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When Someone Called My Friend Who Died by Suicide 'Selfish'

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A dear friend of mine chose to end his life over the summer. He was 27 and beautiful. Sweet, funny. Silly. I taught him all four years of high school and even when he was driving me off the wall, he’d make me laugh. You never knew what was going to come out of his mouth and sometimes it was so inappropriate all I could do was wipe the laughter tears from my face.

When I first was told, I heard the words but felt well… I guess I would say I felt the shields go up and I wouldn’t let it in. Until someone said, “That was so selfish.”

The barrier has been blown and the feelings are crashing across and over me. I am sad. I am fighting feeling guilt. But what I mainly feel is rage. You want to know what selfish is? It’s a person who dares to call someone who hurt so badly that taking his own life was the only way to stop the intense hurt.

Selfish is the person who feels like they know what someone is going through and are allowed to give their opinion. That’s selfish and arrogant. Selfish is the person who, instead of thinking of the family and this loss, thinks of their opinion. Their uninformed opinion.

Let me inform you…

I have tried to die by suicide once. I have done the research on the “best” or the “surest” way or the “least painful” way. I have almost dialed the suicide hotlines. So, I know what I’m talking about. Here’s what you need to know.

I cannot know what Sam* was going through and I should not pretend I can.

I do know his pain was so thick he could likely not see a way out of it. Imagine a fog so thick you have to pull over and wait it out. A fog that engulfs the car inside and out. It’s cold and horror movie scary. Even if someone is sitting right next to you, the fog is so deep you can’t see far enough to find that person’s hand. The fog is isolating, disorienting. I do know he was likely thinking of others and not himself. But he was seeing others through the dark grey fog. He was afraid for his family. What if he brought them into the fog? What if he ____? (fill in the blank). Often, a person willing to take that final step thinks they are actually taking care of those they love.

Is he misguided? Absolutely. But the fog is so thick, the sun can’t pierce through. And it feels never-ending. It just keeps rolling in and over. In the mouth. Up the nose. Clogging the ears. It’s a cold sweat and shaking hands and a racing heart. Do I wish he would have reached out? Absolutely.

Selfish people will say, “He should have talked to someone.” Those people have never sat in the fog. You think there is no one out there. It’s like being on a dark planet. Imagine you are surrounded in the stuff. You can’t touch it. You can’t smell it. You can feel it only as cold on your skin. You can’t even see it in any “real” way. The fog is ephemeral. How do you sit in a therapist’s office and explain what feels at the time as completely inexplicable? How do you explain the imaginary fog that feels as real at the time as the therapist now sitting in front of you?

We’ve all been sad. But this is not sadness. This is not even despair. This is abject fear the fog will never float away. Do I wish he made a different choice? Yes, but not because he was selfish. I wish he knew that the fog does and can float away, even if he couldn’t see it at that moment in time.

Do I think he could have gotten help and found healthy coping mechanisms? Yes. I have. But it’s hard to find someone who you trust, and then climbing out of the fog is misery — a different kind of fog. It’s all so embarrassing, shameful. If you have not been there, you cannot possibly know, so please do not say, “He should have ______” — if you want to judge someone, look in a mirror. That’s as far as our judgment is allowed to go.

Do I feel sadness for his family? Yes. Sam will be missed by many. Do I think Sam was selfish? Never.

Please stop.

I know you would never say Sam was selfish to his family, but stop thinking it and for damn sure, don’t feel you are qualified to say it to anyone. All you do is show your ignorance and shame the people who have sat in the fog. And, let’s be very clear, you have no idea who else may have sat in the fog.

Just be compassionate. That would be selfless and loving.

To my friend and his family,

I wish I could be there for you. I wish I could explain better what he was going through. I will tell you that he loved you and he was not being selfish. Sam, the fog has lifted. Smile in the sun, my dear friend.

To those of you who feel allowed to judge,

I hope the fog never descends on you or those you hold dear.

*The name has been changed to protect privacy.

Photo by Gilbert Timothy on Unsplash

Originally published: December 14, 2020
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