What if 2020 wasn’t the worst year of your life?

What if it wasn’t even the worse of the past two years? What if 2019 was so bad you welcomed the pain of this apocalyptic year like a child welcomes the wall smashing against her head as a way to cover the hurt?

September is Suicide Prevention Month, the first one I’ve experienced as a suicide survivor. I’ve decided to share a glimpse into the pain that is life after the suicide of a spouse, not as a cry for help, but as my way of exposing the reality that is the collateral damage of this disease.

If you want to understand suicide survival, imagine the worst day of your life, and then that day becoming the Groundhog’s Day you relive over and over.

Imagine having to count the times in a conversation you say your dead husband’s name or the words “grief” or “widow” because you know those are heavy words and you don’t want others to carry the weight of them.

Imagine having to reassure your children that their dark thoughts won’t hurt them, even though you know that’s what killed their father.

Imagine sleeping with a bar of soap, the smell of which is the closest thing you’ve found to being with your lost one.

Imagine that your brain, still stuck in “fight or flight” mode, can’t retain basic routines, so you have to set a daily alarm to remember to make dinner.

Imagine feeling both energized and depleted by the new suicide grieving friends you are making because these are the strongest and saddest people you have ever known.

Imagine being surrounded by immeasurable love, care and concern and yet being afraid if you ask too much of them, those loved ones will disappear, too.

Imagine these things in a year that has you stuck at home, cut off from the people and places that might provide relief.

Imagine all of this and you get a small glimpse of life after suicide.

A common recognition in the online S grief groups (“suicide” is a forbidden word in community management software, so we widows have to abbreviate it as if we are part of some dirty, illicit cult) is that our spouses felt that we’d be better off without them. I wish saving a person was as easy as saying, “I love you very much and would be devastated without you.” But I’m here to tell you the thousand times I said this to Geoff did not stop his disease. You see, the brain of a depressed, bipolar, addicted or otherwise struggling person is unwell. It doesn’t hear loving words and make logical decisions. It hears scary, internal, twisted words and makes horrible decisions. I wish there’d been something I could have said, a phone number we could have called, a friend or a doctor that could have helped. But I did say the right words, he did have good friends, support and medication, and still that sick brain won.

Suicide Prevention Month is a tough one for those of us who could not stop it. A common trend this time of year is to post a prevention hotline phone number in social places. But for grieving widows the torturous implication is that a simple phone call could have stopped the tragedy we’d spent all our energy trying to avoid. “Yes, you talked him out of his dark place 365 times last year, but if only he’d called a stranger those last few minutes, they could’ve saved him.” Not to say that the phone numbers aren’t valuable. They’ve proven to be an effective tool in interrupting the suicide thought process. But like a defibrillator that disrupts a heart attack, a phone call is not a long term solution. And worse, it’s a tool that a person debilitated by their weakening brain has to apply to themselves. I would never take a defibrillator off a wall, but I also wouldn’t think my work saving that heart attack victim was done by just pointing them toward it. We need to approach suicide prevention the same way we do heart disease, cancer research, Alzheimer’s and so many more. It’s a big complicated problem and needs more resources to find some answers. I’m taking some time now to explore where my donations can best be spent. I’ll keep you updated on what I find.

The kids and I are okay. We talk in ways we’ve never done before. We share joy and we share pain. We love each other and our people more. We are relearning to trust.

But I don’t want anyone around us to mistake our survival for relief. Not a day goes by we wouldn’t wag our tails in a fevered fury, tackle him to the ground and hold on to him forever, if Geoff would just walk back in the door.

Geoff’s Island, Summer 2020, Southport, ME

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