Ask Dr. Hwang
Health Care Dialogue
Dear Dr. Hwang:
“Recently, I lost a friend to suicide. I thought he was going to be okay, but he didn’t make it. I have times I seem fine. Other times, I unexpectedly start to cry and cry. Is this normal?”
I’m very sorry for your loss. Crying is a healthy response to sadness and grief. Unexpected and strong feelings are normal at the beginning because the incident is still fresh. Sometimes, it becomes difficult when big feelings arise in settings that aren’t conducive to express them.
Therefore, it’s important to give yourself some time within each day to talk about your feelings and thoughts with someone you trust and can offer you empathy and understanding. If you don’t have someone to do this with, you may want to consider seeking professional help if that fits for you.
If you find that you’re unable to manage feelings, it’s important to rely on supportive people to talk through some of the difficult feelings and thoughts. It’s also critical that you take good care of yourself and make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep is necessary during difficult times because grief can wear a person down more so than you realize.
Suicide affects everyone differently. Suicide creates a confusing and unending story. It leaves people with a lot of questions, doubts and sometimes guilt. Not only do survivors of suicide have to deal with the aftermath of grief, but also complex feelings tied to unanswerable questions.
Too often, we ask ourselves, “Why?” When in truth, no one can really know the answer to this question but the person who committed suicide. Sometimes, the person who ends their life may not even know what was going on for him, which can be really scary if the depression continued long-term and without any kinds of positive interventions.
You will likely encounter many feelings as you grieve such as anger, shock, sadness, depression, anxiety, peace and isolation. These are some common feelings that have been reported by people who have experienced similar circumstances, but all feelings are not universal. In fact, you may also feel peace, compassion, empathy, relief or understanding. It is hard to predict how you will feel as time goes by, but hopefully, distress will be replaced by increased reconciliation and peace.
It’s natural to grieve for the life lost prematurely and wonder what would have happened if your friend survived? Sometimes, people in this moment are choosing to end pain versus death. This type of distorted thinking leads to very closed options. It sounds like you made efforts to be a great friend and you get to feel proud of what you were able to contribute. No one can keep another person alive. Ultimately, we all have free will. I’m not implying that this was his first option. But, a person’s will to live cannot always be penetrated. Some people are in so much deep and intense emotional and psychological pain, it becomes difficult to penetrate.
When people are struggling at this level, sleep, exercise, routine and a lot of support are necessary first steps in interrupting this cycle of ongoing depression and anxiety. Friends and family do the best they can on any given day. He deserved to have help.
I’m sorry that your friend didn’t get the help necessary to have him here today. Remember what was good. Accept help, talk to others and be kind towards yourself as you transition through this very interesting time.
I am learning that being patient with myself is one of the best healing acts I can exercise. I would highly recommend this to you as you move through your grief.
If you find yourself struggling so much that it’s impacting your quality of life or impairing you, seek some kinds of help, formal or informal. Mourning is a process and it’s fluid. Staying in one place for too long, is a sign that something may need to change.