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The Haunting Effects Of Witnessing A Suicide

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May 24, 2006 is a day I will never forget.

In my real estate marketing position, I had four Southern California offices located in Torrance, downtown Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, and Westwood. On this particular day, I was free to go to any office I wanted and chose the Westwood location since I enjoyed the staff there the most. Like most days in Southern California, it was sunny, warm, and beautiful. I was peacefully working on a marketing campaign in my office on the ninth floor when, in the corner of my eye, I saw something fall.

For a split second, I thought I was imagining things. After all, I only slept for four hours the night before. I heard a crashing sound, followed by a disturbing thump, and immediately knew I wasn’t imagining anything. It reminded me of the time when I was younger when we threw a mannequin out of our window on Halloween to scare people. I only hoped it was some sort of mannequin, but my instincts told me that it wasn’t. I hesitantly looked out the window and my eyes recorded the most horrific sight I have ever seen. I won’t go into specific details. 

I didn’t want the rest of the office to see the girl lying in a pool of blood with her neck completely turned around like a broken doll. Instantly, I knew this scene would affect me for months, even years. But my coworker, Julia, could see the horror in my face and the tears forming in my eyes. “Daryl, what’s wrong?” she hesitantly asked. I pointed to the window without saying anything. Julia walked over and at first, didn’t notice anything. When she moved her eyes to the right side, I heard a huge yelp like a stranded dog. For the first time, I was able to talk. 

“Julia, don’t tell anyone. Please, they’ll freak out.” I said. But everybody could hear Julia’s screams. It was obvious that she was just as upset as I was. Soon, other people came to the window. The office manager, Roberta, was affected the most since her son had committed suicide four years prior. We had to sit her down and comfort this poor woman, who looked like she was about to have a heart attack.

The police soon arrived on the scene. I knew they were about to turn her over, but refused to look. However, a morbid curiosity infected my body and my eyes soon witnessed something so disturbing that I vomited right in my office. Not everybody was upset. One coworker immediately got his digital camera out and started taking pictures. “This stuff would be great for the Ogrish website,” he explained. Another coworker, who used to manage several apartment buildings, wasn’t too upset either. In fact, he kept making a joke of the whole situation since he'd witnessed the same thing before.

As much as I tried, however, I couldn’t get back to work. It got worse — I later found out it was a woman from the office upstairs. I had seen her on the elevator several times. She was a beautiful woman in her early forties — long red hair, a Barbie doll body, and smooth pale skin, which I always found attractive. I always thought that she must have been a vegetarian. However, I noticed that she was always shaking her hands while on the elevator. She always seemed disoriented and gave the impression she wasn’t friendly. I never said anything to her on the elevator, not even “hello.” 

Angela (not her real name) had a husband and three children, two of them teenagers and one of them only seven years old. I don’t even want to think about their reaction to the event. At first, I felt incredible anger at Angela for doing such a selfish thing; her suicide hurt many people, including coworkers and family. It hurt me, the bystander, as well. I felt that I needed answers.

For the next several nights, I had strange nightmares. In one, a really ugly dog came to me for help. Since the dog was so ugly, I ignored it. I could hear the dog actually cry at my refusal to be his friend. He was so angry that he ran into the yard of a farm owner and started harassing his dog. The owner came out with a shotgun and blew the dog’s brains out as I watched in horror and guilt.

In another dream, I found myself in grade school getting my report card. In my family, getting anything below a B in a class was considered a sin – and this was before grade inflation. I got a C in mathematics and was afraid to go home and face my parents. Instead, I found a way to get to the school roof. My feet slowly walked to the ledge. I closed my eyes, jumped, and  could feel “stomach drop” like on a roller coaster. It seemed as if I was falling for ages. Instead of hitting the ground, I woke up screaming. 

