No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of A Loved One


Suicide would appear to be the last taboo. Even incest is now discussed freely in popular media, but the suicide of a loved one is still an act most people are unable to talk about--or even admit to their closest family or friends. This is just one of the many painful and paralyzing truths author Carla Fine discovered when her husband, a successful young physician, took his own life in December 1989. And being unable to speak openly and honestly about the cause of her pain made ...
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No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving The Suicide Of A Loved One

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Suicide would appear to be the last taboo. Even incest is now discussed freely in popular media, but the suicide of a loved one is still an act most people are unable to talk about--or even admit to their closest family or friends. This is just one of the many painful and paralyzing truths author Carla Fine discovered when her husband, a successful young physician, took his own life in December 1989. And being unable to speak openly and honestly about the cause of her pain made it all the more difficult for her to survive.

With No Time to Say Goodbye, she brings suicide survival from the darkness into light, speaking frankly about the overwhelming feelings of confusion, guilt, shame, anger, and loneliness that are shared by all survivors. Fine draws on her own experience and on conversations with many other survivors--as well as on the knowledge of counselors and mental health professionals. She offers a strong helping hand and invaluable guidance to the vast numbers of family and friends who are left behind by the more than thirty thousand people who commit suicide each year, struggling to make sense of an act that seems to them senseless, and to pick up the pieces of their own shattered lives. And, perhaps most important, for the first time in any book, she allows survivors to see that they are not alone in their feelings of grief and despair.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I wish had the comfort and wisdom of this book. It might have eased the pain of over thirty years," --Gerry Spence, auhtor of The Making of a Country Lawyer and How to Argue and Win Every Time

"Full of stories. Stories of pain and heartache. Stories of courage and inspiration. I know of no other work on this subject that is so comprehensive and rich in exposition." --The American Journal of Psychiatry

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1989, the author's husband of 21 years, 44-year-old Harry, a New York City physician who was depressed over the recent deaths of his parents, killed himself with a lethal dose of an anesthetic. Stunned by her loss, Fine (Married to Medicine: An Intimate Portrait of Doctors' Wives) searched in vain for books on how to deal with the suicide of a loved one. In her comprehensive and well-written manual for "suicide survivors," such as herself, she offers advice for those recovering from the suicide of a marital partner, relative or close friend. Drawing on research, interviews with survivors and her own experience, Fine provides insights into living beyond this tragedy including dealing with feelings of guilt and anger, the stigma of suicide and financial and legal problems, and she tells where to get help. She stresses that joining a peer support group is an important coping tool. Although some of the descriptions of suicides make for harrowing reading, the book is a valuable contribution to an overlooked subject. (Jan.)
Library Journal
A great many books have been written on the reasons for suicide from the victim's point of view, but this powerful work deals with the wrenching emotional effects of unexpected purposeful death on grieving survivors. The author's husband, seemingly a thriving physician, took his life in December 1989. Fine's discovery of his body left her with a flood of mixed emotions and anguish that inspired her to record, in vividly honest terms, the legacy of suicide on survivors. The horror of such a loss is emphasized in many moving examples. Despite the permanent sadness and even humiliation that suicide survivors face, this book offers hope in its summary of predictable patterns of adjustment. Sections move from the suicide, to its aftermath, to survival and how to make sense of the chaos. An excellent appendix includes current information on organizations, resource materials, and support groups for suicide survivors. The bibliography is extensive and useful. Recommended for public libraries and specialized mental health collections.-Catherine T. Charvat, John Marshall Lib., Alexandria, Va.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385485517
  • Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 104,229
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.23 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Carla Fine is the author of two earlier books, Married to Medicine: An Intimate Portrait of Doctors' Wives and Barron's Guide to Foreign Medical Schools. She has written articles for Cosmopolitan, Woman's Day, and Omni, and has appeared on national television programs and lectured to survivors' groups across the country. She lives in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

Suicide is different from other deaths. We who are left behind cannot direct our anger at the unfairness of a deadly disease or a random accident or a murderous stranger. Instead, we grieve for the very person who has taken our loved one's life. Before we can even begin to accept our loss, we must deal with the reasons for it--and the gradual recognition that we might never know what happened or why.

