On the day I lost my husband to suicide, my world came crashing down. I was catapulted into a dark abyss. I could barely move from the shock and trauma. I was consumed by thoughts about my husband and his death. I pondered the why’s as well as how he could do such an act. I felt an unbearable pain that I could not imagine ever existed before the awful day – overwhelming grief, shock, despair, anger, confusion, shame, guilt, betrayal, and depression. I was lost, barely able to function in life.
As a survivor of suicide loss, you may be able to relate.
Now, many months later, I’ve realized I cannot stay in this dark and awful place for much longer. I cannot live life harboring these feelings. My husband has killed himself, and his death has been slowly killing me. I need to move to a better place and find the way to a new and better me.
I recall that a wise person once asked me three questions: “How do I want to feel?” “What type of person do I want to be?” “What kind of life do I want to live?” This person suggested I write my thoughts down, so I did.
This is the vision – or healing affirmations – I have created for myself:
“I am happy, peaceful, living in the present and not in the past. I am brave and do not fear what may come my way. I am mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually strong. I am the strongest I have ever been.
My mind is uncluttered, quick to think. My mind assesses, analyzes, and calculates easily and accurately. I solve problems in life with ease. My emotions are upbeat, positive, peaceful, and happy. When I experience emotions of sadness, despair, or anger, I can easily lift myself up, by myself. My body is physically in great shape. I am very healthy and very attractive. My spirit is healed, aware and strong. My spirit can soar to great heights. I have a very high level of energy. I am highly functional, organized, solving problems, and creating daily.
I have reconciled my thoughts and feelings about my husband and his suicidal death. I have developed a new relationship with my deceased husband, in which I can continue to love him and remember him fondly. I am fully engaging in life and see the world has endless opportunities for myself and my family. I am creating new opportunities and achieving my goals in life. I am on top of the game of life.”
As I began to write these healing affirmations, my viewpoint shifted and changed. I felt a huge sense of relief. I believe my grief journey has taken a turn. New life is breathing inside me. As a daily reminder on what I am aiming for, I printed up what I wrote. I taped it on the mirror in my bathroom. I read it in the morning when I wake and at night when I go to bed. I placed extra copies in the kitchen and in my bag. When I feel lost or sad, I read it and remind myself to keep focused on what I need and want in life.
Thank you for reading about my grief journey. I hope you can see something useful in it for yourself.
If you have lost a loved one, you may think all is lost. That’s not true. Somewhere, deep inside you, there is a knowledge and an abiding love that will save you.
The challenges I faced in building a new life after the loss of my husband ultimately became ways to honor him and the life he lived. If anyone had told me in the early months or years, that this would happen, I would have said – like the country fellow giving directions to the city dweller – “you can’t get there from here.”
At first, I could see no good coming from what had happened. I didn’t want a new life, and I didn’t have a way to even accept his death. Gradually, I began to do things to honor his memory. Simple first steps, like planting a tree on the anniversary of his death. He liked trees.
The long and winding path through grief took every bit of my energy, and I felt disconnected from the world. Worst of all, I was certain this was as good as it was going to get. In other words, I was not coming back from the limbo world between life and death where I had followed him as far as I could. I loved him too much to let him go.
At least that’s what I thought. I saw other survivors on the Alliance of Hope Forum talking about the progress they had made, and the healing they had found. I didn’t buy it. I thought they were kind-hearted people trying to make me feel better. But I couldn’t feel better. However, I did as they suggested and continued to do small things to mark special days. The second year, I planted a rose bush. He always brought me roses.
What happened next surprised me. I realized (with a little help) that even though he was “gone,” my half of our love and my half of our marriage were still intact. I was alive.
I began to think about the life we had before instead of the tragedy that had consumed me. No one had a bigger influence on my life than he did. I thought about the way he had lived, the things that were important to him, the unique things he said, and the gentle way he treated everyone he met. His life still had meaning.
He would not be forgotten, not if I had anything to say about it. In some strange way, I began to build a new relationship with him. It was not without its problems. His photos were taken down on some days and put back out upon others as I shifted back and forth between anger to understanding. I wanted to live, and I wanted to continue to love him.
I began to live the way we had lived all our lives together. I found peace and, eventually, acceptance in the old familiar ways. He was “gone,” but not really.
I found a compassion and wisdom inside myself that could only have come from knowing him. He never met a stranger, so I didn’t. He always stopped to help others in trouble, so I did. Special days and holidays ceased to be anything more than brief memories. I felt a growing connection to him.
Each time I stopped to comfort someone, I felt like he was there. I asked myself what he would be doing if he were here. Then, that’s what I did. He loved me.
And that has made all the difference.
If you have lost a loved one, you may think all is lost. That’s not true. Somewhere, deep inside you, there is a knowledge and an abiding love that will save you. Not only that, the love of the person you lost will help you build a new life that feels right.
Think about him or her. What was most important in their lives? Who were they? What would they want to do if they could? Do those things. Honoring our loved ones is perhaps the most important thing we can do to achieve true healing.
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, but not for the commercialism, food, or festive ways it’s thrown at us. I’ve always loved the holiday for the time I have been able to spend with family, the traditions I grew up with, and because of my faith. Knowing my family was together and making memories has always been the best gift to me.
Christmas was NOT my husband’s favorite holiday, but he grew to like it very much when we got married. We would celebrate with my family. He even got to the point he would take our children Black Friday shopping. He would get VERY excited about mapping out what stores they would go to together and where they would stop for breakfast or coffee. He always found great deals, but his joy at taking our children out with him was better than any deal he ever found.
This will be our third Christmas without my husband.
On our first Christmas I felt uncertain but ended up keeping our original plans. My children and I spent the holiday with my family out of town. It turned out to be the best thing for us to do, even though we were quiet and numb the whole day while the rest of my family was jovial. They understood and gave us the space we needed. They always have, and for that we are incredibly grateful.
Our second Christmas was also with family, but we didn’t have to travel out of town.