The most horrific dream after witnessing this event occurred about a week later. In the dream, I was working in a tall building that appeared to be the World Trade Center. At first, I didn’t make much out of it. But I looked at a calendar and saw the date — September 11, 2001. There was absolutely nothing I could do to stop fate. I tried to get on an elevator but it would never come. I tried finding stairs, but they were nowhere to be found. Suddenly, I heard an explosion on one of the lower floors and felt the ground below me shaking. Soon, I ran back into the office and everybody was overwhelmed with smoke. It become apparent that if I  stayed  in the building, I would burn to death. My only other choice was to jump out the window. Before doing so, I thought of how I had insulted Angela for jumping to her death. “Will I go to Hell?” I asked myself. Before I could think any more, a huge fireball came towards me. I climbed on the ledge of the window, closed my eyes, and leaped. Instead of feeling “stomach drop” like I did in the past dream, I instantly woke up and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.  

The major nightmares eventually stopped (I sill had other dreams about this), but I was still very angry at Angela for making me go through this. I felt that I had a right to know why she jumped to her death. I tried to talk to several people in her office, but they felt uncomfortable. One woman told me that nobody understands why she jumped, but that, like me, others noticed her erratic behavior.  

I soon started to have a recurring dream, where I was the only one working in the office building. I knew Angela was somewhere in the building. Instead of fearing Angela (or her ghost), I tried to pursue her because I had to know her situation. I could see her, from the back, in the main lobby. But as soon as I'd get there, she'd disappear. I kept calling out her name, but she never answered. I chased her up the stairs and was able to hear her breathing hard. Soon, I saw her more clearly: her body was mangled but it didn’t stop her from trying to escape. Rather than getting scared, I found myself getting angrier. She then ran into an office and closed the door. At this point, I knew I could open the door. For the first time in the dream, I became scared. Instead of opening the door and facing Angela, I woke up.  

After having this same exact dream at least once a week, I knew the suicide’s after-effects weren’t going away anytime soon. Witnessing the suicide hit a nerve in me that I couldn’t understand. I soon became obsessed with the notion of suicide, researching the topic on the Internet for hours and talking to people on message boards who experienced the suicide of someone close to them. All my coworkers, who were so over this event within a couple of weeks, were wondering why I was still obsessed.  

Through the help of real estate brokers in my office, who can find out the address of anybody or anything, I found out where Angela had lived. Some people told me going over there was a huge mistake, that I was being completely selfish. Part of me believed them but I felt I needed closure on the situation that was haunting my life and would go to any lengths to get it.  

On September 15, 2006, I used my GPS receiver to locate her address. I arrived sooner than my GPS navigator told me I would and started having doubts. Instead of just knocking on the door, I parked across the street. I wondered if I should really get out and knock on the door. After about twenty minutes, I saw a Toyota Corolla park in front of the house. A dark-skinned man, possible Middle Eastern, got out of the car. He was tall and almost perfectly built, but looked like he had the life beaten out of him — his hair looked like it hadn’t been washed for days and his clothes were wrinkled. Even though he was of a different ethnicity than Angela, my instinct told me that it was her husband. For the moment, I was relieved not to see the kids, because the sight of this man was sad enough.

He instantly noticed I was looking at him. I turned my head, but could notice he was staring at me from the side. I started to get really nervous, especially since he came walking up to my car. I didn’t know what to expect. He looked very mean until he actually came up to my window. I rolled it down. “Hey, you worked with Angela, right?” he asked in a very friendly tone. I hesitantly told him I did, even though I only worked in the same building, not company. He indicated that he remembered seeing me several times when going to pick Angela up from work. Instead of asking what in the hell I was doing there, he asked me if I would like to come in and talk. His name was Amir.  

Their home looked big and expensive, except at the time, nobody was cleaning it. When I asked about his kids, he told me they were staying with their grandmother. Both of us wanted to talk about Angela right away, but were too uncomfortable to start the conversation. Taking a deep breath, I explained to him why I stopped by. I explained that I think of Angela every single night and day. I even admitted that I had witnessed her suicide. Even though his stare was blank, I could sense that he appreciated what I told him.

