled with depression, suicide ideation, and attempts. Myself included. Joking about death and suicide is not uncommon among his close friends. It was a coping strategy that worked for him for a long time, until it didn’t.
The grief of his close friends remains wrapped in questions, what-ifs, and should-haves. And guilt… so much guilt. It’s a word that has come up a lot in discussions. Guilt that life steered connections apart, and guilt that we didn’t do more for him. We all know this is a common feeling around death by suicide, but understanding doesn’t make it hurt any less.
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