I didn’t have to worry about decorating again, which was good because I just didn’t have the energy to do so. We made it through the day more easily than the previous year, but still missing my husband intensely.
This year, we will be celebrating Christmas at my house.
My children are once again excited about the holiday and the fact that family will be coming to us. Since my children are old enough and want to do it, they will be the ones to decorate. I enjoy seeing the decorations, and I don’t mind that they will be put up this year, but I still do not have the desire to do any decorating. I realize that’s ok, and my family understands, too. On Christmas we’ll have family with us, exchange a few gifts, and share a meal together. New memories will be made, but there will still be a void. I’ll start a new tradition this year of lighting a candle for my husband on Christmas as we move through the day.
Since my husband took his life, every holiday has become different.
There is an emptiness that cannot be filled, but as we move further out from our loss, we realize that the time we had with my husband was truly a gift. Time is also a gift in that it has offered me and my children the opportunity to learn ways to cope with our loss, move forward, and work on healing. We are no longer numb and disengaged with life around us. We are rediscovering activities and making new memories. We understand that by continuing to live our lives, we are honoring him in the process.
My husband will always be missed, and the constant presence of his absence reminds us that he will not celebrate another holiday with us in this realm again. We also know, though, that he will never truly be gone, for he lives on in our hearts and minds.
When I started this journey – on the day my life simultaneously exploded and imploded – I received kindness, support, questions, and a few judgmental comments about the selfishness of my partner. I was also asked why he had done it and how I had not seen it coming. I heard that it was silly of me to think it was my fault and was told that I should try to think about something else.
Two days in, and everyone was an expert.
And there’s the rub: there are often too many opinions, too few facts, and low levels of real understanding for those in the throes, from those on the outside of the situation. Ten years in, I say to anyone who cares to listen that I believe suicide – the act itself as well as its impact on others – is one of the most complex experiences that anyone can or ever will go through.
There really are no hard and fast rules to make sense of it. There is no handbook for those who complete the act or for those who reel from the loss, shock, and horror of it all. The reasons our loved ones ended their lives are complex. There is no one reason or situation. Instead, there are nuances and constantly reframed realities. It’s a melting pot of emotion and moment-to-moment experience.
The way we feel and grieve is equally complex. We are left with assumptions and it’s messy. We have low levels of real knowledge or verifiable fact because the only one who knows why is no longer here to explain it for themselves.
I am a veteran survivor of the consequence of Suicide.
I am no longer defined or managed by my experience, yet losing my spouse to suicide has significantly contributed to who I am today and who I will become tomorrow. It has been nearly a decade since his death. During many of those years, I was controlled, managed, and overwrought by guilt about what I did do, what I might have done, or what I should have done.
Now, with time under my belt, I can honestly say it just isn’t that simple. As survivors, we want to simplify the tragedy into a tidy narrative, but none of what our loved ones experienced is easily understood. We must learn to live with unanswered questions.
Our journey as survivors calls for endurance, self-empowerment, and self-care.
It also takes nonjudgmental support from those who can understand what we are going through.
Perhaps as we heal and benefit from nonjudgmental support, we also can begin to extend that same kind of support and understanding to those for whom we grieve. Perhaps in time we can learn to trust, honor, and accept the choice they made, even though we do not understand or agree with it.
Our loved ones remain within us. They have shaped us.
It is my honor to be a moderator and contributor to the Alliance of Hope, and it is my privilege to hold the space for others who are traversing a complexity we were never trained for and I doubt will ever fully understand.
At the deepest level, I think what happened to my husband, to me, and to our children was something none of us could control. It happened to us all.
One day after one of his doctor’s appointments, we were going home on a busy interstate highway. He was driving. Suddenly, a wreck happened all around us. I don’t know what caused it. But we were in the middle of a bunch of cars flying around out of control. One huge SUV literally flew off the ground, rolling over and over toward us. It was too close to miss us. Then all I could see was its enormous undercarriage flying within feet of our front windshield.
I don’t know how he got us out of there without being hit. That’s how I think of my husband’s suicide except only I made it out. The wreck and everything else that happened until his death (it was a lot) were terrible, but they were working parts that took on a life of their own. He tried to drive us through it. I tried to help. But it was ultimately not in our power.
After his death, I was left at the mercy of gravity and physics just like I was that day on the Interstate. The life I had known was over. I stayed in a limbo world for a couple of years before I could begin to find my way back to life. From there it was still a long journey.
I understand your longing and how you could feel the way you do. We can’t have the old life back. I wish we could. But we can hold on and knit together something new.
Everything is familiar. But everything is strange.
I live in the same house. But it doesn’t feel like home. I have watched this show. But it now seems different. I’ve sat at my table a hundred times. But I now feel like a visitor. My bed is my own – with indentations fashioned from my own body. But it’s now cold and impersonal. I’ve sat in the quiet of my living room. But it’s never been so loud. I go run familiar errands, but someone else controls my body.
The plans for the future had been made. But now they’re shredded and blown away with the wind. I converse with the same people I’ve always known, but I don’t feel like the same person. I may do the same hobbies, but I can’t quite shake the unnerving feeling I am crossing over into what is no longer mine and it casts a pall over my enjoyment.
It’s all familiar. But nothing is the same.
The most puzzling emotion in widowhood is feeling like a stranger in your own life. The feeling of “home” is now a foreign concept. You can almost watch yourself going through the motions, but feel utterly detached from it all.
Even the most routine things now bear an unrecognizable scent. Many things are the same. And yet, nothing is. I’m like a transplant, thrust into an alternate reality.
It takes years to filter through all the residual change. It’s not just life that has changed. I, also, have changed.
There are facets of my life that remain the same, but no longer fit with the new me. There are facets of my life that remain and can blend with the “me” that I’m becoming.
There are parts of who I am that fit with my old life, but no longer fit with my new. There are parts of me that still fit and are morphing to adjust to my new life.
There are so many nooks, so many crannies, so many details, so many pieces of who I am and what my life was that I must sort through, give up, redefine and reforge. It’s a lot of work.