“You can probably tell I don’t sleep very well,” he indicated, pointing to the bags under his eyes. “I don’t want to even talk about the nightmares I have,” he continued. I wanted to talk, but realized Amir needed to get a lot out. He talked about how they met at a Dodgers game, the only one he’d ever been to. He talked about how Angela could make a joke out of a horrible situation in order to make surviving it easier. He also indicated that in the past year, something had gone wrong. I didn’t let him know that I only knew Angela from our silent encounters on the elevator; I felt he had revealed too much and it would be a letdown if he knew I was almost a total stranger.

“I saw her in the elevator shaking her hands nervously,” I mentioned. “She looked really nervous or scared about something,” I continued. Amir indicated that he knew something was bothering her, but was afraid to ask because both of them were very sensitive. He now lives with the guilt of not knowing what he did wrong or if it had something to do with him in the first place. I spent the rest of the visit fixing his computer. When I drove home, I realized that this visit had not done anything but confuse the issue even more.

For the next couple of months, I continued to have dreams of chasing Angela around in the office building. They would vary a little bit: in one dream, her body was mangled and in another dream, it wasn’t. In one dream, she had long red hair and in another, her hair was completely cut. I could never get myself to open the office door and always woke up.

Finally, in the very early morning of April 9, 2007, my subconscious finally faced Angela. The dream started out with my usual pursuit of Angela. Except this time, I told myself that I would pursue her all the way no matter what. She ran into the same office she had entered in perhaps 50 other recurring dreams. It’s an office that doesn’t even exist in the building she jumped from. I didn’t know what the consequences of opening the door would be, but I did so with both courage and fear.

As soon as I walked into the office, it turned into the elevator where I had my previous casual silent encounters with Angela. There she was: tall, pale, and beautiful. She was shaking her hands very nervously and her mind was racing faster than her body could keep up with. She was waiting for me to say something. “Angela, what's wrong?" I nervously questioned. She then stopped shaking and turned her head, looking at me straight in the eye.  

“How come you never asked me that question before?” she asked in a very soft, but stern voice. Suddenly, I felt fear, guilt, and anger all hit me at once. Those seven words made sense, almost too much. I didn’t know how to answer. "It's okay," she continued. "You weren't the only one."

As she looked at me, my body started to shiver. But when she smiled, I felt immense comfort. I woke up and finally had the closure I had been desperately trying to find for almost a year.

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About Daryl D

  • Maurice M.

    Wow!

    That was one of the most powerful essays I’ve ever read. Thanks for sharing this Daryl. I think we all need to remember that if somebody shows some signs of having a breakdown we should try and help that person rather than leave them to deal with it in disastrous ways themselves.

  • Lisa Fuentes

    My brother killed himself just three months ago and nobody ever knew or sensed there was a problem I am so glad that I read this article because even though I am in great pain It felt comforting Daryl, do you believe that this was really Angela getting through to you in your dreams? Daryl I really want to talk to you but this won’t allow me to post my email address? Somebody tell me how to find Daryl’s email address cause I really need to talk to him

  • daryl d

    Lisa:

    Look at my biography that is right next to my picture and it shows my email address. I would love to talk to you. Yes, I believe Angela was really trying to say something to me through my dreams. I’ve had many precognitive dreams (dreaming of something before it happens), but that’s another article. The point is that dreams are more than dreams. I’m very sorry about your brother. Email me so we can talk some more.

  • zingzing

    jesus. i couldn’t read all of that.

    a couple of weeks ago, i saw a man die. he was shot twice in the neck with a rifle right outside of my apartment. i saw him laying the street, twitching a bit, and then he was still.

    i try not to think about it too much.

    i suggest you do the same.

    ok–i actually read it now. damn, man. best thing you’ve written. at least you got this out of it. suicide will always be a mystery.

    i’m sorry for everyone involved.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    Absolutely one of the best pieces I’ve ever encountered on Blogcritics.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Wow!!

