I lost my late husband, Rob, to suicide in December 2000 right at Christmas. We’d been together for 29 years; I from the age of 14 until I was 43 when he passed. Rob was 47 when he died. So young. So much more life to live. Nothing in our many years together could have prepared me for what transpired. I certainly never would have thought Rob, of all people, would take his life.
Rob was very gifted mechanically. He was, in fact, a Master Mechanic and we shared a business together for 17 years in the automotive sales/repair arena. He’d always loved all things mechanical since a very early age, taking everything he could get his hands on apart and putting it back together to figure out how things worked. When I met Rob his big love was cars. He was always tinkering, rebuilding, repairing or improving his beloved vehicle. Having an unusual or distinctive car was very important to Rob, it somehow defined him. That love turned into our business and he had such talent and passion that it was a match made in heaven.
Things went incredibly well for many years because Rob had such a natural ability to be able to educate the customers on what was wrong with their cars. We also had a high performance clientele who came to Rob for very personalized and specialized modifications. All was well until he discovered his new and second love which was boating. It became an obsession with him.
It didn’t take long for his focus to shift from the business to boating. The business was suffering because his passion and dedication were no longer directed toward the business, but toward his boat and boating. Boating literally took over our lives because Rob was so obsessed.
We lived onboard our boat from May to October each year. First, we had a sailboat for about 8 years and then transitioned to a power boat. Looking back on it later, and even somewhat at the time, I realized we’d gone into debt for the sailboat and Rob had been on an incredible high and happy with life for about two years. Then it wore off a bit. He still loved it and kept his sailboat in impeccable shape, but the “newness” high had worn off. Then, we bought the power boat at approximately twice the cost. That “newness” high wore off within six months. I remember thinking at the time, “geez, go double the debt for one quarter the time of happiness”? This, I would later learn, was also indicative of his yet undiagnosed bipolar.
We could not renew our business lease at the location we had in downtown Toronto, so we decided to move our business half an hour away from downtown to where we lived and boated in September 1999. We bought an existing turnkey business, a tire franchise, went into even greater debt, and made the move. This meant we left most of our established and loyal clientele downtown and had to start over. The tire business is a far cry from our fairly upscale BMW/Mercedes clients, so that was a huge transition for Rob to adjust to. I took it all in stride, knew we’d have our work cut out for us, but never had a doubt we could turn it around and become profitable again.
Unfortunately, this relocation proved to be quite psychologically impairing to Rob. He was turned off by the clients we now had because they complained if you put $3 worth of fluids in without permission. This was not the client Rob was used to working with. Six months after acquiring the new tire franchise, a huge tire recall happened and that was a 50% hit straight across the board financially, both to the tire portion as well as the mechanical portion of our new business. This added even more pressure to Rob as our debts we’d acquired remained the same, but revenue did not. We argued a lot more, his attitude toward customers changed dramatically for the worse, and it was a downward spiral. This was stressful for me as well, but I’d always felt together as a team, we could face any challenge and come out the other side successfully.
February 14, 2000 (Valentine’s Day), Rob and I had an argument. Next day at work, I had decided things were not working well in our marriage and told Rob. Rob jumped at the chance and the suggestion I made to take a break from our marriage and separate. It was very sad to think that 29 years together could end up dissolving. I was not happy with Rob, but was also grieving the loss of our relationship, all the while having to remain working together.
Rob began acting very differently than he ever had before. He was purchasing new clothes, expensive ones. Grooming himself well, which had never been a priority and, in fact, had been a bone of contention for many years. He began disappearing for hours at a time, never telling me where he was going. It didn’t help matters with the business nor with me. About six weeks after separating, I spoke to a boating girlfriend and told her we’d separated. I had not told anyone including family at that point. It was upon hearing from me that we’d separated that she responded with “thank gawd”! Then she told me Rob had shown up on their boat one night, quite drunk and had spilled the beans he was having an affair with a married woman from our yacht club. Plus he told her he’d had about eight other affairs.