During this long, arduous adjustment, I am left feeling like an actress cast into the wrong show, arriving at the wrong set, confused with where I fit.
It’s not just a simple act of moving forward. Moving forward insinuates continuing. If only it were so simple as to just take another step on the path I was on. But that is impossible. Grief isn’t so simple. Widowhood isn’t moving forward. It’s actually starting over.
My life is no longer my life. I am no longer me. I cannot move forward because the future I had is no longer there. I must shift, dunk, crouch, retreat, crawl, go around, sidestep, jump over, and many other verbs to find my new path before I can function in the simplistic “move forward” motion.
As an amputee must relearn some of life’s most simple acts, like tying a shoe or walking, so must a widow/er. Simple things like balancing the bank account, shopping at the grocery store, cooking, daily conversation, and other such things, all tilt on their axis. Social activities become a huge undertaking that take years to relearn because everything about us has changed or is changing. Our purpose in life must be redefined. Goals are forced to change. House maintenance must become second nature where it wasn’t before. Hobbies are often cursed with too many heartstrings and we are left to forge new ones. Our self-identity was stolen, and we must take the leftover pieces and try to form a new picture.
Yet, one of the single most important aspects of healing I’ve seen for myself is the willingness to create that new life. To Redefine. To Remold. To Relearn. As painful as it is to let go of the things that summarized “us,” it is necessary to begin letting go so the “me” can emerge. It is part of healing. It is part of forming a new existence.
There is nothing more confusing than feeling like a stranger in my own life. And so, healing necessitates the formation of “new.” A new that I can sink my roots into again. A new I can accept with its new definitions, new goals, new capabilities. A new me.
When my husband ended his life in 2007, it seemed like he ended mine, too. I felt so alone. Then I found the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors (AOH) and connected with other people like me, people in pain offering hope to each other. Hope was all we had, but it was what we needed.
After participating in the community forum for several years, I became a forum moderator. I wanted to give back. Every day now, I hand out hope to people who are hurting because I remember that pain. And I see how strong this Alliance has made me now.
Someone once said that the moderators “put the hope in the Alliance of Hope.” We work hard to maintain a healing culture where survivors feel heard. We open our hearts to strangers, and they become family. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed. We miss our loved ones, too.
There are often rewards. Can you imagine reading a post by a survivor in searing pain and then, a few days later, reading words of encouragement from that same survivor to another new survivor?
The wounds survivors carry are invisible. The world demands that we go back to work when our hearts are breaking, so we “mask” our grief. Children must be cared for; chores must be done. If others saw wounds this paralyzing on our bodies, they would take us – immediately – to an intensive care unit.
We encourage each other to take care of ourselves. Even the basics like eating, drinking water, and resting are the last things on our minds at a time when our bodies and our hearts need to be nourished the most. The forums are our intensive care.
The aftermath of suicide leaves chaotic circumstances and strife. Insurance companies may not pay claims when death is self-inflicted. Family income may be halved or gone altogether. Jobs and homes can be lost. Mortgages that two wage earners could handle become too much for one. Families react in different ways that are not always supportive of each other. Some of us come home to an empty house, but we can turn on our computers and come home to each other. It helps to tell someone.
As a Forum Moderator, I am aware of all these things. And so are the compassionate people who work alongside me. People from all over the world read the posts on our forums. They come from every background, culture, and economic and social situation. They represent all age groups and belief systems. Together we make the AOH forums a safe place of healing.
That can mean editing a member’s post and sending a private message to tell him or her, gently, why. When I read posts, I often send replies for hours because, well, who do you leave out? The mom who suddenly found out the son she loves killed himself? The young person whose friends don’t understand why she can’t just “get over” her mother’s death? The man who lost his only sibling? The fiancé whose future is ended before it’s begun? The widow my age who writes my own story when she tells of her tragedy?
The rest of the world doesn’t know how many nights we suffer. They don’t see the tears we hide. They are not aware that we were once like them or that they might one day be one of us. If that happens, I pray the Alliance will still be here. Hope is a fragile commodity but, without it, where would any of us be?
My children and I have grown stronger and gone beyond just surviving. We have a new life now, one that would have been impossible without the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors. I have learned how to express compassion, to ease pain, and to be there for others.
Sounds like I’m perfect. No. I am just a woman who has lost someone very dear to suicide. I am a fellow survivor like you. Becoming a forum moderator changed my life and continues to change my life every day. I am humbled by the words of others who offer me an invitation into their souls and the deepest part of their suffering. I mourn with them and rejoice in their smallest victories. They reach out to me, in return. This is the way human beings should help each other.
Louise was normally a confident passenger, happy to sleep while I was driving long distances. But on this occasion, she couldn’t settle and sat watching the road ahead anxiously. It was 2 AM and we were driving a strange hire car in the dark on unfamiliar Sicilian motorways, returning to our holiday villa a couple of hours south after a long, happy but tiring day trip to Mount Etna and the chic resort of Taormina. I was tired, feeling unwell, and driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Louise was alert to the risk of an accident. Three months before she took her life, her will to live – her instinctive desire for survival – was strong. This was not somebody who treated life carelessly. She valued it and did not want to die.
Before I met Louise, my attitudes towards mental illness and suicide were probably typical of those of the population at large; they were signs of weakness, a deficiency in character. I probably even fell back on the tired old cliché that sufferers simply needed to exercise a degree of resolve and ‘pull themselves together.’ While many people were enduring ‘real’ physical ailments, I could find within myself little patience or understanding for something as complex and intangible as a troubled mind. Only the vulnerable and needy experienced mental ill-health. Suicide was a form of cowardice.
Nothing, I now know, could be further from the truth. Louise was as far removed from my antediluvian stereotype as it is possible to be. Independent, resourceful, and a natural optimist, she loved life with a passion that puts most of us to shame and lived it every day with a glorious, inspiring sense of hope, opportunity, generosity, and vigor. Louise was, quite simply, the happiest person that I have ever met. She would frequently cuddle up to me at night and simply declare ‘I’m so happy.’ The light in her eyes did not lie.
