The Lingering Effects of Loss

I’m acutely aware of our mortality. That’s not to say that I thought anyone lived forever. Lord knows I haven’t led the easiest of lives up until this point, either.

There’s still something about losing a loved one so suddenly and brutally; it messes with you.

One day you have him. The next day, he’s long gone. He’s physically in the car, but all that remains is sadness and pain and loss. One gun, one bullet, and your life is completely destroyed. What used to be is no longer here. The steadiness, the predictability of life is gone as well.

My husband flipped our world upside down when he took his life. My children are different than what they would have been otherwise. I don’t know if it’s a huge difference or a subtle one, but I know they aren’t the same.

I also feel the lingering effects of his loss. I feel the weight of mortality. I am much more anxious about losing another person I care about, though maybe not in the same way. I wonder if one day I’ll get a phone call and hear I’ve lost a child or find a similar scene somewhere down the line.

My children also worry of future loss. Our youngest child constantly tells me he hates that we age, that we all eventually have to die. He does not want to ever have to bury me. Even when I promise to live to 100, praying to the universe that it not make me a liar, he’s not appeased. He worries of his own mortality. Our oldest worries of illnesses and other such things.

Suicide, loss, this giant grief that weighs heavily on us, continues to take its toll. I wish I could have an answer of when it’ll stop.

Milestones are the Hardest

After my husband died, I thought that holidays would be hard. I cringed a little before Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Father’s Day. But I found that I was wrong.

Milestones are the hardest moments.

Our children were 2 and 4 years old when he took his life. Not only did suicide rob me of a husband, rob the boys of a father … It robbed him out of watching and experiencing his boys grow up.

He never got to see the first days of school. He never got to be the father encouraging his son to pick up his bike and try again. Every time either boy has shown me a new ability with pride, there’s a small pain my heart that goes along with it.

Their father will never get to see any of this. Nor will our children ever be able to see their father beam with pride when they get their drivers license. They won’t be able to wave at their dad when they graduate high school.

The pain is two-fold in that I mourn for the memories that will never come to fruition and also for the losses my boys continuously receive.

I hate that our oldest always tries to dig deep and try to remember the choppy memories of him and his dad. I hate that our youngest makes up memories to feel included.

The loss of a loved one isn’t just felt for a small amount of time. It continues throughout a lifetime.

My Son Said He Wants to Kill Himself

I wish that I knew exactly what to do. I wish I had all the right answers, could do all the right things. Even after everything, after losing a husband to suicide, after surviving and pushing forward to keep living with my two sons, I feel lost and clueless.

My oldest is regularly seeing a psychologist. He has depression and anxiety. These leak into his whole life and affect him a lot. On top of all of this, he grieves heavily over his father.

His family history doesn’t help, either. On his father’s side, there’s alcoholism, depression, dementia, heavy drug abuse, and more.

Many people can probably relate. Mental health is poorly understood, stigmatized, and almost never treated well in the United States. People don’t typically go in for mental check ups. Even those who clearly need some help may shy away because of the fear of how they’ll look. Or worse, they have health insurance that doesn’t really cover those services. Or even worse than that…there are no helpful services nearby.

A few visits ago, the psychologist reassured me that he was not immediate danger but that he had admitted thinking about how to kill himself. The plan was juvenile and not thought out. An attempt was never tried. But my heart was pierced by an ice cold dagger. I just nodded stoically but I felt like rushing out of the room to find my son, reassure myself he was still there, still waiting to go home and have dinner.

I feel like I’m failing my son. I fear that despite trying my hardest, I won’t be able to protect my son the way I should. I’m afraid that I’ll get that phone call one day or find a loved one again.

I lost my husband to suicide. My biggest fear is losing one of our children to that same monster.

What Does Goodbye Feel Like?

The morning I found my husband’s body, I expected to get ready for work and pick up an argument we were having later that evening. I woke up in my children’s room, the alarm on my cell phone blaring. I was tired to my bones. The uncomfortable feeling of unresolved conflict sat deep in my belly. I hated fighting.

It was still dark outside. I went into our bedroom expecting to find my husband asleep, perhaps snoring.

Instead, I found bullets strewn across the bed. I found the gun safe unlocked and open. One was missing.

