Which is worse death or suffering

Suicide leaves family and friends in shock. How could we have prevented that, most ask themselves and have to learn to live with the fact that the incomprehensible remains like a shadow over one's own life.

"There is a life before and a life after," says Karin Poller *. Since her husband's suicide 16 years ago, when a world collapsed for the now 66-year-old, as she herself says, a new era has begun. Because the terrible experience is like a turning point.

It is still present and automatically divides her own life story and that of her three sons in two halves: the one in which her husband cared for the family with devotion and with great commitment as a teacher at a high school taught social sciences and history, and In the one in which the increasingly frequent depressions spread like a creeping poison in the everyday life of the family of five and soon the melancholy, lack of drive and self-chosen isolation of Armin Poller could no longer be overlooked even for outsiders. Even if the person concerned initially believed himself to be able to quickly get the initially harmless symptoms of this ultimately severe mental illness under control and tick off as a unique phenomenon.

Function in shock

"This place is always free now; you don't get used to it," Karin Poller points to a chair at the table in the dining area. To this day, she can't get the images from back then when she found her husband in the study: with a bullet in his head and covered in blood. Nevertheless, looking back, she experienced the events of May 20, 2003 as if in a film. "Anyway, somehow not real. I thought a detective story was being filmed in my house - with this whole array of criminal police, a pastor and family members who wanted to stand by my side." But they too are struggling to keep their composure in the face of this dramatic accident.

"I was in a kind of shock state: unable to feel anything. Rather, I somehow functioned in this rigidity. Above all, I wanted to prevent the children from seeing their father like that." It wasn't until later that she realized what had just happened in the next room. "And then came the tears and a great sadness that continues to this day. Because nothing is as it was before."

Above all, however, Karin Poller blames herself. To this day, she still feels guilty. "Why didn't I notice how bad Armin was doing, that he had reached the limit of suffering? Why didn't I call a doctor when the signs of a severe bout of depression intensified on Friday afternoon and the weekend was approaching? That an old air rifle was in the house, Karin Poller found out from the police on Saturday morning. And also that there was an attempt to write a suicide note, which the officers found torn in the wastebasket and in which the hopelessness of their own situation is described - and the feeling that things can no longer go on like this, death should be a redemption for all.

A lifelong trauma

"Of course I knew that my husband was not particularly resilient, that he took everything more heavily than others. But I would never have thought that his desperation was so great that he would take his own life. He was responsible, very much in healthy times active and a believing person who got involved in the parish. For him we were the most valuable in the world, "says Poller, describing the ambivalence of her feelings. The fact that much in the end was just a facade, that her husband conveyed to the outside world that he had the disease under control because he was afraid of talk among colleagues and students and under no circumstances wanted it to become public - that only works out for her in retrospect to a whole.

Nevertheless, Karin Poller is still looking for answers - especially to the question of "why". For days she repeated this word like a prayer wheel: Why only? Of course, it is inappropriate to ask "How could he do this to us?", Poller knows today. He was ill. And yet the violent death of her own partner, whom she believed she knew so well, remains a trauma, especially for the children, that can no longer be resolved. "For life" is the verdict, she says. "Because we have to deal with that - for a lifetime."

Tormenting questions and self-reproaches

To be punished with self-reproach until the end of life - that also applies to Irma Seiler. Even ten years after her daughter's suicide, the now 86-year-old still struggles with not having prevented the worst at the crucial moment. In the 45-year-old, too, it is depression that the mother thinks in retrospect that the attending physician did not recognize the danger Diana was in.

Perhaps he should have prescribed an inpatient admission - in addition to drug therapy. Because although it is clear to the family that Diana can no longer cope with her life on her own - the trigger for the psychological instability was the cancer death of the older sister two years earlier - she is dependent on support and should not be alone for unnecessarily long, the single mother falls of a three-year-old child in an unobserved moment from the fifth floor of her apartment. She leaves behind her son Tim, who is currently in kindergarten.

Mobilize all strength to continue living

"The news from the police hit us like a blow. We couldn't believe what had happened. Nevertheless, we have to accept that there was a resolution behind this decision to die and that we probably would not have been able to prevent this death," explains Irma Seiler. "Our daughter no longer wanted to live; she saw no more light."

She and her husband - both are in their late 70s - find distraction that only alleviates the very hardest hours in their new job. "The only consolation was our grandchild, who needed us now. Because from now on we had to be mom and dad in one, give Tim a new home and also come to terms with the death of our daughter. It was a very difficult time," recalls the petite woman remembers the first weeks and months after the accident. "Finally we had to mobilize all our strength again - also to avoid burdening Tim, who today has no memories of his mother, with our pain. There was no choice, the three of us had to find a new everyday life together."

"Could we have prevented that?"

Five years ago, Sabine Eckes lost her best college friend by suicide. The 55-year-old, a successful doctor with her own practice, hangs herself in the stairwell of her family home and is found by her husband, who left her a few months earlier but has an appointment with her for a discussion. Beate and suicide? At first, nobody brings that together with the apparently tough career woman and mother of two grown children. Here, too, family and friends spend a while researching the causes of the domestic tragedy that is turning the lives of everyone who loved Beate upside down. The shock is deep. Here, too, the shock causes great bewilderment, immeasurable pain, but also anger. How could she do that to us, the 20 year old son asks himself. And his sister Inga, herself a budding medic, has been looking for an answer that will never be given again.

But here, too, the individual pieces of the puzzle gradually come together. Because the more incredulous Sabine Eckes gradually analyzes the personality structure of her friend, whom she has known for over three decades and who was already considered a power woman during her studies, the more the construct of a person, who is ultimately only maintained with great effort, crumbles could carefully hide the dark side of his soul for a long time. Eckes finds out soon after the suicide.

Nothing had been what it seemed for a long time. Beate did not get over the separation after 30 years of marriage. The fear of being left alone was overwhelming. But Eckes and the other friends, who are closely involved in taking care of the medical colleague in order to help her through this life crisis, are not aware of the extent of this encapsulation in themselves. The most agonizing question, says Sabine Eckes, is for her to this day: Could we have prevented her death? Have we perhaps overlooked possible signals that led to this turnaround? These are thoughts that you have not let go of since your friend's death and that cast a shadow over your own life.

* all names changed by the editors