Dear Charlie:

Recently, a classmate and acquaintance of mine committed suicide by drowning. I had known her for 12 years and we played sports together when we were younger. Although we weren't ever close I cannot stop thinking about her and the way she ended her life. It was unexpected and horrifying. Sometimes I have dreams about her and think about what she if she was still alive. Sometimes I see peoplewith white-blonde hair like hers and her face pops into my head. After she passed I learned that she had delt with a lot of things that may have led her to do what she did. Drowning is my biggest fear, and I keep picturing and reliving her final moments even though I was not there when it happened. Is it normal for me to be thinking of her so much? I feel like it is consuming me but I feel like I can't let it go. I barely knew her but she seems to be a part of me now that she is gone. Just thinking about the pain she endured leading up to her passing makes me sick. I don't to stop letting her death consume me.

Signed: Confused and Heart Broken

Dear confused,

Charlie is sorry to hear about your classmate ending her life. You say that it was both unexpected and horrifying. After the fact, you learned that she “had dealt with a lot of things” and that the pain she endured made you feel sick. You indicate that you have both conscious thoughts as well as dreams about her and you can’t seem to let it go. You ask, “is it normal for me to be thinking about her so much?” Charlie will try to provide some answers.

When we lose someone in the sphere of our life, it is normal for their passing to resonate for a period of time. This reaction is amplified when the person is young or, for whatever reason, there is a lack of closure. In this case, your classmate’s suicide leaves many unanswered questions.

In the case of suicide, a common reaction for survivors is to wonder if there is anything they could have done to prevent it. Though normal, this reaction can cause people to feel regret or intense guilt. They’re left wondering things like, “how could I have not noticed, what if I had done this, or what if I had said that”? They might think, “if I had only done [this or that], he or she might still be alive today”. Charlie wonders if such thoughts have occurred to you. If yes, Charlie wants to assure that it was not your fault and there was nothing you could have done. The events leading up to your friend’s suicide were simply out of your control.

You say that your friend was in a lot of pain. Another reaction is to sometimes feel guilt about our own life being comparatively good. Given our life seems privileged by comparison, we’re left wondering, “why not me? Charlie wonders if such thoughts have occurred to you. If yes, Charlie wants you to know that you needn’t feel guilt about your own good fortune, Again, the events causing your friend’s pain were completely out of your control and you deserve to have a good life.

One of the reasons passings touch a nerve with us is that they remind us our own mortality. This may be especially true when we lose someone who is in our own age range. We’re left wondering about the way we are living our own lives and reminded that life itself can be tenuous. This natural tendency appears to have been exacerbated for you by the manner in which your friend died—by drowning—which is especially traumatic to you. In saying, “drowning is my biggest fear”, you may be communicating both your fear of losing your life in the particular manner but also fear of losing your young life at all.

The existential philosophers have spent centuries wrestling with some of the larger issues you’ve raised here. To summarize some of their wisdom and thinking, it’s OK to think about these issues. Recognizing that life is short helps us to understand how very precious each moment of every day is. But getting too caught up in musings about these questions can cause us to feel despair. One antidote is engagement in life: if we immerse ourselves in the river of life, the question of the meaning of life tends to drift away. So, while allowing yourself to reflect on what has happened, Charlie also suggests that you give yourself permission to refocus on and engage in the life that is ahead of you.

Charlie hopes that this is helpful. If you find that you continue to ruminate about your friend and that it continues to get in the way of your daily life, you might consider seeing a counselor. Charlie’s friends at the Counseling Center are skilled at helping people work through issues of grief, loss, and associated trauma. Counseling is a free and confidential service for BSU students. Call 285-1736 to schedule an initial appointment.

To feeling better,