Dear Rachel,

I just found out that someone I was quite close with committed suicide. I am so shocked and overwhelmed by the news, but I am also feeling incredibly guilty. I can't help but wonder what I could have done differently or if there was anything that could have prevented this. He had so many friends who were there for him and loved him as well as a supportive family. I just don't understand how it happened and at this point am just wondering what I should be doing for his memory?


Dear Devastated,

There is a desperate need in the Jewish world to openly discuss mental illness and take away any stigma associated with itI am so sorry to hear of your loss. Losing someone close to you is always difficult, but when you discover the person took his or her life it is that much harder. As I am sure you already do know and have been told by others that you cannot blame yourself. Your friend was clearly ill, and his perception of reality was so warped that even with a supportive family and friends it was not enough to stop his actions. I have no doubt that everyone who was close to him is wondering what they could have done differently; but someone who wants to take their own life is very hard to stop.

You ask what you can do practically at this point. There are a few suggestions I have that deal with different aspects of this tragedy. For starters, there is a desperate need in the world at large and specifically in the Jewish world to openly discuss mental illness and take away any stigma associated with it. We would never shun someone in a wheelchair or diagnosed with cancer. Nor should there be anything other than support and sympathy for someone who suffers from a mental illness. That person is sick and needs treatment. Without it, he or she will continue to suffer and as in the case of your friend, it can lead to death.

So speak to your friends and in your community. Speak about this tragedy and the need for medical and psychological support for those who suffer. Help diminish the stigma and let people know that it is okay to ask for help and that it's a sign of strength, not weakness, to acknowledge when there is a problem. Do what you can to let people know that whatever they are facing there are options to enable them to find some relief to their pain , yet continue to live their lives,

In terms of other ways of offering support to the family, there is both what you can do materially and also what is needed spiritually. It is quite possible that the family is in need of financial support to help pay for the funeral expenses and perhaps other bills that were left behind. Helping to pay for a proper Jewish burial is a huge mitzvah. It is also vital that it be arranged for someone to say the Mourner's Kaddish for him. If he does not have a family member who is able to do this, it should be arranged on his behalf.

As much learning and good deeds be dedicated to his memoryAnd lastly, I would suggest that as much learning and good deeds be dedicated to his memory. Clearly this was a very troubled and pained soul and the more that can be done to help his soul find peace at this point should be done. If you do not yet light Shabbat candles, that would be a very special mitzvah to undertake in his merit; the holy candles of Shabbat will be a weekly memorial to this soul, for "the soul of man is the candle of G‑d."

Again, I am sorry to hear of such horrible news. I wish you comfort and support as you deal with the loss of your friend, and may we always remember how precious and valuable every life is.