I Am Not a Canadian Goose (spouse suicide, part 2 of 3)
This was taking place during Christmas 2000. I knew Rob was in dire shape, but also knew I had to give my son some sort of normal Christmas. So even though we were separated, we’d agreed to go to my sis-in-law’s for Christmas Eve as we’d always done. They were German and celebrated on the 24th. Rob had said he’d be there. We’d had a suicide hotline team come out to the house on December 22nd, but they were of no use at all and we sent them on their way. I got my doctor to see Rob even though he was not her patient and she prescribed a mild sleeping pill and antidepressant, but only a few so he couldn’t overdose. We both knew it would take 4-6 weeks for the meds to take effect and hopefully help, but Rob was only on them about 3 days when he died.
Rob did not show up on Christmas Eve and my anger resurfaced because he’d promised our son he would be there. The thought had crossed my mind to call Rob that day and offer to drive up together, but I was back in anger mode and burned out and decided he could get himself there, so we didn’t speak that day. Rob’s family was very concerned; his Mom kept trying to call him and got no answer. We later found out he was still alive on the 24th as he spoke to a common friend, more or less making his last goodbyes but without actually coming out and saying he was about to take his life. Learning later the signs we all know now, this is a classic sign of those about to take their lives. He was saying his goodbyes, saying he valued the friendship, and that he hoped he had a good Christmas.
I didn’t call Rob that night when I got back home, partially because I was mad he’d let our son down, partially because I was so exhausted I just needed sleep. Christmas morning, I had my son call his Dad. My son was hurt and angry. His Dad hadn’t come as promised, but I told my son his Dad was very sick and please just be the bigger of the two and call him, that he’d appreciate it. My son called but got no answer and left a message. I had to repeat Christmas with my family, truly the last thing I felt like doing, but somehow got through it. Got home and did call my friend who lived on the boat next door to ours. She had not seen Rob but said his car was in the parking lot.
I went to bed thinking he’d probably run off with the girlfriend. They had gotten back together and decided to spend Christmas together without a second thought. Finally on December 27th, I called and left a message for Rob to call me as our license plate stickers had to be renewed before December 31st. No answer. I left another message. I finally called my friend again and asked her to please walk over and knock on our boat. We’d not been able to reach Rob and needed to know if he was there. I asked her only to knock on the boat, not board it, but she did go on board. She was the one to discover Rob dead and he probably had been since late December 24th or early December 25th. She didn’t call me back. I was thinking it was taking too long and then she showed up at my work with another man from our club.
I opened the door, she blurted out “Rob’s gone!” and I knew immediately what she meant. My first words uttered were “it’s over”. I felt like my heart had fallen out of my body. I felt relief because I knew Rob was no longer in agony. I knew my fight to keep him alive was now over. I was experiencing every emotion imaginable and then more or less went into “go” mode. Locked up the shop, drove to the yacht club intending to board my boat to see Rob, but the police were there in large numbers and all were wearing gas masks. One officer approached me and told me I didn’t want to go on my boat and see Rob that way. Normally, I would have argued and pushed past them, but something in me made me take in what I was seeing, and I knew not to argue. I returned up to the yacht club and began a very long wait for the coroner to arrive.
I called my Mom and told her what had happened. I had already called my friend that my son was staying with and told her Rob had died, but not to say a word to my son about it and could she please keep my son overnight. Friends, family and members of the club filled up the bar area where I was waiting. My girlfriend who had found Rob was there with her boyfriend who we’d known for years. I didn’t really talk to many people; my eyes were glued to the back of the boat waiting to see Rob come off. It was very dark and cold when the coroner finally arrived and they were allowed to remove Rob. I walked down the steps with family and friends to greet Rob and the coroner. It was freezing cold and the wind was high and I remember thinking that this was the strangest way I could ever have imagined saying goodbye to the man I’d loved and spent 29 years with. I never got to see Rob again. I had to make my goodbyes on the dock with him in the coroner’s bag. I watched as they carried him to the hearse. Then I went home.
I felt so all alone even though I was surrounded by friends and family. I remember a sensation of being so heavy, as if I would fall over and then that passed. I had begun my journey of grieving that results from a loss by suicide. I didn’t know how or what I’d do, but knew I must forge ahead. The next morning, my in-laws had not yet been told and my sis-in-law had to deliver the terrible news. My son had not been told either that his Dad had died. Fortunately, my sis-in-law worked for the government and had access to some wonderful trained trauma counselors who told us both how best to deliver this devastating news to Rob’s parents and my son. Looking back on that now, it truly was a blessing as she told us exactly how and what to do and what to expect. My sis-in-law headed off the next day to drive to her parents armed with how best to deliver the news she knew would devastate them. Rob was always their pride and joy, they would be shattered.