But neither did it tell the whole story. For reasons unknown to all but those closest to her, Louise suffered periodically from anxiety and depression throughout her adult life. At the age of barely 18, she demonstrated remarkable insight and maturity when describing something of this state of mind in a school leavers’ booklet so acutely that it was instantly recognizable to me when it was brought to my attention after her death, 22 years later.
To battle a debilitating darkness of mind for a lifetime is extraordinarily exhausting and requires incredible bravery just to summon up the strength and the will to keep going. I saw the daily struggle during those periods when Louise was unwell, when her head was, as she described it, so full of a cacophony of destructive and doubting thoughts that it was impossible for her to escape, to switch off.
I saw how much energy this consumed, how it corroded self-belief and led to uncertainty, indecision, and restlessness. I saw and admired Louise’s openness and honesty in confronting the illness and the way in which she sought to take responsibility for it and identified and pursued means of throwing it off. I came to understand how little a part reason or logic could play in soothing such troubles, the futility of rationalization.
I came to learn that mental illness is as real, insidious, and dangerous as any other one that sufferers have no more control over than they would cancer or multiple sclerosis.
And I came to be in awe of Louise’s resilience and fortitude, not only in enduring the illness but fighting back, never allowing it to define or limit her. To be the person that Louise was, to achieve what she did both professionally and personally, even had she been always completely well, would have made her very special. But to do it all despite the recurring illness made her quite remarkable.
That same bravery followed Louise right to the very end. I know, both from conversations beforehand and the content of her farewell letter, that Louise saw what she was doing as a pragmatic answer to her mental torment. In her muddled thinking at the time, she also looked upon it as a means of releasing me from the stress and challenge of a wife with mental illness.
Louise had enough spirit and tenacity to fight the darkness hard, right up to the very last moments. As that episode in Sicily illustrated, her survival instincts remained strong. She didn’t want to die and had no comforting vision or expectation of an afterlife to fall back on – her Christianity always focused on the grace in this life. But having identified what seemed to be a practical solution she acted on it for her sake and, as she thought, for mine.
Here I must split my mind in two. There is no romance or redemption in suicide. It is always messy and tragically wasteful. It leaves loved ones with unique emotional scars. I still cannot easily fully describe what I witnessed. Not because I lack the words but because I am afraid of setting the tightly held memory free to roam. Even though I understand why Louise was driven to take her life, where the bleakness of thought and outlook had led her, and that I understand it was not an act of free will because of the malign power exerted by the illness, I am still taunted by the cruel needlessness of it.
Nevertheless, it is possible, even while loathing the act and the shattering consequences, to recognize the logic that sat behind Louise’s decision and the incredible courage, generosity, and determination it must have taken to arrive at this point and then follow her thought processes through.
We tend not to think of suicide as a rational act. Even here I have talked of Louise’s confusion and muddled thinking. But rationality is the luxury of a healthy mind. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to avoid the grip of darkness are in no real position to sit in judgment on what makes sense from deep within it. Oblivion must appear to be at the very least a viable alternative to life when you are so tortured, know that you have been tortured in the past, and believe that you will go on to experience the same torture over and over again in the future.
Within the context of her illness as it was affecting her at that moment in time, Louise’s desire for escape from the pain was no different to that of somebody with a severe disability who seeks a form of assisted dying.
The tragedy came in the temporary nature of that pain, the certainty of eventual respite if she had only been able to hold on a little longer.
But regardless of how wrong and misguided we – who are well – can see the act to have been, it was a far braver and more selfless thing than I or most of us would ever be capable of. The easy option would have been to continue to try to muddle through but, as always, Louise went a step beyond, to do what she thought was necessary and right. And typically, even during her distress, she was thinking of others, applying herself to what, in her mind, was the best outcome for me and attempting in her last moments to protect me from its immediate impact.
Louise was not, therefore, guilty of weakness, cowardice, or selfishness. On the contrary, she was the strongest and most giving person I have ever been privileged to know. Her determination in her long battle against mental illness and her monumental courage to follow through with such a drastic solution are testament to her remarkable character. Louise died in the way she lived: courageously, practically, and imbued with love and generosity of spirit. Her only fault, it turned out, was that ultimately, she was too brave.
“Life is still a gift,” I told my kids after my husband killed himself. “It’s still worth it. We’re still here.”
I said this aloud – to them, to myself, to the cosmos. I wasn’t always sure I believed it, but I said it. And generally, not long after saying it, I collapsed on the floor in some corner of the house and cried out my eyeballs into shriveled, puffy things resembling dried figs. Then I peeled myself off the floor and said it again: “Life is still a gift. It is.”
Losing a loved one to suicide hurts like hell: there’s an obvious truth if there ever was one. But there are other truths, some hard, some hopeful. If you’ve suffered such a loss yourself, you know too much of these truths already. There’s no knowing just a little. To lose someone to suicide is to comprehend its aftermath — its endless, agonizing, and messy emotional aftereffects — from the inside out, and to understand, from the first shattering moment you hear the news, that everything you thought you understood about living and loving has been irreparably altered. The result is a profound loss of innocence. There is no going back.
I was in grade school when my homeroom teacher sat inside her garaged car while it idled, killing herself. What I recall most vividly is the sight of another teacher, an older woman with springy gray hair, crying in our classroom with a face crushed by grief. This was Lesson One. I learned from suicide: that it wounds those left behind.
A year or so later, when I was 11, my father attempted suicide with sleeping pills, sending him into a nine-day coma and a six-month stay in a pure talk therapy program (no meds, not ever) at the Institute of Living in Hartford.
Lesson Two. I could lose anyone this way, even the people who mattered most. As a kid, staring at my father’s unconscious, bloated form in I.C.U., I learned that life is capricious. That it could take sudden turns into darkness, no matter the light that surrounds us. I realized at that moment that love, whether my father’s or mine or anyone else’s, might not be enough to bind us all together in this world. I saw that pain can be insidious enough to pry someone suddenly away, even a kind and ebullient genius like my father.