  • klondikekitty

    This post is one I will not soon forget — Very vivid and graphic writing, took me right to the scene, Daryl !!!
    Just two and a half years ago, I tried to commit suicide myself, using alcohol to get there — thanks to divine intervention, I was found in a coma in time to prevent the alcohol poisoning death I was seeking — I am so grateful to God and those who were responsible for taking me to the hospital emergency room in a nearby town for saving my life —
    A person who has never experienced such an event cannot possibly know what turns someone’s mind into such a desperate state that suicide appears to be the only option, but at the time, it seemed to me as though there was not a living soul on the planet who would even give a damn if I did it.
    I thank God every morning for giving me another chance at life, and I pray you will find complete closure from this experience without losing the intensiveness of your response to it. Only people who really DO give a damn can reach out to those who are affected every day by the tragedy of suicide, and help them to realize there is still somebody who cares.

  • daryl d

    I think most people think about suicide one time or another. I’ve had highs and lows in my life, but there was a time that was really low and I seriously thought about it, but could never go through with it. I’ve heard about suicide a lot: my cousin committed suicide because he was gay (I believe that’s the reason), a friend of mine committed suicide when I was in high school after receiving a bad report card, and I’ve heard of countless other suicides. But, until last year, I never actually witnessed a suicide. It was completely different hearing about, then witnessing it. The fact that I could have been in Angela’s place was the most scary aspect of all this. If someone hadn’t intervened and helped me out, I would have been flying off that roof as well. Klondikekitty and others can identify with that.

  • daryl d

    I remember having a conversation with an intern in my office. We were talking about how some religions believe that those who take their lives go to a very dark place. He disagreed and said there should be no difference of judgment from the girl I witnessed and the people who jumped from the World Trade Center. “She was running from a fire as well,” he said. I disagreed, but after more research and understanding, I’ve opened my mind more. But I think our conversation about this inspired by dream about being in the World Trade Center. This dream was one of the most vivid, frightening experiences of my life. It was so real that I consider it an experience.

  • rebecca

    If not the best than this is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve encountered on Blogcritics. I’m shocked it’s not in the Spread The Word section.

  • outofmyway

    Rebecca-thanks for bringing this to my attention.this will sound tasteless but dary, you should sell this for movie rights. the part with the world trade center dream scared the living s*** out of me.

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    Thanks for posting this great piece, Daryl.

  • andy martin

    I was very interested to hear this story – it reads really well. I am not sure whether this is a real experience or a work of fiction? I am a reporter with the BBC and the reason i came across it is that I have been looking at making an investigative documentary examining links between the internet and chat rooms / social networking site and suicides here. If anyone has any experience of this I would be grateful to hear from them. Many thanks, Andy.

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com Ray Ellis

    The issue of suicide raises a lot of issues–none of which are important to the Departed.But you hit on the one issue that really counts–the lasting effects on the people left behind. Nicely done, Daryl.

  • Sean Mahoney

    Oh my God. What a haunting and riveting piece Daryl. Well done.

  • rebecca

    Daryl, it’s clear that your editors hold some grudge against you because this article is now very hard to find on the blogcritics page-this should be at the very top of the page because it is one of the best essays I have read on this site. You would think your editors would want to bring attention to the best writing on their site. Don’t worry though because I’ve shown this to a lot of peopleat work and they all had one common reaction, which was “Wow!”

  • daryl d

    Rebecca:

    I don’t think my editors are trying to “hide” the article. Perhaps “suicide” isn’t a topic they like to promote. I am really glad that you and everybody else who commented liked it and hope it was just as uplifting as it was depressing,

  • niklas

    best damn thing i’ve read on the internet this year. great job, Daryl!

  • FJ

    Thank you so much for writin this piece, Mr. D!

    I don’t know if you care but you saved my life. I was seriously considering suicide until I read this article, but it really kicked in the hell I would bring on to others. we all need to reach out to someone and this article reached out to me

  • Alexandra Flores

    I am glad this article was put in my email box this evening cause I had a horrible day. This definitely lifted my spirits. It should be made into a movie.

  • My Rules

    sounds like “The Sixth Sense” to me Boring!