I picked up my son with my girlfriend who had driven me. We didn’t say a word in the car on the way home, just made small talk. I took my son up to his room as I’d been instructed to do, to take him to a quiet place where he felt comfortable and no one else was around. We closed his bedroom door, sat down on his bottom bunk bed and I told him his Dad had died. He asked me if it was suicide, as he knew Rob had attempted before. I told him yes. His little eyes welled up with tears and he immediately went to put his arm around me to comfort me, something the counselor had told me he might do. I took his arm and said “no honey, you’ve lost your Dad and it’s my job as your Mom to comfort you.” I also told him not to worry, that I wasn’t going anywhere, that we’d be okay together and make it through this. This also was suggested by the counselor. I asked my son if there was anything he wanted or needed, and he said he just wanted to lay down for a bit. I kissed and hugged him and closed his bedroom door and went downstairs.
Unfortunately, we had to go to the funeral home, but looking back on it, it is truly my one and only regret I have that I didn’t put that off for a bit and stay with my son. I had told my son where we had to go and that my brother, his uncle, would be staying while I was gone for a bit. My son never came out of his room and my brother had checked on him a few times, but he just wanted to be left alone.
I went back to work just a few days later as I somehow needed some small bit of normal, a place where I knew I could go to get that, even though the business was in shambles and I was completely alone without any employees. I threw myself into doing what needed to be done to rectify that, had another car pulled apart that needed reassembly and borrowed a mechanic from another tire franchisee to do that. I had many more challenges and battles over the next 18 months and finally in September 2002, I had to close the business down. This was a secondary loss and there were others, including friendships.
When it comes to suicide, everything as you know it turns completely upside down. Nothing in life ever prepares you for what you’re about to embark on. It changes everything in all ways.
It changes relationships, causes you to question your own beliefs, and in my case, I realized that I had tied my life so completely to Rob both personally and business wise. They were so intertwined, I didn’t quite know what to do. The divorce/separation class that I mentioned previously came into play in a big way for me personally. The question of WHY? Which is so very common and consuming for most suicide loss survivors was something that I was completely able to avoid because I’d already learned how to do that in regard to my marriage ending.
I remembered what the guest speaker had said, “Simply stop asking that question as you’ll never get an answer”. I recalled and was able to apply that lesson to Rob’s suicide. I also made a choice the moment I learned of Rob’s death that I would not feel guilty. I would not take that on. I’d done more than most would have under the circumstances, or any circumstances for that matter. Again in hindsight, I was able to avoid completely this guilt that can so devastate those left behind. It can only lead to more hurt and damage. I didn’t realize how much these two points impacted my grief journey until much later. I am forever thankful, for whatever reason, that I had learned about this during my course and was able to spare myself this part of the journey, which in turn, allowed me to move forward in my healing.
I know many loss survivors are so overwhelmed when they lose a life partner/spouse. Your entire world is forever changed and you are thrust into a world so foreign to you, so unprepared for that it can be completely daunting and leave you feeling you will never be able to recover. Depending on each person’s relationship, some are more dependent on their spouses from a financial perspective and so are at a complete loss, in many ways, knowing how or what to do in regard to finances. Financial worries/stress greatly impacts many and that only adds further complication to the recovery as well.
There are often many secondary losses; such as, losing a house or home, relationships with family and friends. Depending on how they react and deal with suicide, the many stigmas/beliefs that they themselves have in regard to suicide and, of course, the beliefs their circle of friends/family have as well greatly impacts your initial traumatic loss and can further complicate your grief. I have heard from many that are religious that their church or congregation has views about suicide that can be very hurtful and detrimental and cause conflict within yourself in your own religious beliefs.
I was very fortunate in that I did have a life insurance policy for Rob, but it was nowhere near enough to pay off all our debts. I was angry that I had enabled this debt as I was the financier in our relationship and had always handled this. In hindsight, I should have paid off all that I could, closed down the business saving myself a further $200K loss and would have been much further ahead. Instead, I chose to do what I’d always done, work really hard to turn it around and all would be fine. Those beliefs that I’d held so long and so dear, cost me financially, but I also learned so much throughout the many processes in the years following, so I tend to look at it as a very expensive education.
I did not seek counselling or therapy for myself, but I did have my son checked out right after Rob’s death because he was not showing much emotion at all. Many were concerned he was depressed and had no problem telling me so and that they thought he needed therapy. I knew my son’s relationship with his Dad was not all that close as many are, his Dad was action man to my son, they did things together like bike riding, dingy or jet ski riding, but did not spend much one on one time together. I knew he had seen far too much in our 10 month separation and the fact a nine and a half year old boy would know and understand what suicide was would all have great impact, so I was not surprised at his lack of emotion. I did, however, take him to an absolutely wonderful social worker who knew males do not grieve the same way as females. They do not like to talk it out, they tend to like to “do” and keep busy and that’s how they work through their grief.
The social worker was aware of this and knew to keep my son busy doing a board game of some sort as she spoke to him. This put my son at ease and he was able to disclose that he was angry at his Dad. When I came back into the room, the social worker explained to me my son was angry and that he had every right to be because his Dad had bailed on him not once with the separation, but twice now with the suicide. I saw my son’s shoulders drop considerably as this news was announced to me and I knew in that very moment, that he would be okay and we’d get through this together.
