Death of a Loved One: It's Not Your Fault

It’s Not Your Fault

After my grandmother took her life, although he never said it, I know my father blamed himself for his mother's death. It wasn’t his fault, of course, but feelings are real and that’s what he felt.

When my dad killed himself I felt the same way. For weeks, even months, after his death I remember going through the “what ifs.” "What if I would have done this,? "What if I would have said that?” What if, what if, what if…..What if it’s my fault?????

It took me years, but I finally came to understand that regardless of what I knew or didn't know, irrespective of what I did or did not do - my father's suicide was not my fault. Supportive family and friends, religion and community all contributed to me eventually relinquishing my feelings of guilt. But too many survivors don't receive such support and if they do, too often its simply not pointed enough, not explicit enough, not told to them with a necessary conviction and emotion to fully and finally chase away the demons of guilt that are swarming around their heart. What I wish my grandfather would done for my father, frankly what I wish someone would have done for me, is what Sean did for Will in the movie,"Good Will Hunting."

In the movie Will (played by Matt Damon) is a young man who was blessed with a brilliant mind but cursed with a horrible father who abused Will and his mother. Will internalized this abuse as his fault and carried this self-blame long after his father was dead. In the movie, Sean (played by Robin Williams) becomes not only Will's psychologist, but more like a father figure. As the movie proceeds no amount of intellectual discourse can take away Will's grief and open his heart. And then Sean understands what this young man needs., Will doesn't need platitudes. Will doesn't need theory. Will knows the the truth, but Will does not, can not, has not FELT the truth and until he does he will continue to blame himself for darkness which was not his fault.

[Sean takes Will by the shoulders, looks him square in the eyes and says:]

It's not your fault!
Will: [Softly, still staring off] I know...
Sean: No, you don't. It's not your fault.
Will: [Serious] I know.
Sean: No. Listen to me son. It's not your fault.
Will: I know that.
Sean: It's not your fault.
[Will is silent, eyes closed]
Sean: It's not your fault.
Will: [Will's eyes open, misty already] Don't f--- with me Sean. Not you.
Sean: It's not your fault.
[Will shoves Sean back, and then, hands trembling, buries his face in his hands. Will begins sobbing. Sean puts his hands on Will's shoulders, and Will grabs him and holds him close, crying]
Will: Oh my God! I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry, Sean!
[Will continues sobbing in Sean's arms. Sean continues to hold Will and with each sob and with each hug Will's demons are liberated, his guit, doubt, remorse and regret are released. Will is finally free.]

This is what every victim of abuse needs to hear.
This is what those who survive the loss of a loved one, in general, need to hear.
This is what survivors of loss due to suicide, in particular, need to hear. 
This is what my dad needed to hear.
This is what I needed to hear.
And this is what you need to hear. 

If someone you love has survived suicide, if someone you love has survived abuse of any kind, when the dust has settled, when the time is right, when they are ready to hear it - take them lovingly by the arms, look them boldly in the eyes, tell them with the conviction and passion - IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT! Hold them close. Never let them go. And say it over and over again:

And don’t stop saying it until they believe it.

Baruch HaLevi