My Morning Cup of Latte

It’s 5:00 am and I’m wide awake ready to start my day. This was my routine for years. As a woman who juggled a busy career and a family, I claimed the early morning quiet hours to be mine. The corner of the couch, my book and a cup of tea greeted me each day at the same time.

My husband who, by the way was never a morning person, teased me relentlessly about losing out on another hour of sleep each day before shuffling off to drop kids at school and head to work. I told him he should try it. That having an hour of no stress and just quiet time seemed to prepare me for my day. We both had careers in management and shared the stressful demands that came with it. Add in five kids to boot and you had what often times felt like a mixing bowl with the beaters on full speed and only dry ingredients. Years later my husband finally decided to try my “early morning rise and relax” therapeutic approach to life. The next thing I knew every morning at 5:00 am he would roll over and ask “are you ready? Let’s go, I’ll make the coffee.”

Our routine quickly became what would I would describe as one of my most beautiful times in my life. Reading a book at 5:00 am gave way to early morning discussions and opening up to each other. For the first time in years we got to know one another, every morning on the corner of the couch over a cup of coffee. We talked politics, our managing styles and challenges at work, kids, church, family and sometimes his depression.

One day he thanked me and confessed that he had never been a morning person and now after all this time he found that inner peace I often spoke of and explained that it really did help him prepare for his day. He was an amazing leader, passionate, visionary, inspiring and always wore a big smile. His hobby was restoring old cars and over the years we had what felt like a local car dealership with and endless variety of vehicles in various stages of restoration waiting their turn to shine again. Once finished he would sell that one and start the next.

We had all kind of adventures over the years, some with positive outcomes and others less desirable. Challenge seemed to be the norm in our family so we just learned to embrace the ever shaking ground beneath us and kept going. His worked moved us all over the U.S. and we never stayed in one place beyond 1-3 years. Our kids learned to be adaptable. Okay maybe more like tired of it but it was what it was.

I would describe him as someone who bored quickly. He was in need of something different and new all the time. This, in and of itself, was tricky as a spouse because about the time I thought he was finally satisfied, he was looking for his next fix.

He was a great dad although he second guessed himself much of the time. We were a blended family and our children were very young when we married. Our story isn’t perfect but certainly qualified for unusual. Our children meshed like biological children. We never used the term “step” and always referred to each other as dad, mom, sister or brother. Most people who knew us couldn’t even tell we were blended. Behind the scenes of course there were many of the challenges of working through the demands of “Ex’s” and the all too tiring push and pull of getting kids to the other parent and then back again. Stress, stress and more stress.

My inner dark thoughts and feelings bring me back to reality where I am still angry and sad. Still, as I look back it amazes me how much of the good I can focus on. It’s a beautiful story but I know behind it all a thread that once bound us all together has simply been pulled out, unraveling everything. Here I want to memorialize his beautiful soul, forget the wrongdoing, the disagreements, the imperfections and focus on just the happy parts of what was our lovely and sometimes dysfunctional life.

I still get up every morning and sit on the edge of the couch. I rarely read but in the quiet I whisper to him all the things I would say as if he were sitting there. Sometimes I feel like he’s actually there and it brings me peace. He was my morning cup of latte.

 

Originally published on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and reprinted with permission.

Tips from Survivors: Accept Help

I just replied to a post here from someone whose family had just left and they were now alone. This really got my mind spinning, so I’ve decided to write this post.

On the day that my husband Tom took his life, the first person I called was my nephew. He’s 34 years old and a pastor. A year earlier his own father-in-law had taken his life. Jeff made calls to the rest of the family for me and then headed up here -a 500 mile drive -early the next morning.

That first night I was alone. I had told my neighbors I was just fine and needed to be alone. Wrong. I ended up calling the chaplain’s 24-hour hotline with a lot of worry about whether to call 911 for myself. I couldn’t stop shaking -my legs just continued to kick, my head was pounding, I was crying so hard I felt like I couldn’t get a full breath. That wonderful woman explained what was happening to me physically and the hormonal flush that was happening to my body due to stress. She talked to me from 11:00 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. I finally had calmed down. She told me I had to lay down, I didn’t have to sleep, but I had to rest. I never did sleep that first night, but I did finally calm down a bit and rest.

I don’t even remember my nephew Jeff actually arriving that next morning -lots of memory gaps in those first few weeks -but I clearly remember us sitting on the deck and him talking to me. I listened intently because I knew he’d been through this situation only a year earlier and I knew he loved me very much.

I clearly remember him very seriously saying: “You are a strong person, but you cannot do this on your own. You have to accept help from your family and friends. We’re all here for you. Don’t tell them you’re fine, you’re not, and it’s going to be a while before you are.”

