My Best Friend Committed Suicide
My best friend killed himself. I found him lying on his bed with the right side of his head blown off, surrounded by a red-and-gray mess of blood and brain tissue. In a blur of frantic phone calls, police officers, and emergency medical technicians, what was left of Greg was carried away in a body bag, while curious neighbors stood silent watch on their lawns.
No Stranger to Tragedy
Greg and I met in fifth grade and were best buddies from then on. Greg had moved to my town to live with his grandmother after both of his parents died. She made his life miserable. Greg grew up lonely, moody, and unloved.
Greg met a girl and fell in love. One night, after a few drinks, they went for a ride and Greg lost control of the car. It left the road, roared down a ditch, and wrapped around a tree. Greg woke up in the hospital. His girlfriend never woke up.
That’s when he came to live with me.
If only I had recognized the warning signs!
Greg’s appetite changed. He had always eaten like a horse. Suddenly, he stopped eating and started losing weight.
Greg withdrew. He avoided old friends. He stopped going out. If people were around, he didn’t talk. He sat and watched life go by.
Greg talked about dying—not sometimes, all the time: “I wonder what it would be like to be dead.” “Everyone would be better off without me.”
He also talked about how he would commit suicide. No pills for him; he’d take a gun and blow his brains out.
Greg got mad, exhibiting outbursts of rage followed by complete calm. He suffered bouts of anxiety. Overall, an air of hopelessness and despair clung to him.
Occasionally, Greg did things to hurt himself, like drinking until he puked or passed out. Sometimes he acted plain crazy. He rode his motorcycle too fast down unlit, gravel roads. Sometimes he played Russian roulette—that’s how I found out he had bought a gun.
I should have gotten Greg some help or made him go to see a counselor, even if I had to drag him there. I should have gotten rid of the gun. I should have risked making him mad and told his sister what was going on. But in spite of all the warning signs, I didn’t see it coming.
Right before Greg killed himself, he seemed to snap out of it. I found out later that he had made up his mind to kill himself—a sure way to relieve his burden of sadness—so he appeared happier. He also needed to get me off his back and out of the house so he could be alone—to load the gun and pull the trigger.
A Hole in My Soul
After Greg’s suicide, my life was a ragged mix of feelings.
I was hurt. Why, I thought, did you do this to me? Didn’t you know I loved you? Gradually, I realized that Greg hadn’t killed himself to hurt me. His life was so filled with pain that he could think of nothing but ending it.
I was mad. I hated him for what he did. “Friends don’t do this, you moron,” I would scream at his memory, only to feel guilty for having such horrible thoughts.
I was confused. I spent hours trying to figure out what was so bad that he had to kill himself. It didn’t make sense to me.
I did lots of second-guessing: What could I have done? Why didn’t I see it coming? I should never have left the house.
I was sad, terribly sad. Greg’s death had torn a big, ragged hole in my soul that no one else could fill. Life seemed empty without him.
Greg’s suicide tested my faith. How could a loving God allow such a horrible thing to happen? I talked to my pastor and to other people who helped me to understand my feelings as a natural part of life and allowed me to let them out and to deal with them. I talked to God too. Both of us laughed and cried, and God understood.
What can you do to help prevent a friend’s suicide?
- Learn the warning signs. If you notice a friend experiencing severe depression, mood swings, changes in appetite, or withdrawal from friends, be on your guard.
- Talk to your friend. Ask point-blank questions: Are you thinking about suicide? Have you thought about how, when, and where? If a plan exists, you can be reasonably sure a serious attempt will follow. Ask your friend to agree to do nothing without talking to you first.
- Get the phone numbers of a local counselor or mental health agency. If you have a suicide hotline in your town, keep that number handy.
- Talk about the situation with a minister, a counselor, or another adult you trust; and ask for advice. Also talk to God.
Let your friend know that you care, watch for warning signs, and be prepared to call for help. It is better to risk a friendship by breaking a confidence than to lose a friend forever to suicide.
—Adapted from “My Best Friend Committed Suicide,” www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/YU/ay0890.asp. Used with permission. Reprinted in devozine (March/April 2009). Copyright © 2009 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.