  • Julie

    Anybody who commits suicide goes to Hell because its not up to they to take their lives its up to Jesus.

  • daryl d

    You know, Julie, I always thought it was judgemental people like you who go to Hell.

  • daryl d

    FJ:

    Glad you liked this article. Just remember, this life is just a test. It the afterworld, it won’t matter. What happens in this life makes you stronger.

  • ABMOVEMENT

    DARYL, WHAT MAKES YOU AN EXPERT OF THE AFTERLIFE? JUDGEING FROM THIS AND YOU’RE OTHER ARTICLES IT SEEMS LIKE YOU THINK YOU ARE AN EXPERT OF EVERYTHING. WELL, YOU’RE NOT!

  • daryl d

    DO YOU REALIZE THAT TYPING IN ALL CAPS IS SHOUTING? YOUR SPELLING IS ALSO HORRIBLE! GET OFF OF DADDY’S COMPUTER!

  • daryl d

    “jesus. i couldn’t read all of that.

    a couple of weeks ago, i saw a man die. he was shot twice in the neck with a rifle right outside of my apartment. i saw him laying the street, twitching a bit, and then he was still.”

    ZingZing, please get out of Paterson, NJ. There are many other great places to live!

  • Sharon

    3 years ago, in Downtown Los Angeles, a guy jumped from a building. He jump out of the window and even broke the window. I wonder what was going through his mind.

  • daryl d

    Sharon:

    I remember that! I wasn’t there to witness it so it didn’t really hit me. I heard about it, talked to others who saw it, etc. It wasn’t until I actually witnessed a suicide that it affected my life so much.

  • GregM

    Daryl great writing. Were you able to seek some counseling from work to help deal with the situation a little bit or time off?

  • c.c.

    INCREDIBLE!

  • daryl d

    They offered counseling, but I don’t believe in it. Typical rehearsed b.s. from a counselor: “So, um, how does that make you feel? Ok, how does that make you feel> (then, they stare at you for five minutes). Ok, times up!”

    I didn’t get time off from work, though they let people who wanted to leave early that day. I delt with this suicide in my own ways, which was haunting at first but worth it in the end.

  • Jonas

    Good story. Kept me very interested for sure.

    I am very ashamed to admit it, but I think about suicide a lot and reading something like this is kind of comforting for me, in a sick sort of way.

  • Merysa

    This story hit me HARD!! I am only 18 and can honestly say that i know how you felt but the situation was a little different this happened to a person i knew for about 7 years and he didn’t jump off a building he hung himself behind my house he had some issues me and my family were trying to help him with by keeping him busy doing work around our house and it all seemed to be working but something went wrong

    it has now been 5 months and i still cant get past the horrifying picture burnt into my memory i wish i could remember him as the good kind person he was but the trauma i am facing wont let me I’m just looking for a way to cope with this any pointers?

  • Justin

    Very moving. Last October the girl who lived two floors above me (I live on the 8th) jumped from her balcony, and I was standing by my patio door looking out at the time. She fell right in front of me. I went into shock. What I saw didn’t seem real. It was as if her body fell in slow motion. So many thoughts entered my mind in a few seconds, but when the realization that this person was going to die hit me, I was filled with a sadness I never felt before, even though I had never seen this person before, at least, I don’t think I did because I live in a big building. My insides were literally shuddering. My roommate, who was in our apartment, but did not see it, rushed out to the patio and looked down into the alley. I told him not to look, but before I knew what I was doing, I was right beside him and saw her laying there, face down, a small pool of blood right above her head. A few people were rushing around her, one guy was on his cell calling 911. As they moved around her and panicked, she was just so still, while life went on around her. I was haunted by this for months, and still am. Found out her name was Juliann, she was 29. Someone in the building told me it was postpartum depression. I cannot find closure. I was so angry at her in the first few weeks because she didn’t think how it would affect people who had to witness her death. A part of me said I was selfish to think that. It wasn’t about ME. This girl died. But that didn’t change the fact that I saw what I saw, and it horrified me. I was even frightened of her, because she had done something that was so unthinkable, something “normal” people didn’t do. She was someone’s daughter and sister. But to me, she was the freaky girl who jumped off her balcony and scared the hell out of me. Now, months later, I feel sad for her. I’m sorry her life was so bad that she felt she had no other choice.