According to the book Suicide and Its Aftermath: Understanding and Counseling the Survivors, edited by Edward Dunne, John McIntosh, and Karen I-Maxim, the attention of the mental health profession focuses on those who commit suicide and rarely addresses what happens to people who have survived the suicide of someone close to them. The authors cite studies showing that people who lose a loved one to suicide feel more guilt, more often search for an understanding of the death, and appear to experience less social support than those who lose a loved one to other causes.

In addition, the authors write, suicide survivors experience feelings of intentional rejection and deliberate abandonment, which separate them from others who are mourning the death of a loved one. They state "This difference may explain why survivors of suicide who have attended grief groups for survivors of deaths by other causes report feeling different from other grievers and tend to drop out of these groups."

Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of death among young people ages fifteen to thirty-four. The American Association of Suicidology estimates that for each of the 32,000 Americans who kill themselves each year, there are six survivors. According to the association, there are almost 4 million people in the United States who have lost a loved one to suicide, with the number increasing annually by almost 200,000 persons.

Yet, most of us who have experienced the suicide of a loved one feel separate and apart. At the time my husband killed himself, it seemed inconceivable that I would ever emerge from the isolation created by his death. Even in my self-exile, however, I knew that there must be others who understood what I was going through. I searched fruitlessly in the literature for books and articles containing stories similar to mine. Instead, I found medical texts analyzing why people kill themselves, manuals on suicide prevention, articles on the link between creativity and suicide, essays on the moral and philosophical implications of suicide, even guidebooks on how to kill yourself; those of us who were left behind seemed forgotten, overshadowed by the drama and mystery that suicide leaves as its legacy.

I am writing this book because I do not want our stories to go untold. The grieving process of suicide survivors is often shrouded by stigma and silenced by shame. By exchanging the unthinkable details about our mother's swallowing an overdose of pain medication, our son's shooting himself with a hunting rifle, our brother's jumping from an office window, our wife's poisoning herself with carbon monoxide fumes, we will come to realize that we are neither crazy nor alone.

Since my husband's death, I have spoken with more than one hundred women and men throughout the country who are struggling to find meaning from their loved one's suicide. They have revealed their most carefully guarded personal histories to me in the hope that their stories might help ease the pain of others in similar circumstances. I have changed their names and some of the details of their stories because I believe that privacy and secrecy are two separate entities. We can own and protect our privacy without being made to feel that we are hiding some dark, shameful secret. In addition, I have interviewed a number of mental health professionals and others who specialize in the field of suicide survivors.

It is my hope that by sharing our experiences, the loneliness of mourning our loved one's self-inflicted death will begin to diminish. As instant comrades-in-arms in a common struggle, we can identify with the stages and patterns of our similar journeys. We will see that, ever so slowly, the pain does ease. Gradually, there will be minutes, then hours, then longer chunks of time when the suicide is not the focus of our lives. Even though we have entered a looking-glass existence, where everything we once held dear has been transformed beyond recognition, we will come to believe that eventually we will emerge. And survive.

"I refuse to make two tragedies out of this," says Carol, a woman whose husband drowned himself when she was nine months pregnant. "As much as I want to die, I know I want to live. The choice is as simple as that."

I have worked hard to overcome the gripping shame that continues to cloud my acceptance of Harry's decision to die. Seven years after his suicide, the words "he killed himself" are still uncomfortable for me to say when I am asked about the cause of his death at the age of forty-three. Yet, as I start to talk about it more openly, what most surprises me is the reaction to my decision to tell the truth. "My sister killed herself in her freshman year of college," a neighbor confides. "My uncle drove his motorcycle into a tree," the dental assistant reveals. "My father shot himself," the woman sitting next to me on the flight to Miami whispers.

I hope this book will help penetrate the isolation that surrounds the mourning process of those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide. As we begin to tell our stories, the stigma associated with the memories of our mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, lovers and friends, relatives and coworkers, will be lifted. With the support of others who have been there, we will be able to let go of the silence and start to make sense of the chaos that suicide leaves behind.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Mixed review. Good book but didn't relate to my situation.

    This book had been recommended to me by a friend, after my brother committed suicide this past May. I ran to the store to purchase and had very high hopes that it would answer so many unanswered questions that I had in regards to his death. I found the book very well organized and the stories of so many other suicide survivors helpful, but the one thing that I could not relate to in the book was the shame people described after the suicide of a loved one. The book was centered around shame. Shame for what? Another person's choice. Because that is what suicide is, another person's choice to end their life.