My mother told me this wasn’t my fault. It was nothing I did. It wasn’t a failure to love on my part or anyone’s, including their father’s. I did my best to believe her.
When he returned home, it felt like a miracle – to me, to all of us. And so it was. Lesson Three. Sometimes the darkness abates.
Lesson Four. Sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t in 1991 when a good friend of mine shot himself. It didn’t in 1992 when my sister – another kind and ebullient genius — swallowed fatal mouthfuls of psych drugs after too many years of struggling with neurological and emotional problems, far too many hospital stays, far too many meds.
And it didn’t in 2011. That’s when my husband, Chris, the father of my three children and my rock for more than 20 years — a grounded, giving man with a dazzling intellect and a deep core of goodness – lost his mind over six months of insomnia, anxiety, and depression. After three brief hospital stays and a few failed tries at medication, he leaped to his death from the roof of a parking garage a mile from our home.
Everyone asked why. I had no answers. All I could say to baffled friends, crushed by the grief I first glimpsed as a child, was this: I don’t know. This can’t be understood. He lost himself; he couldn’t bring himself back; nothing worked. No matter how I tried or what I said or how hard I loved him, he just got sicker, drifting further and further away.
Lesson Five. You can’t love someone back to wholeness.
All I could say to my children was what my mother had told me: This wasn’t their fault. It was nothing they did. It wasn’t a failure to love on theirs or anyone’s part, including their father’s. He loved them, I explained. He didn’t make some rational “decision” to leave us. Instead, he was dragged into a deep and enveloping hole that was too dark to see and too powerful to escape.
Lesson Six. Suicide makes no sense. Not the pain that leads to it. Not the act itself.
There never is. I knew that much, and I knew I couldn’t try to explain it to my children. What I tried hard to explain instead is the need to push forward in the wake of such a loss, even if pushing forward just meant getting up out of bed the next morning. Precisely because suicide is senseless, we can’t take the act itself as a refutation of life. We can’t give it that power.
Chris’s death didn’t negate life – not his own, not ours in his absence. It didn’t mean we couldn’t go on. It meant the opposite: It meant we had to.
Saying this to my three kids was one thing. Acting on it was another. Trying to model faith in life while simultaneously expelling bulk quantities of saline from facial orifices was a trick and a half. But in the days that followed, with the help of family, friends, and neighbors bringing warm hugs and plates of ziti to our door, we found ourselves in the business of living. Laughter struck at the strangest, sweetest times. Happiness snuck in over the transom.
Early on, I worried about the increased suicide risk for survivors – and here I was a repeat. But a wise friend reminded me gently that I had learned another lesson from suicide – a lesson filled with hope that fixed me securely in this beautiful world with my beautiful children, embracing what gifts might come. I had learned that the answer to suicide isn’t more suicide. It’s more life.
Lesson Seven. Light is the only cure for darkness; living is the only cure for death.
So my children and I continue to live, continue to love, continue to laugh. We all continue to grieve, in our different ways. Their father’s death wounded us all. He was torn from us abruptly, insidiously. His darkness never abated, and it made no sense. Those lessons all hold and always will.
But the only way forward is forward. The only path out is through. As we walk it, as we stumble, we find new blessings and make new friends.
Lesson Eight. Life is still the only game in town. And it still brings joy.
As I was reading through posts here on the Alliance of Hope Forum, I was also sipping my morning coffee. I wasn’t paying much attention to the words on my mug until a minute ago. As you may have guessed, it reads what the title of this post says. This week has been pretty tough at times but looking at the message on my mug this morning reminded me that … Yes, I do have this!
When my therapist suggests a tough activity to help me … I’ve got this.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks that need to be done … I’ve got this.
When I’m faced with decisions I would typically make with my husband but have to now do solo … I’ve got this.
When I’m wondering just how I’m going to get out of bed every day … I’ve got this.
When my emotions rise to the surface and all I want to do is cry … I’ve got this – (and I cry).
When I struggle to find the right words to express how I truly feel … I’ve got this.
When my heart bursts all over again because I miss him so much … I’ve got this.
When boundaries need to be set for my own healing … I’ve got this.
When I feel like I want to give up for the day, but I push on through … I’ve got this.
I could go on. But I think you get the gist.
My coworker and friend gave me this mug to remind me that “I’ve got this.” But I’m not the only one. What can you share for which someone might tell you “You’ve got this!” We all have something. We are all survivors and I firmly believe that … You’ve Got this!
The fireworks celebration was the first outing Gene and I took with my boys. They were so funny – laughing and giggling at MOM having a BOYFRIEND!
It was a warm breezy night and we wandered around the crowd and vendors. We set up to watch the fireworks. We took our first couple picture. We held hands and smiled like teenagers. Afterward, he drove like a bat outta hell – like always, but I didn’t know that at the time – thru a heavy rain downpour. Yikes!
The boys and I always did our own fireworks after the big ones, but in my rushed panic about “the date” I forgot to buy some. So, we stopped and bought a huge box of them. My oldest son, who is on the autism spectrum had a HUGE meltdown as we were leaving the store. I handled it and got in the car, thinking … well. this is it. That’s going to be a deal-breaker. Oh well, nice knowing ya.
My sweet man, quietly said: “Are we ready to go?”
Gasp, what? No snarky comments? Just calm acceptance? Wow! Yep. that was when he took the first piece of my heart.
On the way back home, he asked: “Where are we going to do these?” I was like … “Uh, I dunno.” So, he said” “Hey guys, pick the next dark side road with no houses and we’ll go do them there.”
Now, these boys thought that was the coolest idea EVER! He made a big deal of letting them choose the road, looking for no houses and pulling over. He appointed my oldest as the “watch out guy” for car lights and my youngest was honored with lighting the fireworks, with Gene’s help of course. That night was practically magical but so ordinary at the same time. I was the girlfriend watching my boyfriend engage with my sons. They had a ball!
