Survivor’s Guilt

Everybody dies, there’s no getting around it, but we each hope to leave the world a little better through the lives we touch, the changes we enable and make, the children we bring up. If we are very lucky, friends and family members, sometimes people in the wider world, will reach out to tell us that we’ve transformed their lives. These are moments to hold on to, proof of a life well-lived. But it doesn’t happen often.

Sometimes people – good people – feel themselves to be nothing but a burden. That for all their efforts to the contrary, they are doing more harm than good to their loved ones. That they are lost causes, and every turn they take just makes things worse. When the dark stars of despair align, they can pull such a person over the event horizon, spiralling towards self-destruction, and nothing can be done to save them.

Can it?

I just don’t know. But it is the finality of the suicidal act, coupled with the shock and this insidious self-doubt that leads us to survivor’s guilt.

We lost Jay Faulkner on Thursday. Damn, this is hard to write.

At this point I know very little about how he died, and I don’t want to speculate. Those who knew him were well aware of his health problems, the tribulations and chronic pain that he lived with on a daily basis. Some of us saw his latterly deleted post that revealed the extreme strains placed on his marriage through the pandemic. But we also know what a wonderful, warm-hearted, supportive, brave, and kind person he was, despite all life threw at him. There is nothing I can add to the picture of Jay that his friends and family haven’t already said in tribute and consolation. His eulogy will speak volumes for the man, I am sure.

My own relationship with him was too slender for me to do him justice. We connected online through Geek Syndicate, then found a double link via the writing community. We only met in person once – sharing a weekend together at the Dublin WorldCon, along with the Fox Spirit skulk – but we clicked. He was a brother from another mother, a kindred spirit whom I greatly admired. When his troubles became apparent, I invited him to stay with us – to get a bit of distance and headspace and figure things out. I wish to God he’d taken me up on it, but he declined, and I didn’t press the issue. The offer was there.

I was shocked by Jay’s death, but I wasn’t exactly surprised, if that makes any sense. The blows came too thick and too fast, both emotionally and physically. A fall down the stairs broke his back and shattered any chance of living independently. What was he to do? His hopes – his sense of a future – began to dissolve in his grasp. He never stopped fighting for his family, but there came a point where he stopped fighting for himself. Where the defiant smile on his face as he spat out his teeth, grew glassy and pained and uncertain.

We all saw it, I’m sure, and a great many of his friends reached out in concern and support. But that support was not enough. There was nothing we could do to fix the situation, no lifeline we could throw that was strong enough to pull him back across that event horizon.

The world is a little emptier, a little colder, a little crueller without him.

It’s his funeral today (at time of writing), and I still haven’t felt the impact yet. Haven’t let the grief touch me, somehow. Just his absence. It is strange and upsetting to not feel something when everything screams that you should. It feels like a betrayal. As though our friendship were somehow a sham. This is not my first brush with suicide. We lost another friend to the black hole in the late 90s, and it left me devastated. So what’s going on? I felt oceans of empathy for Jay while he struggled, but now he’s at peace I feel… hollowed out. Empty inside. (And despicable because of it.) Perhaps my subconscious is just trying to protect me. Denial can be a powerful buffer, as Jay can attest— could have attested towards the end. But the waves keep battering at the walls. They’ll break soon enough, I guess.

Until then, there’s just you and me and a craw full of survivor’s guilt. Because we’re alright, really, *aren’t we? We have our ups and our downs, but we’re not at that desperate stage of hopelessness, of helplessness that sucks us into darkness. We may be struggling with our bank balance or our relationships, but we’re still here, fighting on, supporting each other, shining our light and writing our right.

I wish I had more I could say, except I’m sorry.

I’m sorry Jay went through such hardships. I’m sorry he felt so alone, so helpless, so desperate and down-hearted as to believe that his death would come as… as a relief to those he loved best in the world. It hasn’t – not a bit of it. And whilst I am glad that Jay is finally free of the pain he was caged in, a small part of me curses him too. (And hates itself for doing so.) Because in the end he didn’t believe that his loved ones could help, or would help when it came to the crunch. Anger and hurt, sorrow and regret, tears and acceptance. It’s all part of the churn we go through when Death comes to call. We never heal entirely from our losses, but the scars hold value. We can stroke them in later years and remember who caused our pain, and how, and why we still love them despite it all.

Here’s to you, Jay. You were a better man than most.

Thank you for being my friend.



* Here are some ways to reach out for help if you are, in fact very much NOT doing alright.

Tel: 116 123
Lines open 24/7
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably):
Tel: 0800 585 858
Lines open 5pm – Midnight, seven days a week
Papyrus (Young suicide prevention up to 35 years old):
Tel: 0800 068 41 41
Text: 07786 209697
Lines open Mon to Fri, 9am – 10pm, Weekends and bank holidays 2pm – 10pm
Sane (Available to anyone affected by mental illness, including friends, families and carers)
Tel: 0300 304 7000
Lines open 7 days a week, 4.30pm – 10.30pm)
SHOUT – If you would rather not speak with a counsellor over the phone, you can do it via text message 24/7 by sending ‘SHOUT’ to 85258. Your work, elevated.

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