Note from Noelle: Tribe, once again one of our guest contributors has a subject to share that is not often talked about— mental illness and suicide— my job is to give a VOICE to things that are difficult in a POSITIVE and uplifting way— this post does just that, it is the story of a Mother’s triumph over unexpected circumstances that life dealt her. She is truly a WARRIOR of the highest degree and I hope that you will be blessed by reading her words. I was.
“Your father took his life. Do you understand?”
No. They absolutely DID NOT understand. How could two young children, that just turned ages seven and nine, understand what that means? Yet there I sat with a Counselor next to me, watching my girls play with toys, as if somehow that would lighten the blow. Explaining to my beautiful, innocent girls that their Dad had “taken his life.” We can finally say the word SUICIDE. Dad committed SUICIDE. My husband committed SUICIDE. He didn’t just “die”. He committed SUICIDE, and it’s OK to say it. It wasn’t my fault. My words couldn’t save him, and my words didn’t do it to him. He was determined to do it one way or another, and I still wrestle with that concept and all the “what ifs?”
Let’s back it up a bit. Meeting my husband later in life, our romance was hasty with a very informal wedding on the golf course. Being my second wedding and wearing the “divorcee” title, we wanted to keep it simple, with the company of family, close friends, and 18 holes. Married on the 18th hole at the golf course we both volunteered, a round of golf, and a Washington Capitals game to end the day, I was granted the title, “Coolest Wife Ever.” I was completely blind to the fact, however, that he had an intense fear of crowds, manic depression, anxiety so bad that it physically hurt him to hug his wife, and one day, his daughters, and an overall feeling of helplessness that eventually lead to his suicide. Those were kept private from me, but eventually came out. I mean, we had our issues, but didn’t everyone?
My wonderful marriage was the beginning of a journey cut short, I didn’t expect to take. My late husband’s mental illness was exhausting. The endless problems, addiction to cocktails prescribed to “help”, (with warnings of “may cause feelings of suicide”) the insurance hoops I jumped through, his tragic suicide, and ultimately being a widowed mom at 41 with two AMAZING four and six year old girls was not the plan. Is it ever what we plan though? It was no longer my circle, his circle, and our circle. It was just my circle, lonely and scary.
The last time I saw him was a Monday morning. I woke up and he was packing his bags. I asked what he was doing. He admitted to bad thoughts and was ready to check himself in to the hospital. He so desperately wanted help. He wanted to get better. Later that morning, call it a mother’s intuition, I looked at my girlies at the bottom of the stairs as we started to walk out the door for Preschool and Kindergarten, and I said, “Go back upstairs and give Daddy an extra big hug and kiss, and tell him how much you love him.” They happily ran upstairs, did as I asked, and off we went to school. That was the last time any of us saw him. I had a feeling, and I was right. Our instinct or “gut” is pretty powerful. It’s such a long story what happens next. One that really deserves it’s own blog, so I’ll save the details. My husband left on a Monday morning and was found in a hotel, on Tuesday. Ironically, by a friend’s husband who’d just taking a Manager’s position at the hotel. It was all something that came straight off of the Investigation Discovery Channel. I’ll never forget the detective’s face that came to my house to tell me he was found.
There are many things that I won’t forget.
The following days were a blur. I simply picked out the casket and my family took care of the rest. I lost friends, and gained new friends. I received an email from a friend stating she was so upset because my husband was burning in hell. WTH?
I had to figure out finances, bank account passwords, and a million other things. At the advice of another widow, I searched for a support group, but couldn’t quite find my niche. There were older widows that lived a full life with their spouse, young widows who lost their spouse in the Military, and other widows whose spouse died from cancer or some sort of natural death. I was a young, widowed mother of two, whose husband died at his own hands. Those were hard to come by. Moving ahead a bit, it’s no longer painful for me to talk about his suicide. In fact, it’s cathartic. I can say the word, when for years I politely told people he died. My counselor looked at me one day and said, “He didn’t just die, you know that, right? Why do you always say he died?” Uh, shame, embarrassment, not wanting others to feel awkward, wanting to dignify his life…. I don’t know. She reminded me several times, he didn’t just die. He committed suicide. I just couldn’t say it. For years I lived in overdrive taking care of my girls, and not focusing on me and the trauma I was facing. My number one goal was making sure my girls were OK. I was terrified at the thought of them having any issues from this. I wouldn’t let that happen. Looking back, I wish I would’ve taken more time for me, but as parents we often make selfless decisions for our children’s benefit.