Returning home, we sent the boys inside … TMI moment. LOL
We shared a long, wonderful kiss and he left to go home. When he got home, he called and said— in his deep, low southern drawl – “I thought about that kiss all the way home.” Sigh, Yay!
The 4th of July will always have these wonderful memories. I cry today for missing my Gene. I also am so thankful for having the memories and love we made together. To be loved so completely. To have my boys accepted and loved. To have been a family.
Thank you for letting me share these memories here. Hugs.
On August 3, 2012, my significant other of 18 years, Dave, went for a motorcycle ride. He stopped at the local taproom for a beer on the way home. When he got home, he came through the house, said hello, and went to his man cave (the garage), to have another beer and listen to the rest of the San Francisco Giants baseball game. I went out to the garage during the 8th inning to ask him what he had eaten that day, wondering if I should make something for a late dinner.
As I was leaving the garage, he laughed and asked what I was wearing – telling me it looked like a tablecloth. It was a lightweight blue plaid summer dress that I wore around the house when it was hot. I playfully got indignant and said he was wearing a tablecloth. That was the last conversation we would ever have.
I was laying on the couch watching the Olympics and reading a murder mystery novel when he came into the house and went upstairs. I assumed he was going to get ready for bed, maybe take a shower, and then come downstairs to eat. I didn’t hear the shower and peeked up the stairs at one point and saw the bathroom light was off. At this point, I assumed he had laid down on the bed and fallen asleep. I wish I had gone upstairs to give him a hard time about not saying good night.
I laid back down on the couch, reading and pretending to watch TV. When I heard a loud bang, I thought one of our planters had fallen on the front porch.
I got up and looked outside and all the planters were still hanging. Dave is a light sleeper, so I went upstairs to ask him if he had heard the noise. When I entered the bedroom, I smelled the gun powder smell and was confused but thought maybe some neighbor kids had thrown a firecracker in the front yard.
I sat down on the bed next to him and it was wet. I can’t remember whether I turned the lamp on first with my left hand or put my right hand on his chest to shake him awake. I think it was simultaneous. Everything happened at once. The light went on. I saw blood on my hand and realized he had shot himself. Everything is a blur after that. I know I screamed and ran downstairs to the phone and dialed 911.
It felt like it took forever for someone to get there. The 911 operator told me to go back upstairs, check if he was breathing, get a towel to place over the gunshot wound, clear his breathing passageway, and do chest compressions. I did whatever she said. I kept telling her I can’t do this and someone needs to get here soon. But it took forever, so I stayed and did what she told me to do. It was horrible. No one should ever have to see anything like that. I knew he was gone. But I kept thinking if they get here soon enough, they can save him.
I don’t understand any of this. I’ve read other posts where people say there was no sign of depression or suicide warnings. And I believe you.
In his 42 years of life, not one relative or friend recalls suicide ever being a thought. In our 18 years together, we went through some rough times, but we were finally in a great place. We had finally figured things out and accepted each other’s faults and appreciated each other’s quirks. We were actively planning for our future. Trips to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to see family. A group hockey game in the fall. (We did one or two every year and had 75 people last year). Work on our house. The garden (His motto was I grow it – you clean it – you cook it – I eat it).
We were going to spend the rest of our lives together. Everything is wrong now. I can’t imagine having Thanksgiving without him smoking a small turkey and me doing a stuffed turkey in the oven (imagine 30 lbs. of turkey for two people). Christmas morning will be completely wrong. Hockey games without him next to me in a Pavelski jersey is just not right.
If he were here, he’d ask me: “Is someone was feeling lonely?” I would say yes, I’m lonely and I miss you.
I was pregnant with her at the time and because of that, I never fully dealt with my grief. Over the past two months, I’ve known two people who died by suicide. One was the young daughter of a wonderful friend. This has brought up a flurry of untouched emotions and grief that I buried when he died so long ago. I’ve decided that it’s time to deal with these emotions and work through them, whether by talking to others on the Alliance of Hope Forum or helping others through their grief.
I wrote this essay, to share with my friend after she has had some time to absorb the shock of her loss. After reading so many posts on the forum, I felt this would be the perfect place to share my thoughts. Thank you for reading!
My Journey of Loss
Losing a loved one to suicide is the most painful, gut-wrenching experience anyone can ever go through. You look around and wonder how everyone is carrying on with life as normal when it feels like the world has stopped turning. Not only have you suddenly and unexpectedly lost someone you loved and cherished, but you must also come to grips with the fact that their death was a deliberate choice that they made, even though they knew it would hurt you.
This realization rips you in two – you are grieving the loss of your beloved while simultaneously battling feelings of intense anger and betrayal.
“Why?” is a question that plays on repeat over and over in your head and nothing in the note or their final words or actions can answer it. So, you vacillate between blaming yourself and desperately trying to believe the well-meaning people who tell you that there was nothing you could have done. For a moment that thought gives you peace, but the “should have, could have, would have” is just around the corner waiting to take hold.
You replay every single moment of their life, trying to pinpoint the moment when they made the decision to end it. Trying to understand how you couldn’t have seen the pain behind their eyes and smile. Trying to understand why they didn’t reach out for help. Desperately trying to understand how your deep and unending love was not enough to make them want to live.
The sudden, bitter anger that you feel confuses you. You’ve been taught that when people die, you should feel sadness and grief, not anger. But this isn’t like any other death. This person chose to leave you knowing they would take a huge part of your heart with them.
You scream: WHY did they do this, knowing how much it was going to hurt me?! Why didn’t they ask me for help? Why wasn’t my love enough?! Where was God when this was happening?!
And the next minute you feel deep, immeasurable sorrow for how sad and lonely they must have been to have taken such drastic action. And you can’t help but wonder if you had given them more love, reassurance, and support if that would have made a difference…if there was anything you could have done to make them choose to live.
In between bouts of anger and sadness, you miss the person you loved – their laugh, their smile, every single thing about them.
You want them back so desperately, you bargain with God. You’d give up anything for just one more second, one more “I love you,” one more hug. The desperation you feel is unlike anything you’ve ever known.