I went downstairs, not comprehending what was going on. My brain discarded the scene.

I realized I had a text on my phone.

If you don’t want me around, I’ll just leave. I’m better off gone.

‘Did he go to work early?’ I wondered. I walked out of the house and saw both cars in the driveway. Maybe a walk. I went down the sidewalk and then turned back. Why would he wander around this early.

I remembered the missing gun, the bullets. Dread settled in and I ran through the house.

He wasn’t there.

I walked back outside and looked into the cars. And that is where I found him, found the end of our marriage. That is where I found the end of my husband, the father of my children, and the end of life as I knew it.

Goodbye feels like the coldness of a winter morning. It’s the darkness of a morning that hasn’t seen the sun yet. There is no warmness left.

Goodbye feels like a heaviness that is slowly crushes your chest. It’s a boulder placed on your ribcage. Goodbye is heavier than you’d ever imagine.

Goodbye feels like a rusted knife twisting into your heart. Goodbye is a gutteral wailing that begins before you realize that you’re pouring your grief out into the world. Goodbye drains the tears from your body.

Goodbye is a wild animal caged inside of you. It’s restless and anxious and won’t settle down.

The unexpected goodbye wrecks havoc because you don’t actually get to say it out loud. You don’t see it coming, it blind sides you. It hits you like a cheap shot.

Goodbye feels like the edge of death.

Why Me?

Why me…what a stupid question. But I still ask it.

Why did my husband shoot himself? That question burns inside of me.  I want to know the logic behind an illogical act.  There was pain inside of him, wounds that he self-medicated to forget.  I know that much.  But I don’t know everything else.

I wish I had better answers for our children.  I wish I had better answers for myself.

I don’t want this life.  I don’t want the word widow attached to a description of myself.  I don’t want children who are afraid that their mother will die next.  I don’t want to explain the harsh realities of life to my children yet.

The choice is not mine.  Life handed me this and now I bear the yoke of it all.  The world feels heavy on my chest at times and I cannot breathe.  I’m under water but my children are next to me and I have to continue the ascent to the surface.

Most days I bear it but some days I want to just cry.  Why me?

How Long Does Grief Last?

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How long can grief last?

The medical perspective seems to point at grief lasting from a few months to a year.  Some define prolonged or excessive grief as over a year, sometimes two.  Though, if you search for anecdotal accounts, there are many that point out that grief doesn’t go away.  Or that it lingers far longer than they anticipated.  At times it’s referred to in a way that sounds like it’s some journey down a path in life.  Poetic lines are scratched onto images to romanticize the experience.  Perhaps the contrast is that there is a difference between the medical definition and the way that grief is defined by the person who is experiencing the loss.

For months, maybe longer, I was surprised that my husband wasn’t in the adjacent room.  I’d walk into the living room, expecting to see him sitting on the couch, maybe watching television.  But there was no husband waiting in the next room.  The television screen would be dark, no one sitting at the couch.  Instead, there would just be surprise and the realization, again, that I would never see him again. Is that grief?

I would never sit next to him again.  I would never hug him again.  I would never talk to him or listen to him laugh ever again.  The sting of those realizations was constant.  The deep pangs of loneliness slammed into me intermittently.  Is that grief?

The hurt, the pain, began to lessen, though.  Nightmares of the suicidal scene gave way to conversations with my husband.  At first he was angry, then sad, then just a friend that would speak to me.  Is that grief being processed?

Am I grieving still?

I think that impact of my husband’s suicide is still affecting me today.  My children, especially my oldest, is grieving deeply over his father.  In short, yes.  We miss him often, we speak of him often, and the impact that his suicide has on this family and our lives is one that has had far reaching consequences.

His loss is felt daily.  Every milestone with our children is a reminder that he isn’t here to see them.  His children still yearn for him.  His oldest struggles with all of this.  The suicide negatively impacts many aspects of our life.  But the pain isn’t as sharp.  And we can speak of him freely without crying.  There are many good memories that I relay to our boys.  Equally, there are days that we don’t speak of him, not because we forget but because life has continued.

Our new normal has started and continued.  Perhaps grief is short-term.  The loss and its effect, however, is forever.