Over the past year and a half, three kids I went to high school with have committed suicide. I was not close friends with these three people, but I feel extremely saddened by their loss. I’m confused why it bothers me so much since I wasn’t close friends with them. Sometimes I feel guilty, because I feel like if I was closer with them, I could have done something to help. Randomly, I think about them and start crying, especially when I see pictures of them on social media. I want them to be in a better place and at peace. Can you please help me sort through these confusing thoughts?
This is one of the saddest write-ins I’ve ever received. These deaths are heart breaking, and the grief is unspeakable. I am deeply sorry. I hope my reply helps you, in some small way, to begin to make peace with your intense emotions and confusing thoughts.
Your layered emotions are entirely normal. Despite the fact you weren’t close with these kids, when suicide touches our life, even in a peripheral way, the sadness can be unrelenting. We may find it impossible to accept the unfathomable truth about the human condition—that pain can become so acute, so unrelenting, that death is preferable. We may repeatedly walk our self into that final moment, trying to imagine what they were thinking, and wonder how it could be that some thought of someone or something wasn’t enough to avert such a desperate act. Or perhaps in some way, their suffering resonates with our own. And then there is the guilt, that only gets heavier with every thought about what we could have done, or what we failed to do, to interrupt their fall into despair.
Three of your peers, kids you passed in the hall and saw in the lunch room, kids who went to parties and did their homework, kids who acted in the school play, had awkward moments and crushes, swam at the lake and had a favorite meal—regular kids, like you, suffered to the point of death. How could this not leave you profoundly saddened? What could be sadder than this?
As odd as this might sound, I’m relieved you feel as you do. It means you’ve held onto your tenderness, your sensitivity to the pain of others, and that is a precious spiritual expression, the very heart of your humanity. Honor that—it is a strength. And while it might be one that leads you to feel pain more deeply, it will also allow you to engage more compassionately and lovingly in the world, and there is no greater contribution than that.
That we turn to guilt, indulging the endless could have-should have taunts, is normal, though an unbearable weight to carry. I know you feel guilty, and I understand, but let me walk you through the truth about guilt—it may help you release what needs to be released and heal what needs to be healed. Bottom line—guilt should play a very small part in our life, because when we give it a central role, we undermine our own ability to channel the loving energy we possess in abundance.
Guilt serves one very tiny purpose—it can signal to us that we have in some way violated our personal integrity; that we have failed to live in harmony with our values and our moral code. Guilt is a private language between the individual and their spiritual consciousness. We are meant to receive the message, and then move on. Any sense of guilt that lingers beyond the signal stage is a distraction, a distraction that is a barrier to righting our consciousness, so we can do better in the future.
There is another version of guilt that results from having done something (or having failed to do something) that we deeply regret, something that cannot be undone. And because we are powerless to undo what we’ve done (or failed to do) it feels like we need to hold onto the pain, because we don’t deserve to be freed of it. The thought of forgiving our self feels indulgent, meaningless, even impossible.
Such guilt is incapacitating—we resign our self to a suffering that promises never to lift.
Guilt that isn’t ours to begin with
A third type of guilt is also worth mentioning. It’s the type of guilt we take on about something outside of the scope of our own personal “responsibility.” When we fall into this pattern, it amounts to giving our power away. The proclivity to give our personal power away is usually learned in early childhood, if we were made to feel responsible for the feelings and the situations of the adults around us, despite having no responsibility for those feelings or situations. Such emotional exploitation in childhood undermines our ability to live in our full agency, with integrity, as adults.
Overcoming guilt always requires honesty—honesty about what we’ve done, or failed to do, and why. And we must not let our guilt keep us inert. Feeling guilty does nothing. Moving past guilt—that is transformative.
I don’t know the details of your involvement with those who died. It appears from your question that there wasn’t anything you could have done to prevent these tragic deaths, but if I’m missing something, and there is some private guilt you cannot let go of, forgiving yourself is the only way out of the suffering.
Forgiveness is not an intellectual act. You will not be able to make peace with yourself (or anyone else for that matter) relying on reason and personal will. It doesn’t work that way, precisely because the ego, whose pull engages our intellect, will always find some way to convince us that we don’t deserve to be forgiven. “Intellectual forgiveness” always leaves an opening for guilt or resentment to make its way back in.
The only way into forgiveness is to exit the ego.
Here’s what has worked for me: I try and see myself as God sees me…as Love sees me…When we do this, we touch the truth of who we are, and that truth is freeing.
See yourself as Love would see you: precious and innocent
Outside of ego, there is only Love. God dwells in that Love, and that Love dwells within us. When we intuit Love’s experience of us, we experience self-forgiveness. That forgiveness relieves us, humbles us, and nurtures our capacity for compassion.
I find it beautiful that our personal need for forgiveness can transform us into deeply compassionate human beings. But guilt can stand in the way of that. It’s essential we end our relationship with guilt, if we aspire to be an awake and compassionate person.
Where there is suicide, there is a loss of hope. Hope isn’t an idea to consider, but a living dynamic intent on the highest good, sustained by Love, that we access through trust. Hope transcends sadness, fear, and all worries. If fear is the language of ego, hope is the language of our soul. Our ongoing connection to hope sustains our will to live.
Trauma can interrupt our ability to have hope. Trauma grows the ego. Ego can take up so much space, and fill that space with so much negative noise, that we lose our ability to intuit our soul, and when we cannot intuit our soul, we cannot experience hope.
Suicide is a response to the unspeakable suffering of living without hope, and our most tender response to such suffering is our own hope.
Be gentle and patient with yourself. If your sadness, if your guilt, should linger, don’t lose faith. Continue to bring your suffering to the unconditional Love that is within you. In time, you will witness the energetic transformation of what was suffering, into love, and love into hope. This is what healers do. This is what you can do. This is what we all must do.
With much love,