It’s a vicious cycle that plays on repeat for days, weeks, and months on end.
You feel that it’s never going to stop, that you will surely lose your mind on a rollercoaster of grief. Sometimes you even wonder if your life is worth living without your loved one.
As time crawls by, the edges of your emotions slowly soften.
The sadness isn’t so strong, the anger isn’t so bitter, the grief not so palpable. You still ask “Why?“ each and every day, but it isn’t so desperate and frantic. One day, you catch yourself laughing and wonder where that small bubble of happiness came from. It seems odd to experience any joy when your heart is still hurting so much. You will probably feel guilty experiencing any happiness at all when your loved one is gone.
Just when you think the worst is over, the holidays, their birthday, or the anniversary of their death comes along, knocking the wind out of you.
A few weeks before the anniversary, something imperceptibly shifts inside of you. Sadness, tension, and anger slowly bubble to the surface, where freshly scabbed wounds rip open. You remember exactly how you felt the day they died as if it were yesterday. It feels as though you are starting the grief process all over again. You wonder if other people remember your loved one on important occasions and holidays. If they don’t, you wonder how they could possibly forget something so important.
And then, as the years go by, your grief slowly subsides.
Never a day goes by when you don’t think about your beloved, pray they come to you in a dream, and explain why they decided to end their life. You look for signs of your loved one everywhere you go – a butterfly landing on your shoulder, a song on the radio, a star shining brightly in the midnight sky – anything to give you just a glimpse of their beautiful soul.
And in this deep, aching loss, you are forever changed.
Well, OK, I think I did post here once about a butterfly, but I didn’t even believe it by the next day. Butch is not a butterfly. I thought he was, but he isn’t. He was a biker. I buried him in leather. He would never come back as a butterfly.
Anyway, I have had a HORRIBLE week. I had my one-year follow-up mammogram for my cancer. I wanted to be sick and was devastated when I found out I am cancer-free. It’s not how I wrote the story in my head. Now I really must face life without him. I had a bad week with him too. I even called him Son of Satan at one point in the car on the way to work.
Today I woke up and a simple thought just came to me – carry him in your heart and not in your head.
And I had a good day. My head is a mess, but I love him with all my heart so that is where I am going to try to keep him. I actually went about 15 minutes on my hour-long commute home from work without thinking about him or suicide.
Finally, about the sign(s): I had read on here to ask for something specific. I’ve had a sign from God that he is OK, but nothing from him. A couple of months ago, I asked him for a white bird if he was OK and still loved me.
Tonight, in the dark, on the way home from work, just as I was telling him I hoped he still wanted to spend eternity with me, I saw this big flock of white birds circling around over the HEB Grocery store parking lot lights. Hundreds of grackles roost there at night in the trees and they are black. I have NEVER seen big white birds fly around at night and I’ve lived in Texas all my life.
I knew immediately that was my sign.
Then I got home and my marriage license and new social security card with my married name were in the mailbox. I thought social security had lost our marriage license and I was getting upset about it and had already written to them. I had to send in the original to have my name changed. Also, my new driver’s license with my married name was in the mailbox.
It has been 5 months since the man I love, John, ended his life. We had been arguing. He left me an angry, accusatory note. The pain and guilt have been unbearable at times. A few days ago, I had a bad day. I isolated and stayed close to home.
The next morning I woke, made some coffee, and did a couple of chores. Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw my phone-message light blinking. Odd, because I always hear the phone. When I looked again, it was no longer blinking but out of curiosity, I hit ‘play-msg.’ There was a message I had never heard before.
It was John. A message I had never heard. He said he was thinking of me and needed to see me. I almost dropped my cup of coffee. It is difficult to even find the words to say the emotions I felt. After about an hour, I went to listen again, I did not delete it. It was no longer on my machine.
I swear, I heard it. He said my name. I did not hallucinate, dream, or imagine.
Finally, going to a tech who serviced answering machines, I asked him what may have gone wrong. He smiled, and said it could not be the machine, and that I had either made the whole thing up or, he said, “the beyond beckoned you.”
As Executive Director of Alliance of Hope, I often receive books. Survivors send them to our office in the hope that what they have written will make a difference for someone else. Last month, a children’s book landed on my desk that stood out for its grace and simplicity and especially, for the hope it offers.
When author Rebecca Mason’s husband Todd ended his life 14 years ago, she faced the excruciating task of telling their sons ages 2, 5, and 8, that their beloved father had died. In the ensuing weeks and months, Rebecca did what she could to comfort them – and when she could not find a book that fit their needs, she wrote one. Later, not finding an illustrator who felt comfortable capturing the importance of the book’s emotion, she illustrated it herself.
I want to share this newly published book with you because it is a lovely book for children … but really, beyond that, I invite you to join me in bearing witness to Rebecca’s journey. Her resilience and her accomplishment parallel the journey and accomplishments of so many survivors. In the beginning, it is hard to believe that one will ever make it through, but those who have gone beyond just surviving, like Rebecca, provide examples and hope that it can be done.
I leave you with Rebecca’s words, found at the end of her book:
“I wrote this book shortly after my husband passed away in 2007. His death was sudden and tragic, and it shattered my family’s safe world in an instant.
I searched for children’s books that would speak to how my boys were feeling. I wanted to find something that would directly relate to them and help them process the feelings of this unique kind of grief. But my searches left more to be desired.
As I lay awake one sleepless night, I looked at my three small children snuggled in close to me sleeping soundly in my bed. I was determined to do my best for them and give them the support they needed in order to help them process this in the healthiest way possible. It was out of this deep desire that I began to write this story. I wanted them to know they were not alone in having their Daddy die. Because it felt like they were. When I read the finished story to them, they were surprised that another little boy out there know exactly how they felt. And they said it made them feel better … so, we read it often.
