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One memorable comment the grief therapist made to my family after my daughter Mary’s suicide  was, “Guilt is a bear you’ll be wrestling for a long time.”

In Grief After Suicide, editors Jordan and McIntosh write that guilt results from what a survivor did, didn’t do, or imagined he or she might have done to prevent the suicide death (p.31).  In my experience, guilt usually showed up in “what-iffing” questions: what if I’d been home that day, what if Mary had seen another doctor, what if I’d gone into her bedroom and read one of her journals?  What if I’d been more attentive?

“What-iffing” questions waned only when, a couple years into the grief, I got tired of asking them. For one thing, I started giving myself credit for doing the best I could do with what I knew about Mary at the time of her death.  Yes, I had fallen tragically short; but whatever I did or failed to do was the best I could do at that time.

Our family grief therapist also said something to my husband and me one day that helped quell the what-iffing: “You’re just not that powerful.” John was lamenting his inability to protect our daughter, and I was admitting how little I had known her when she most needed to be known. We were both frustrated and sad and rattled by failure. “You’re just not that powerful,”  Jane told us.  Far from discouraging me, her words rang with truth.

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