I was completely shocked, devastated, and furious all at the same time. I no sooner hung up from my friend than I called Rob on his cell and told him to get to a quiet place to talk where we wouldn’t be interrupted. He called me back right away. I confronted him with the fact he was having an affair, that I knew who it was, and that I thought he’d agreed to our separation, which I thought was mutual for reasons of just not working well. He denied for quite a while, then realized I knew, stopped denying, and wanted to know if he should come to our house to discuss it. I said no, don’t you dare come here or I won’t be responsible for what happens in the mood I’m in.
I cried myself to sleep that night with the realization that our entire marriage had been a sham. He’d probably been cheating throughout it and I felt like such a fool. I had to put on a brave face the next day as I went to work knowing I’d have to see Rob. It was not a good day. We didn’t talk much. I was angry, humiliated, betrayed and very hurt, but managed to conduct business as usual. We finally had to discuss things. He was not apologetic in the least, in fact, he was quite arrogant and confidant. The new clothes, the change in appearance, the disappearing all made sense to me now.
Many harsh words were exchanged. I am much better able to think on my feet and come out with some pretty good zingers. Rob not so much. He continued taking off even more time saying he was going for therapy. Turns out his therapy was lunches with the new girlfriend. I signed up for a divorce/separation class which I truly didn’t want to participate in for oh so many reasons. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. Even though it was not my style to reach out, especially in a group situation, I forced myself to go. What I learned in that class would later benefit me in ways I couldn’t even have imagined. One was to stop asking the question WHY? I was at this point asking that question in regard to my marriage failing. What had I done to contribute to the breakdown? What could I have done differently? What had Rob done, etc.?
I came to realize at this point, that I’d always envisioned myself as married to Rob for life. That we’d grow old together, fight all life’s challenges together, surmount any problem that came our way because we were a team! We were united against the world and had mated for life, just like the Canada goose. All that I knew was turned upside down. I now had to figure out a way to reinvent myself and all the while take care of my then 9 1/2 year old son. This certainly was not what I had in mind for my life plan.
Fast forward to September 2000. Rob’s new girlfriend was finding him far too intense and controlling. She had moved out to her own apartment, her husband not having a clue that she was involved with Rob. They were both terrified that I would contact her husband. I had no intention to turn his world upside down. I felt it wasn’t my place to tell him, but I didn’t let Rob know that as it was one card I held close to my heart, waiting to play it should the need arise.
Rob was totally crushed when he was asked to give the new girlfriend her space and move out. He went back to his boat, but was obviously distraught. At this point, he began to drink quite heavily; a behavior I’d never seen before. His appearance didn’t matter anymore. He was even more sporadic at showing up to work. Our business was failing and employees were leaving because they knew about the affair, could see the writing on the wall, and didn’t want to remain.
There was talk about suicide during our many conversations. Initially, I did not take Rob seriously. I thought this man I’d known and loved most of my life was one of the cockiest and most arrogant people I’d ever known. Little did I know that cockiness and arrogance were all a mask he used to hide his incredible insecurity. Rob had first mentioned suicide back in May 2000, shortly after we’d separated and were looking into changing our long-standing life insurance policies. All the necessary blood work and paperwork had been done, and I was about to cancel the existing policies we’d had for 20 years when I remembered his mention of suicide. I listened to my intuition that day thankfully, and cancelled the new policies even though they were considerably cheaper. That was the beginning of learning to trust my gut or intuition. I am forever thankful for the decision I made that day and many other times as well.
On December 6th, 2000, Rob attempted suicide for the first time with a handgun. Again, I didn’t really take him seriously as I was very angry with him for bailing on me at work by leaving a customer’s car pulled completely apart. I couldn’t get it back to them because Rob wouldn’t come in. He did make an appearance that day. He looked absolutely terrible. He hadn’t been sleeping well, hadn’t been taking care of himself, and had been drinking too much. He was very soft-spoken, not like the Rob I knew, and was very distraught. I told him he needed to put the car together so I could call the customer and let them know when they could pick it up. He told me he was fighting for his life! I said, “YES! SO AM I! I’m fighting for your life, my life, our son’s life, our business – everything!” He turned and walked out the front door of our shop and said something along the lines of “all the guns are at the house, locked up in the safe, but one”. I was so mad at this point, that sentence didn’t even register with me. He drove off. I remember thinking how on earth am I going to get that car back to the customer and feeling abandoned all over again. I never thought that, no matter how bad things got, Rob would bail on me even in business, but he had.