It is my deepest desire that this story will also comfort your child or children in some way. I hope they can see themselves in it as my own children did. I hope that you and your children can find strength in the fact that you are unified with many in this experience; you are not alone, and you will get through this horrible time. And I hope that you will ultimately be triumphant in your grief journey and find the will and grace to move forward with love.” ~Rebecca Mason
Good Morning. As I sit here mentally preparing for work – or trying to – I find that there are so many things going through my mind. The questions continue – and fragmented thoughts lacking focus or purpose swirl about with seemingly random abandon.
It is so very difficult to see beyond his suicide. It feels impossible right now. It’s almost as though my thoughts and perceptions have been hijacked by this tragic event. It dominates my every thought, my every moment, my every interaction.
I spoke with a very wise, compassionate, knowledgeable, and caring survivor yesterday. Someone who has walked many emotional miles and endured many hard-fought years of learning and reaching out on this journey. She has embraced her healing. She is my hero and models someone I so aspire to. It was profound.
Through our conversation, I was able to imagine and hear glimpses of a life no longer held captive solely by the specter of suicide. There was no forgetting. There was no “getting over it,” but I gained a sense that forgiveness, purpose, peace, hope, love, and empowerment are all possible – and that the joy I so miss can be had again.
PTSD – the thief of my peace, the robber of my inner tranquility, the blinder of my perspective, the chain that binds me to my present state of chaos. Through this most comforting of conversations, I have come to see that this phenomenon is something many, many of us survivors share. Its effects leave us feeling constantly helpless, hopeless, traumatized, and victimized – perpetually trapped in a whirlpool of despair.
Yet through educating myself about PTSD, perhaps the help of a skillful therapist, the support of other survivors, perhaps medication be that “natural” or conventional taken with due diligence, self-healing processes such as meditation and art therapy, and a purposeful desire to move through and beyond this PTSD, there lies hope, waiting for me to grasp it and reawaken it.
I am coming to understand that I can eventually experience a shift of focus from the dominance of his suicide to grieving and celebrating his life and to honoring him and myself through healing.
This journey is long and difficult. At every corner there are unknowns. I have no frame of reference for this, no personal compass to guide me. I am under no illusions now.
I know that I must embrace it if I am ever to see a life beyond it – or in spite of it – or with it. That I must not give up “the good fight” to my eventual healing.
And that I must, as I gradually grow physically and emotionally stronger, day by long day, week by week, month by month, year by year, become an active participant in my healing – knowing that there will be many, many times I will stumble and backslide. I did not ask for this, and neither did he. Nevertheless, it is here.
It is a process, a journey, a path that grows step by hard-fought step, tear by tear, memory by memory, experience by experience, victories, and set-backs, healing and renewal, throughout the remainder of my life.
I have no idea how this journey will continually reveal itself and I am frightened by the unknown, but continue I must.
A journey that continues, a personal odyssey, the honoring of his legacy and the building of mine.
I hate this roller coaster. It was not my choice to ride. I was pushed into it. Sometimes the ride is fine and at first, I feel okay. “I can get through this,” I say to myself. Then out of the blue – like a sneaky trick – I am plunged into a dark hole that is so terrifying I have to use all my strength to hang on for dear life. The timing is unpredictable. In a twitch of an eye, the plunge starts in the middle of a job meeting, at a red light, in a store, with friends or not with friends. Alone or not alone. This is exhausting and I feel like a used worn wet rag.
The ride has a sadistic sense of humor. It sends others to keep me company. Their names are Guilt, Anger, and Depression. They are very friendly. They each have their own personality and want me to join in with them.
Guilt tells me, “It’s my fault, I should have been more aware and less self-absorbed.”
Anger screams loudly to Guilt so I can hear him too, “It may be her fault but he should have never abandoned her like that!”
And my newest companion, Depression says over and over “You both are right so why bother with anything – even living – because nothing really matters.”
These new companions never fail to point out something I didn’t realize or remember. They seem to make sense of this tragedy and I almost give in and believe them.
But then along the sidelines and in the stands, I hear a team, people of all ages on the Alliance of Hope forum, male and female, each with different viewpoints and beliefs. Like one voice I hear them faintly at first and then more loudly. They say:
“No, don’t believe them. They are not your friends! Your loved one was ill and didn’t mean to hurt you. Your loved one was in pain and wanted the pain to end. You would have done anything you could at that time to help. Don’t beat yourself up it is not your fault. You cannot control or make choices for others. They made their own choices good or bad. They would not really want you to suffer so much over this. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Cry and just breathe. It will be alright. Drink water and eat something nutritious. We’ve been through this and can help you get through this too. We will always believe you and support you. Always!”
Listening to this team, a warm feeling grows and gives me hope. I start to feel like I am getting stronger and want to trust and live again. I know deep down they are right and what they say is true. My former companions Guilt, Anger, and Depression start to fade into the background and the roller coaster becomes slower, steadier, and more on an even keel and I want to get off.
Everyone here is that one voice – the Alliance of Hope team. You told me all these things and cared, loved, and believed in me even when I couldn’t believe in myself. This weekend I want to say thank you all for helping me get my life back. You all are in my thoughts and prayers. I love you all.
Last night was difficult. This week has been difficult
I am looking at a Thanksgiving entirely alone this year. My husband took his life on July 7th and this will be the first real holiday without him. Normally I would be with family or friends, but due to COVID-19, I’ll be “celebrating” at home alone. I absolutely dread this.
But: I’m determined to make the best of a bad situation. I’m planning to Zoom with a few friends. I purchased a small Thanksgiving feast from Whole Foods. I’m taking all of next week off of work and have a list of movies and TV that I’m planning to binge.
But still, I’m scared to death for this first holiday alone.
So: I went to Target today and bought an enormous amount of Christmas lights that I put up. There is a little bit of light in the darkness for me (and quite frankly the world, at this time). This is especially poignant as my husband refused to have any Christmas decorations at all last year. At the time, I thought it was because of his depression. Upon reflection, I think he may have been already contemplating taking his own life and didn’t want a reminder that that would be his last Christmas. Hindsight is always 20/20.
We had twenty wonderful Christmases together. I know this holiday season will be different and difficult in so many ways.