  • AshTate

    I appreciate Daryl and the other commenters sharing their experiences around this difficult topic. I am currently conducting a study on the experience of witnessing suicide, as there is almost no research on this topic. I am hoping that the information I gather will be used to help others who have this experience. [personal contact info deleted by comments editor] I’m looking for individuals who: 1) were in the physical presence of a stranger as he/she committed suicide 2) were over the age of 18 at the time the suicide occurred 3) are fluent in English 4) are willing to answer questions that include, but are not limited to, a description of the event, as well as your psychological, emotional, and physical reactions 5) were/are not involved in any legal proceedings concerning the suicide you witnessed. The event must have happened at least one year ago.
    Thanks, Ashley

  • http://www.myspace.com/jenniferlynn2188 jenni

    I understand how you must have felt…four days ago, I walked into my apartment. I had just got off the phone with my boyfriend and told him I was coming home a few minutes earlier. As soon as I walked in I immediately sensed something was wrong. I heard heavy heavy breathing, the most distressed sound I had ever heard. As I entered our bedroom I saw him kneeling on the bed, facing away from me with a glock 19 to the right side of his head. I started screaming at him to put the gun down, it wasn’t worth it, that I was going to call 911 and it would be ok. I now wish I had told him I loved him. In those split seconds, I was frozen, unable to move, although there wouldn’t have been time to stop him. When he pulled the trigger, only seconds after I had yelled for him to stop, my whole world fell apart. I still don’t know why he waited for me to come home…maybe he was scared to face death alone. The dreams and the guilt, anger, sadness and what ifs haunt me. I wonder why he didn’t take me with him. Its so hard living without him, listening to friends and family blame me saying I should have stopped him. I had risked my life taking a loaded gun away from him two weeks prior. I would do anything, give my own life to bring him back. If only that were possible.

  • distressed

    Today a man jumped down from the top floor of a mall I work in. Before security could finish evacuating everyone, he jumped to his death. My friend who was with her baby on the bottom level was buying chicken when he fell a few metres away from her. She said it was a very loud thud. I fortunately did not witness the fall although I did see the man hanging by the bar about 10 minutes before he jumped. I never knew that one could be so affected by something like this. I am shaking as I write this…I can’t stop shaking. I am not just traumatised I am scared! When I read about your dreams Daryl, it frightened me more. I hope I don’t get those dreams because I would be more traumatised. I don’t know if I can go to work tomorrow…my kiosk in the mall faces the scene. I am still in university and have a few very important final exams next week..I can’t seem to calm down to get to my revision. I am telling myself to be strong but still can’t stop shaking and cringing. One thing I learnt from this (as i once thought of suicide- like many ppl do) is to never think of it again! I can’t put my family and friends through the horror!

  • crissy

    My husband of 20 years shot himself in front of me. He was a hunter and he used a deer slug in his shotgun. I was pretty crazy for years afterwards. I found that going outside, walking, hiking, touching the earth helped to heal me. Also a mountain of family and friends. I had to accept the fact that I would never be the same. That pissed me off for a very long time. I have been well loved in life..I can only live to pass that on. Music has also been very helpful.

  • Ash

    This was such a powerful article. I’m making a short film about how witnessing suicide effects people. Is it okay if I use some of your experiences in my movie?

  • Nicole

    I just wanted to say thanks for this piece of writing. My housemate, a girl I barely knew, tried to commit suicide last night. She is ok, but since the incident I have been having trouble getting the images of her crying on the floor trying to get more pills. It gives me hope that things will get easier.

  • T

    I missed seeing a jump by minutes. Saw the body, which still haunts me. It’s a miracle the lady didn’t land on anyone, as it took place outside one of londons busiest station.