    I just didn't get it, why should people feel ashamed over loved ones, dead or alive? I could never feel shame over anything my brother did while living or in the way that he chose to end his life. What I can't understand and I had hoped the book would help with is how can people fall into such desperation that they feel ending their life is the only solution to their problems? I guess this book was the wrong format for the questions that I wanted answered. I don't think of myself as a "suicide survivor" because his suicide is not the defining factor of who he was, he was a brilliant ER doctor who saved lives every day. He prayed with and brought peace to the ones he couldn't save, as they died, and consoled their families in their time of grief. He was compassionate and loving, smart and funny, he was one of the most wonderful people I could ever hope to know and love. No, his death does not define who he was or change anything he did during his lifetime. He chose to end his life, do I agree with it? No. Do I wish I knew what was going through his head and have had a chance to change his mind? Yes!! Could I have done anything to change his mind? Maybe, maybe not. But I do not, nor ever will feel shame over him or his death.

    If you feel the same way over the loss of your loved one due to suicide, this book is not going to give you answers. If you want to read stories of others that have survived and want to know what they went through, then this book does offer some comfort with that since you realize that you are not the only one.

    I don't have as many questions as I did right after his death. I have come to understand that there are somethings in life that you just have to accept. I will never know all the answers and if he had wanted me to know what was in his head during those days before he hung himself, he would have called or shown up on my doorstep (like he had so many other times when something was weighing on his mind). But he didn't, his mind was made up and he followed through on his decision. Just like the over achiever that he always was, failure was not an option.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2009

    Incredibly helpful during a traumatic time

    I can't say enough about this book. When my best friend/life partner committed suicide in January, I couldn't sleep or do much of anything. This book kept me company, I read it straight through and then kept it with me through the first months all the time. I needed to know others were experiencing the same confusing and debilitating grief. Very, very helpful. I recommend it to everyone who is a survivor.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2008

    life changing

    Ten years ago, my mother commited suicide. I am finally at a point in my life where I am ready to deal with it and I just finished this book. It was absolutely the best tool to help others in a similar situation. I feel liberated and freed from many of my self-defeating emotions after having read this book and I HIGHLY recommend it to ANYONE who is a survivor of suicide. God bless!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2006


    I purchased this book at a time in my life when I thought I was literally loosing my mind. My husband had commited suicide 8 months earlier. I had all of these thoughts that were running through my head that just didn't seem normal. Confusion, anger, blame... Reading this book helped me realize that it is a normal part of the process. It has put me on the road to surviving!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2006

    A perfect find . . .

    One of my closest friend just recently lost her husband to suicide. I found this book online and gave it to her on Thursday. I found out that she had been given many books relating to suicide and thought this would get lost in the pile. I called her Saturday morning and she only had 20 pages left! She said this book spoke to her and was much easier to read and relate to than the other books she had been given! She highly recommends this book and is thinking of having her 10 year read it too. Help someone in need and give them this book, they will appreciate it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2005

    Surviving and living life to the fullest

    Carla Fine does a great job describing what a survivor goes through after a loved one commits suicide. My Husband, John, committed suicide December 10, 2004 and I felt like I was walking through a nightmare. I have since been able to accept John's suicide and now mourn the loss of my husband, my best friend, my lover, my child's Daddy. This book helped me understand I am not alone and my feelings are not bad or wrong! I bought extra copies of this book to give to family members and close friends to help them in their loss and to understand what I am going through. My 11 year old daughter is currently reading it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2012

    No Time to Say Goodbye

    Very helpful. I will recommend it to someone who has recently lost a family member to suicide. It may be too soon for her to read it but eventually I think it will encourage her to seek group therapy to listen to and share grief with others. Thank you,

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  • Posted April 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Sharing For Suicide