The first time I laughed was that day when he so very gently said, “I mean nothing by this, just asking. Have you showered?” I told him I actually had showered that morning. He told me, all anyone can ask of you right now is to eat, drink, and sleep. If you shower, that’s a bonus. No one can expect anything more, including yourself.

His analogy of this grief was like walking into the ocean. In the beginning, every wave is huge and will take you down. Eventually smaller waves will hit you and you’ll stumble through them, then another huge wave will take you down. He said the waves will get smaller and there will be more time in between, but there will be times a monster wave will come out of nowhere and take you down again, but you will get back up, you will not drown.

He urged me to seek grief counseling, offered to take me to my doctor for medication, he cooked my meals, he offered to do ANYTHING, including clean my house. He sat in the living room and read while I talked with Tom’s sister in the kitchen. He wanted to give us space, but wanted me to know he was there for me if I needed him. He was my perfect first angel. He was calm and loving and he truly understood how I was feeling.

A week and a half later I saw a grief counselor for the first time. She urged me to call my doctor asap for some medication. I went home, called the doc, and saw him that afternoon. He did prescribe anti-anxiety meds for me for a short period of time to just help me breathe/sleep/calm down.

I had family and friends visit over the next few weeks, some staying for three days, one for ten days. I don’t know how I would have made it without all of them. They overlapped each other -as one left, another would arrive. I needed company, but I need peace, so one at a time was perfect for me.

I am extremely fortunate to have a couple next door that I’m very close to. They were here “that day” and have remained my guardian angels. In the beginning we had a code -once I was up, I opened the garage door. She would appear in her robe with her coffee within minutes. She and I would sit on the deck and just drink coffee and chat for a little while. I had dinner at their house numerous times. Sometimes one of them would just bring me a plate of food. She drove me to counseling since I couldn’t possibly drive myself -I had no focus whatsoever.

It’s been just shy of six months now. Of course I’m still not “okay,” but I realize I am going to survive this. In the beginning I couldn’t even function. Everything was difficult. I clearly recall having to purposely breathe. I’d get dizzy and realize I’d just stopped breathing. The first 10 pounds just fell off, then another 7 over time, but my weight has stabilized. I will survive.

I would just urge all of you to accept the help that’s offered to you. This is too huge to get through alone -at least it was/is for me. Whether it’s the county chaplain, your religious leader, doctor, counselor, family, friends, neighbors, accept the help. The people that care about you want to help you too. They can’t fix the situation, but I know that just cooking a meal for me helped them feel that they were doing something.

Sorry to have rambled on so long, but today I’m looking back and realizing how much help I was offered and accepted and how extremely grateful I am to all those people for the love and support they’ve shown me. I hope all of you have good people to help you through this time also. I also include all of you in my prayers regularly. I hope you feel the love of everyone on this forum. This forum has always been here for me too, 24/7, and it’s been a tremendous support.

 

Originally published by Tom’s Wife on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and reprinted with permission.

The Journey Continues

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 – and 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 is 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 to hear of 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.

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 building of mine.

Be kind and gentle to yourselves,

Donna

From Anger to Sadness

I am so, so sorry for your loss. Sorry for all of our losses.

I experience anger all the time. Some ‘provoked’, some not. I have a very short fuse, and it’s been overwhelming and confusing for me. I’ve always been opinionated and strong, but had an optimistic disposition, and was pretty laid back.

I’ve come to realize that those characteristics are buried for right now, while I try to come to terms with this experience. I’ve tried to find healthy outlets for that anger –journaling, working out, taking a ‘ten count’ before I respond when I’m upset.

I can go from wanting to smash everything in my path, to gut-wrenching sobs in 2.4 seconds. So far I haven’t broken anything, but in my mind, I’ve smashed everything to bits. I’ve chopped wood a couple of times, and that seemed to help, except my concentration is gone and I nearly took off my foot. No more sharp objects for me!

I struggle in dealing with this aftermath. His pain is gone (and I truly am thankful for that,) but mine is never-ending. This is the part that makes me angriest I think. That and all the things he took from me when he left.

I’m just starting to wrap my head around the fact that he was terminally mentally ill. That quite possibly I prolonged his life by loving him as much as I did. … I realize he didn’t do this to me or to us. He was ill, his judgment clouded, his brain chemistry altered. When I think of those things – how ill he was, how much pain he must have been in, psychologically and emotionally to believe this was the only way out of his problems and pain — then my anger usually turns to sadness. Sadness for a beautiful life lost so senselessly and tragically.”