The Insecurities of Suicide

I’m not sure how my parenting would have been had my husband not died by suicide. I don’t know if I’d be more or less anxious, if certain things would still feel abnormal, or if I’d be more confident.

Most parents probably fret about their parenting skills. Am I making enough healthy foods to counter the junk food I allow? Where’s the fine line between screen time as leisure time and screen time as a break for me?

Most parents probably wonder if they’re getting this right.

But I do wonder if I’m a little more self-conscious about it than others. Or if my worries are a little different.

I always knew people died. We are born, we live a while, and then die. It’s a cycle, one that everyone who is born will complete. And yet, I feel the end more acutely than I did before the suicide. I know what it feels like to have a spouse die. It feels like you die. It feels like never ending days that trudge along, days that are filled with tasks that are weighted with lead. Every footstep feels heavy, every movement a burden.

My greatest fear is the death of one of my children. Or, more accurately, that one of our sons will decide to follow their father’s path. I’m afraid that the demons he faced will be passed along like a birth mark or personality trait.

My oldest is currently in counseling. He struggles with depression and anxiety. His self-esteem is low at times. He’s doing very well at the moment but the psychologist had told me that he does sometimes think we (his family) would rather be a family without him. He has a fear that we don’t actually want him. And my heart didn’t just break, it screamed for my son.

Suicide has tainted my family. It will forever be a blemish on the corner of our family portrait, a water stain that warps and discolors. It is the thing that damages and destroys what used to be beautiful.

I’m trying my hardest to repair what has been broken, to mend the stress fractures in my little family.

I don’t know if I’m failing or not.

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.

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.

Before and After

There’s a hard line in my life, a clear distinction between events.  There is before the suicide and there is after the suicide.  

Before, I was a sailor, same as my husband.  I was a military wife and a military member navigating through the hard parts of military life and marriage.  We had two little boys: one barely a toddler, the other a preschooler.

It was difficult and not without fights.  If I’m to be honest, there was even resentment towards the end.  I had reenlisted for a few extra years at the urging of my husband.  I found that I did not do well separated from my children.  He, on the other hand, found it to be a necessity, fearing my departure from the Navy to be our financial downfall.

Time apart, long hours, and fatigue made for many days and nights of fighting.

Still, there were many more days that were full of laughter, of dreams, of hopes, and happiness.  We bought a starter home and were excited about how we were transforming it to match our personalities.

I assume we were like most military marriages.  There’s a lot of conflict but also a lot of good.

After, I was a widow.  I was the person that found my husband’s body.  I found out what a single gunshot to the temple would do to a person.  I found out that when faced with this scene, there was more disbelief than action.

I crawled into the car and called out his name.  I shook his arm.  The scene didn’t register.  The blood didn’t make sense.  I called 9-1-1 and thought, I need an ambulance. And then I corrected my thinking.  Not an ambulance.  He was already dead.

I was suddenly a single mother.  I did leave the Navy with an honorable discharge to raise my children with some stability.  They are my biggest concern and there are so many issues that stem from that day, for me, for them.

In the beginning, I wanted to go back to the way it was.  I didn’t want to be a single mother.  I didn’t want to be a widow.  I didn’t want this life.  But, of course, that’s not the way life works.  There is no “back to normal.”  There is only a new normal, a new way of doing things.

Many people cut their lives into blocks this way when big events transpire.  For me, there is before the suicide and then there is after.  For me, there is the person I was before, and the person I am now.

It’s very difficult to create a new normal.  However, it’s possible.  It takes a lot of intent, grieving, and working through everything that has happened.  Healing does eventually start.