About 2pm that day, Rob called and in a very dramatic whisper-like voice said, “I’ve arrived”. I asked him what the heck he meant. He just repeated it. Again, it didn’t dawn on me. I was so angry I can’t remember what I said, but the call ended. I sat there thinking for a moment, and then I realized “I’ve arrived” meant he’d arrived to wherever he was going to take his life! I sat there for a few more moments wondering what on earth to do. Part of me wanted it to be over as I was so tired of reacting and putting out fires that Rob created.
I wondered what would happen if I did nothing. Could I live with that decision if he did die? I then made the decision to call our corporate lawyer who we had both known for almost 17 years. He knew we’d separated. He knew our business was in trouble so I knew he was the right person, the most logical and clear thinking person I could turn to. I’m sure he’s never received such a call from any other client. He told me afterward that he’d never in all his years had a client call about suicide. He told me he would not tell me what I should do, but we talked for several minutes and he ended it with saying, “Barb, you need to do whatever will allow you to be able to go to sleep at night knowing you did what was right.” I hung up, thought for about another minute, and then called 911.
All hell broke loose once I called 911. Police showed up at my business, several cruisers with their lights flashing all in a tizzy because I mentioned that Rob had a gun. I immediately called my babysitter. She was picking up my son from school just around the corner from our business and I knew they’d be driving by and I didn’t want my son to see the cruisers. They took another route home and avoided it. Rob was calling intermittently on his cell phone. The police wanted to talk to him. He didn’t want to talk to them but finally agreed to. At this point, Rob didn’t talk long as he was aware they might be able to track him by his cell signal, so he’d hang up quite often. He did talk to a lady officer. They seemed to be building a rapport. I had asked Rob where he was located. He refused to tell me. Finally, they were able to track him by his signal, knew where he was and then announced to me that Rob would have to stop talking to the officer he’d been talking to for over an hour and start up with a new officer in the jurisdiction where he was located.
I couldn’t believe my ears! I did ask them if they’d had any suicide prevention training. The one in charge told me yes, one day. Much more drama ensued, both for me and for Rob, before that night concluded with him surrendering his gun, being arrested, and taken to a mental health institution. Rob called me that very night from the institution. He was mad that I’d called 911 and threatened me, in his whisper-like voice he liked to use, “I’ll never forget this!” I was completely frazzled, put my son to bed, and then poured myself into bed wondering how on earth my life had turned into this.
Rob was kept 72 hours, the legal limit in Ontario where we live. He refused all treatment, both therapy and meds, while incarcerated. The staff psychiatrist did call me to update me and told me Rob was bipolar. I knew little about bipolar, but did know it involved severe mood swings and upon hearing that diagnosis, so much of my 29 years with Rob began to make more sense. His constant need for acquiring things. I’d always jokingly referred to as “10 of disease” as he couldn’t have just one, but multiples turned out to be due to the bipolar. The infidelity and promiscuity were also a symptom, as was lack of impulse control. From that diagnosis on, I now had so many more answers as to what had happened. I was able to step back from my intense anger and realized how truly sick Rob really was. I made the decision then that I would do whatever I could to get him the help he needed and that I would no longer take harsh and hurtful digs at Rob. I’d shelve my anger and support him until he was better.
There were several other suicide attempts. Rob would tell me in great graphic detail about each of them. I remember listening and thinking, “oh my god! I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” I listened very closely, didn’t interrupt as I’d so often done, because I wanted him to let it all out and hoped that I would learn something to help keep Rob alive. I always asked what it was that stopped him from following through and he told me it was seeing our son’s face and knowing he couldn’t do that to him. In the end, even my son was not enough to override the intense, repetitive suicidal thoughts Rob was having. The deep despair. The self-loathing. The complete loss of hope that things could ever be better and turned around. In his depressed and clouded mind, he carried out his suicide.
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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