    The subject of suicide is difficult to share. Ms. Fine is courageous to show the readers the depth of her devastation after the suicide of her husband. Although there is no how-to book on surviving the suicide of someone close, this book comes close in defining the emotions that surface in the aftermath. Others will see that they are not alone. The author lets the readers into her own experience with the first chapter, where she describes her husband’s suicide scenario. As a physician, he knew exactly what he was doing, in a premeditated death march. Twenty-one years of marriage and a thriving practice had not been enough to assuage his despair. In a detailed account, Ms. Fine tells the readers how she found him. The scene, the choice, and the permanence of his decision had an impact on her that was too much to bear. Carla Fine sought support from a group where suicide survivors bond with one another. The author weaves her own experience with others’ stories of surviving suicide. Even in cases where suicide had been spoken of and previously prevented, the ultimate tragedy is nothing but a shock to those left behind. The author contends that healing begins with talking, and chapter 1 is aptly titled “Letting Go of the Silence.” The book is well-organized into six parts and 19 chapters, including resources. Chapter 5 focuses on the stigma of suicide. The author, as well as others she interviewed, fabricated stories about the nature of their loved ones’ deaths to avoid the stares and silence that comes after the word “suicide.” People ask nosy questions about how someone died, and suicide is an uncomfortable answer. Throughout the book, Ms. Fine relies on the reference Suicide and Its Aftermath: Understanding and Counseling the Survivors by Edward Dunne and Karen Dunne-Maxim, which gives credence to the narratives and anecdotes in No Time To Say Goodbye. Yet there is no better voice for the suffering than from one who has been though the pain. The overall pace of the book was gentle and slow, with wise comments that closed each chapter. "We have heard one another’s stories of survival after suicide many times before, we know that every retelling will uncover fresh insights, recovered details, and unexpected interpretations." (page 222). Some of the stories describe inconceivable emotional crisis and disturbing suicide scenes. Some of the stories describe inconceivable psychological trauma and disturbing suicide scenes. As a "survivor" of my father's suicide, and a "survivor" of my own suicide attempts, I'd recommend this book for those who are unafraid of an honest approach to the gut-wrenching crisis of suicide.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2011


    Though this book brought some insight...there were a lot of graphic details that many would not be able to handle. I would not recommend this book to anyone because of the explicit details.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2009

    Very informative. Very helpful hearing the other survivors personal stories of their loss and emotions. Really helped me understand that my feelings were normal and know I wasnt alone after the death of my father following his suicide.

    I think it is so awesome of Carla to tell the world the scary thoughts, feelings and emotions associated with losing someone to suicide. From anger to sadness to hopelessness to feeling like you are actually losing your mind. There are so many scary thoughts and feelings associated with this that it was very calming and reassuring to know that every suicide survivor experiences these and that they are completely normal. Sometimes you feel like you are the only one that has ever experienced this or felt this, but it was so helpful to read the stories of the survivors she interviewed and to hear the personal stories of how they lost their loved one. It puts things into better perspective to really make you feel like you arent the only one and that you arent alone. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    This book is written so that regular people can understand it. It helped me sort through my emotions after going through a similar situation as the author. I hope no one else has to endure such a loss; but if someone does, this book can offer some help.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2007

    Thank you Carla

    My co-workers husband recently took his own life. I was searching for something to read and came to purchase this book. It is great. In my junior year in high school, we were required to read 'Alive' and Helter Skelter'! Imagine if children today were required to read a book such as this, we just may have had them spend their time much more wisely than my english teacher did, and perhaps a life could be saved in the process. If you are directly, or indirectly affected by suicide, you must read this book. The powers that be knew Carla would help so many through her own tragedy. Many blessings to Carla and to all that read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2006

    Heather - a daughter who is lost........

    I lost my father/best friend 5 weeks ago to suicide. When I read this book it gave me hope. Hope that was lost. I recommend this book to anyone who is going through this nightmare. God Bless-

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2006

    Compassionate and helpful

    I read this book after my cousin committed suicide. I found it to be so helpful in understanding how other families have coped with this. I ended up giving the book to my cousin's parents because I thought it might help them feel less alone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2003

    Thank you

    This book has been a great tool. My fiance/my son's father killed himself 2 months ago. Where to go from here? Every day is new and beautiful. We have the strength to pull through.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2000

    Truly remarkable insight into a survivors pain.

    After trying to deal with my brothers suicide in November 1999, I decided to purchase some books on suicide, hoping to find some answers. This book doesn't give you the answers as everyone is so different but it made me feel that I was not alone. The book also allowed me to let go of my guilt for being angry at my brother; to be able to read the thoughts of others and relate them to my own, was therapy in itself. Thank you Carla for sharing your pain with me and helping me to not undertsand so much, but to deal with it at a more healthy level.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2000


    My family has experienced the suicide of both my Father and Mother. I have so many questions and Carla Fine has given me the clue to so many awnsers.....I can begin to reclaim MY life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2000

    For Us by One of Us

    A heartfelt, thought provoking look at the legacy of suicide for us that are left behind. To know I am not alone after my Mother's death. It is important to know there is help for survivors like me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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