If you have children, I believe it is essential to have open discussion about suicide, age appropriate of course, and I also believe it is important to have them see a trained professional to determine where they are emotionally in regard to their grief and loss. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a constant and predetermined set of appointments, but very worthwhile to have someone trained in bereavement and if possible, specifically suicide, to help gauge your child’s mental health. It is always best to tell our children the truth so as to not further complicate their grief, learning later and feeling further betrayal and lack of trust from you their remaining parent.
My situation, I’ve come to realize, is a bit unusual in the fact that my grieving period had already started 10 months prior to Rob’s suicide with our separation. It’s not the exact same type of grief, but there are many commonalities I’ve come to realize. The physical separation of not living together had already taken place and so the adjustment to his being gone was not as drastic as it can be when you were still living together as a couple. I had already begun learning that I would now have to be responsible for myself and my son without being able to count on Rob’s support or participation. I had more than cried a river of tears in that 10 months, so had little in the way of tears left to give once Rob died.
The fact that Rob had several suicide attempts take place prior to his completing suicide is also an experience not everyone has. This gave me a bit of time, albeit only a few weeks, to come to terms with the possibility that suicide might occur. I also believe that eliminated the shock factor so many loss survivors experience. Even in the knowing that suicide was a possibility for Rob, I never lost hope that we’d be able to get him the help he needed, and once he agreed to see my doctor on December 22nd, I felt that at least he appeared willing to admit he needed help, and more importantly, was willing to avail himself of it. I, of course, will never know whether Rob truly wanted help or believed he could get better and go on to live life, or whether he simply did this to placate me.
My instinct tells me that he was wanting and willing to get help that particular day, but that on the day of the suicide, his depressive state overrode that feeling of wanting to live. No way to tell of course, but I choose to believe what I’ve mentioned and from what I’ve since learned, that he simply exceeded his ability to cope and felt hopeless as most suicidal people do. Their minds, in most cases, are not working properly. They don’t think rationally and logically because their mind is consumed with suicidal thoughts and depression. 90% of all suicides involve some sort of treatable mental illness. Many are not of sound mind and able to make healthy and life-affirming decisions when they attempt.
My situation involving infidelities also brings many emotions and reactions that won’t be present necessarily for others not having this aspect involved with their loss. For me, it manifested itself in anger and I carried that anger for many years. I knew my anger would be of help initially to give me the energy and fire to battle what was still ahead of me. It felt comfortable and was what I was used to for the previous 10 months of our separation. I’d come to count on anger and had almost become dependent on it, we were allies. I knew at some point that the anger would consume me if I didn’t let it go. It was in the knowing of this, that I also took comfort and knew I’d have to make the decision when to let it go. I learned much later that anger can turn into depression and many believe depression is anger turned inward. This was something I was slightly aware of, but not too concerned about personally. The only way I know of letting go of anger is by forgiveness.
Forgiveness is very misunderstood. It is not something you do for others; it is something you do for yourself. It is a gift you give yourself, and only you can do it.
With me, I never was angry at Rob for his suicide. I knew he was very sick and unable to cope, but I had a great deal of anger for what he’d done and the circumstances he’d left me with. Many loss survivors feel great anger toward their loved one for the suicide. It is always best if you can learn to direct your anger at the circumstances, at the act itself, but not at your loved one. Everyone has to arrive at the decision themselves, but it is far healthier for you to not have anger directed at your loved one.
I do a specific forgiveness exercise that I learned from a guided meditation/relaxation CD I purchased. It was upon being guided through this exercise that I first forgave Rob for his actions and circumstances I’d been left with. It was a truly pivotal moment in my grief, and although it took many times, I have been able to completely forgive Rob for everything and anything that transpired. I later learned forgiveness works best if you can forgive yourself first. I didn’t know this at the time I started my recovery, but since learning that, I have repeated my forgiveness exercise several times and have been able to forgive myself for any part I played in the relationship. We all play a part in every relationship. My part, I began to realize, was a role as enabler. I’d always tried to figure out what would make Rob happy and then how to arrange whatever it was he was after and make that happen. I believe it always takes two to tango in any relationship. It is never only one person’s doing that contributes to how a relationship works or doesn’t work well.
About the Author: Barb Hildebrand lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, with her 21-year-old son. She’s in the process of reinventing herself and wants to help survivors of suicide heal from the devastating loss of a suicide. She is passionate about advocating for suicide prevention as well as mental health, feeling education on both is the only way to dispel stigma. A big fan of Law of Attraction, loves self-development/personal growth, gardening, blogging, travelling, constantly learning, and living life positively. Barb strives to live life with passion and purpose and loves to share her gift of support with others. You can follow her blog at Surviving Suicide ~ the Aftermath and her Facebook page, Suicide Shatters.
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