I am NOT the same person I was back then. I work full time outside and inside the home. I am tired. I can be rough around the edges. I work until midnight to meet deadlines because I have to stop and run my kids places, or feed them dinner. I’m needed in two places at once. I humbly ask for help, which I NEVER like doing. I’ve had dating disasters, run ins with alcohol, euphoric tattoos, regretful tattoo removals, wake-up calls, and countless counseling appointments. (Which let me say, counseling is wonderful and I went through three until I found the right one. She’s from Queens with a Sailor’s mouth and she makes me laugh and cry and see things from a perspective I would NEVER myself see.)Take the time to find the right match in a Counselor. Not everyone’s your cup of tea, and that’s ok. I’m a walking book and my story is still being written. Within these last nine years, I’ve said at least a dozen times, I could write a book. One thing remains the same. I have two amazing girls, and their hearts are filled with sensitivity for others. This has made us all better people.
Suicide has taught me not to sweat the small stuff. What, a silver lining to suicide? I don’t worry myself with insignificant things anymore. If my coffee spills in my car? Clean it up. If my house is a mess? I have tomorrow. If the laundry piles up? I get my girls to do it! lol What I’m saying is, that in my deepest despair, I’m still here. I’m alive, and I’m grateful for another day to live my life. A recent hospital stay, and being apart from my girls, made me realize how much certain things really don’t matter. What matters to me is raising my now teenage girls, and doing things that make us happy, and me happy. We’re not just moms. We love to say that it’s our most rewarding job, and it IS, but there’s more to you and there’s more to me. Being a good mom, for me, means taking care of myself, and taking time to do the things that make me happy, so I CAN be an amazing mom. I just started selling Scentsy on the side as something fun to do, and make money if it goes in that direction. I’ve started working out at the gym, although Covid said enough of that! I want to inspire others. When I was in the hospital, I prayed that if I got out, I would never take another day for granted. Emphasizing every single day, I look in the mirror and say, “You’re alive. You have another day. A friend of mine going through a terrible divorce asked me, “How do you know you’re going to come out of your rock bottom?” I shared that because in a week, a month, a year from now, she would be standing. And although she slipped and may have fallen, she got back up was standing.
So, my story didn’t end with my husband’s suicide, but a brand new adventure began. I waited a couple of years until I actually told my girls that their Dad “took his life”, but I’m so glad I didn’t wait. Suicide is a very common subject in our household, and when we hear the tragedies of suicide, the three of us have a certain sensitivity in our hearts for those who’ve suffered. Waiting to tell my girls that their Dad committed suicide was not looked well upon by my counselors, and once it was explained, it made sense. My counselor shared that my girls would have trust issues if I waited. They would be dealing with so many other things, and High School angst on top of everything, if I waited. I needed to tell them as soon as I could, if they already didn’t know from rumors at school, and neighborhood gossip. My seven year old came home from school one day and asked what asphyxiation meant. After picking myself up off the floor, I decided it was time. Did they understand? No, not really. But it opened up the conversation, and that’s what we needed. Our relationship is based on open conversation, and I’m so thankful I heeded the words to NOT wait to tell them. In all fairness, as mother’s, we think it best to wait to protect them. To think that they couldn’t possibly understand the concept of suicide until they are much older. Sadly we have seen children in Middle School committing suicide. Kids know and hear more than we think.
When I see someone on social media saying something like, “My sandals just broke, worst day ever!”, I have to giggle, but that’s their reality and I’m no one to judge. In my mind I think, wow, wanna know the worst day of my life? Telling my beautiful, innocent, naive girls at the freshly new ages of four and six that their Daddy died and wouldn’t be coming home. Second worst day, was taking them to see him in the casket with their letters and pictures they had made for him. Third worst day, was telling them he committed suicide… you get the point.
It’s cathartic to let it out. Yes, my husband committed suicide and it’s OK. It wasn’t my fault. My words couldn’t save him, and my words didn’t do it to him. Whatever you’re going through as a Mom; Single Mom, Widowed Mom, Step Mom, we all have commonalities. When you go to sleep at night, be grateful the day is over, and you did it! You got through the day, by whatever means, and you did it! Now when you wake up the next day, look ahead and be grateful that it’s a brand new day. One thing I’m reminded of is my kids really don’t remember my mistakes. Kids are amazingly resilient. Rejoice in that, and their unconditional love. We make mistakes, but they forgive and forget. We need to forgive and forget ourselves, too. And surround yourself with good people. My wise bestie told me when this all happened that I would be amazed at the people I thought would be there for me that weren’t; and the people I wouldn’t expect to be there for me, that were. So true, and how my circle has changed. It’s ok to change your circle. Be around positive, encouraging people. Stay close to people that don’t judge your grief, your story, your moment. I had friends walk away from me because I asked help from other friends more than them, and they were insulted. Even writing that sounds so ridiculous, but sadly it’s true. Sometimes we’re handed a really crappy deal that we didn’t sign up for, but that’s what makes us super interesting people! More to come!
We can make it through another day!