Over the course of that day, the day he took his own life, many friends expressed feelings of confusion and, most of all, guilt. Many of our mutual friends were unfriended a couple of days before he took his own life and this generated a greater sense of guilt and hurt. The day that he unfriended them, we had talked about it and I felt that I could help my friends understand that they were not alone and his death was not their fault. I posted this on April 27th:
For those of you who feel like you are a bad friend for not hanging out with Clayton more, I can tell you that he was “busy” a lot. If Clayton unfriended you on Monday, you weren’t the only one. It is NOT a sign of “bad friendship” or that you “failed” Clayton. Clayton and I talked that Monday about the unfriendings. Looking back at it now, he was likely withdrawing. It just seemed like his work schedule was in the way or he had other plans. Sometimes, people withdraw and they are good at pretending that it’s just scheduling. Those of you who didn’t reach out to him, it’s NOT your fault. Those who were unfriended, it’s NOT your fault either.
If you are feeling guilty that you didn’t catch the warning signs, it’s not as easy as you think. If you accused every friend who is a little down, or tired, or having a bad week (like I am right now) of being suicidal, you’d feel ridiculous after a while. People have those weeks. I’m having that week. You can’t know the depth of pain someone is going through unless they tell you. Some people express their pain very well, some don’t. It’s natural to feel the guilt. I know better and I’m still feeling guilty for not having caught it, especially having gone through it before. I hope you take away some solace in my message.
When I was 7ish our 14 year old neighbor who grew up with us was a typical teen. When his family decided to move, it was a catalyst. He was devasted to be taken away from his friends and he was very vocal about it. He threatened to take his own life. His parents thought it was just a dramatic teenaged outburst. Then he did it. It was still a shock and I was too young to process it very well.
When I was 16, maybe 17, I had a friend who smiled all the time and he was so kind, polite, and very protective of his friends. He once dumped a soda on a boys head for being mean to me and then made him apologize to me and ask for forgiveness. It was a beautiful moment. He was a big strong teen and though he could be very intimidating, he was a gentle giant who valued respect and manners. I never knew he was hurting. No one did. When he took his own life, I went through denial and anger and I never told my mother what happened until many years later in my adulthood. Why? It was all part of my denial and anger. I just didn’t want to talk about it. As an adult, I talk about that pain. I talk about the unresolved pain.
I’m not an expert on suicide, but I’ve had some experience grieving it and being there for those going through suicidal thoughts. I was there for Ryan and Peter and they are still here today. The big difference is, they were survivors of attempted suicide, so we knew they were going through it. My brother has threatened it many times and I talk to him about it. He’s still here. The difference is, he is vocal about it. Some people, like myself and my brother, are outwardly emotional. We express our feelings very bluntly. When I was going through a hard time last year, Clayton would come over and we’d talk for hours. He was there for me. If he had reached out to me, I would have done the same for him. But he wasn’t as vocal and outward about his pain as I am.
Those who knew he was going through something deeper… I am inclined to believe that you did everything you can do in that situation. Sometimes, only a professional can help someone work through their pain. I’ve learned that you can’t force a person to get help (I’m looking angrily at my brother). I’ve learned that you can’t really know what someone is going through and can’t blame yourself for not knowing. I’ve learned that we will still feel guilt and all the other stages of grief regardless of rationally knowing better.
When I grieve, I write. I share photos and videos. This is why I insist on making videos and taking photos. I say this everytime “People will cherish these pictures and videos when you’re gone.” and that’s just what I’m doing. This is how I grieve. Feel free to comment, share, or grieve how you do. I’m open to all of you, whether we know each other or not.