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When You Can't Forgive Yourself for Not Being There After a Loved One's Suicide

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I recently reconnected with a small handful of friends from my high school years. Though they had been amazing friends in so many ways, I distanced myself from them because they were loosely tied to a past I wanted so desperately to forget. I naively believed if I left all of it behind me, pushed it into a closet or under the bed and pretended it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be able to hurt me anymore.

After everything happened, I was sent downstate to live with my sister for a little more than a year. During that time, I was blessed to meet some of the most incredible friends someone lost in my personal turmoil could have ever hoped for. We were an odd assortment of misfits who just clicked. Some of my happiest memories of that time were spent with them on Saturday mornings, helping them pick music to put on the air for a weekend radio show, getting Happy Meal toys with our lunches and wearing silly props from the party store.

When I was bounced back upstate, we all tried keeping in touch at first. As my life got increasingly hard, though, I began pulling away from them. In part, I was ashamed of how much of a mess I had become. Because of events I had no control over, I had gone from being an honors student to living on the street. But a bigger part of me was in full flight mode. I hoped if I ran far enough, fast enough, away from my past, I could somehow escape it. Though they were not a part of the trauma, our friendship became yet another casualty of it.

Here and there over the years, we’d connect briefly and exchange pleasantries, catch each other up on the here and now. But our exchanges were always brief, because I had never stopped running. If I stopped to let anyone in, my past might catch up with me, and I was too terrified to risk that happening. Eventually, we lost touch completely.

Life in the past year has changed so drastically, though. I have gone to the edge and lived to tell the tale. I have found my voice and begun to write, to talk about all I’ve been through and to face my demons. As fate may have it, one of these amazing friends from my past stumbled onto my author page. It was incredible to reconnect with one, then another. I had finally stopped running, and I longed to talk to them all, to reconnect, to apologize and to invite them back into my life with open arms. I was healthier now. I was no longer ashamed of my past. I had gained so much perspective in life that I couldn’t wait to share with them all.

…And then the other shoe dropped.

I was informed the third amigo from the trio of guys who made that time in my life more bearable and kept me from collapsing when my entire life imploded had killed himself a couple years ago. This news crushed me. I know I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but it ate at me just the same.

I’ve struggled with depression myself. I know that beast well. I’ve walked that line of wanting to give up, wanting to give in, wanting more than anything for the pain to stop. I know what it’s like walking through life wearing a mask, smiling to convince others you’re OK while it feels like you’re dying inside. And I know what it feels like to have only two gears — either that soul-crushing agony that rips you apart inside or a complete numbness that makes you question why you’re even bothering to hold on anymore. I’ve walked that path alongside him without ever knowing he was there.

I will always remember him as this larger-than-life, creative and passionate guy who could always make everyone laugh. I had such a crush on him years ago. He had this flirtatious spirit, these eyes that pulled you in and this smart*ss smile that made all the girls swoon. I’ll never forget one day years ago when we found ourselves making out in the backseat of our friend’s car, sure in our teenage naivety that if we did it under a jacket no one would notice. I’ll always remember the last time we talked and how passionate he was about teaching and making a difference in the world. He had such an amazing heart and such a kind soul. The world truly needed him in it.

I find myself beating myself up even though I know I’m being irrational. Realistically, there was no way I could have known. Part of me keeps thinking, though, that I should have been there, should never have pulled away in the first place. Maybe if I had been there, I would have seen something, been able to say something, made some sort of a difference. The rational side of me also knows I was in a different place a couple years ago, still drowning in my own depression. I’m not sure I could have made a difference to anyone, because I barely mattered to myself at that point. But a huge part of me is caught in that “shoulda, woulda, coulda” loop of blame, feeling like I failed in some way because I didn’t know, wasn’t there.

I know I’m taking this personally because I’ve recently been so close to the edge myself, but I can’t stop thinking this should not have happened. I feel there is no reason in this world why someone like him should have felt so lost, so alone that he felt suicide was his only option. I wish I could find a way to go back, say something, do something, change things. Save him. Let him know he wasn’t alone. Let him know I’ve been there, too, and I understand. Tell him it would be OK. Promise him I’d be there, that he wouldn’t have to face life alone.

But I know how depression works. It twists everything into absolute negatives. It can convince you nobody understands, no one cares, nothing will ever get better. It doesn’t matter if you’re surrounded by friends and family who love you. Depression isolates you and makes you feel completely alone.

The truth is what’s done is done. All the “shoulda, woulda, couldas” in the world cannot change it. No matter how much I wish I could change the past, I cannot unring that bell. No matter how much I beat myself up for not being there, it’ll never bring him back. The world has suffered a terrible loss. It has lost a man who loved music and laughter and wanted to make a difference and change the world.

Matt, I’m truly sorry I was not there for you when you needed someone. I’m so sorry you spent your last moments feeling alone and without hope. You deserved better out of life. You deserved a better friend in me.

Please know that every time I encourage someone to keep fighting, to not give up, to not give in — in my heart I will forever be speaking directly to you, wishing I could have saved you from that ledge, pulled you back in time. The world has lost too much already. It cannot afford to lose any more.

For all you once meant to me, Matt, and all I should have been there for you, I am truly sorry. Words cannot even begin to express how sorry I am. I love you, sweetie. I’m so truly sorry I wasn’t there.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

A version of this post originally appeared on Unlovable.

Originally published: September 28, 2016
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