(This originally ran as a Facebook status update. Then, my dear friend from college, Amy, ran it as a feature piece on her blog, Using Our Words, http://www.usingourwords.com. Shortly thereafter, Christina at Project Underblog, http://www.projectunderblog.com, graciously ran it there as well. Both of these women have been instrumental in giving me the push and confidence I needed – and I am so grateful.)
On May 18, 2002, I had what, at the time I did not realize would be, my last phone conversation with my first husband, Greg. I am forever grateful that despite it being a difficult call, as we were dealing with some very, very difficult circumstances, the call ended with both of us telling each other “I love you.” Later that evening, Greg sent me the last email I would ever receive from him. On the morning of May 20, 2002, I received the phone call that dropped me to my knees screaming and changed my life forever. Greg was gone.
And so began the clusterfuck of grief and recovery. The painful, oftentimes periods of blackout, poor decisions, never getting out of bed, crying 24/7 process of grief and recovery. Making decisions I didn’t want to make; having conversations I didn’t want to have; writing obituaries and eulogies I couldn’t believe I had to write; facing a life that was completely and utterly not anything I had planned. Answering questions I didn’t want to or couldn’t answer. The one that was asked at least 100 times (and that I asked myself at least a million) – do you think he would have done it if I had been home with him? I tortured myself with that one. The truth is, and something it took me a long time to be honest about, he had attempted before. More than once. Before he was sober, when his bipolar was really out of control, he had attempted but denied at the time they were attempts. In fact, in the month leading up to his suicide, he had lost two friends to suicide. We had talked about it – how devastating it was to the family and friends left behind. He swore to me he would never do that to me – that it wasn’t even on his radar. So, the answer I have, is that I do think he waited for me to be out of our house because he didn’t want me finding him. Maybe my absence made it easier to complete what he set out to do. But, even if I was there, I think it would have just postponed what likely would eventually happen. It all breaks my heart. Still.
Most of the time after Greg died, I simply just wondered how I would survive. If you had asked me in the days and weeks and months after, what I would be doing in 2014, I probably would have answered, I don’t expect to live that long. Because the pain was so intense and day to day survival was too much. I had amazing friends and family around me, and I always put on a good show, but I could not see past the pain. In all of it’s manifestations – physical, emotional, spiritual. I had no faith. I hated God, who at one time had provided me great comfort. I had bills I could not pay; I was living with my parents; I was trying to earn a living so I wouldn’t be living with my parents forever. If I survived, I certainly didn’t think I would find long term love again. Have children? I gave up on that dream. For a period of time I was extremely self destructive. I drank too much; I medicated too much; I spent time with people I had no business spending time with (loneliness does that to you), and I felt sorry for myself. A lot.
So the fact that I have remarried, have two beautiful sons, a family who has stood by me through it all and amazing friends who have let me go through this process without judgment, speaks volumes to the fact that what I say to every member of every Survivors After Suicide Loss group I co-facilitate is true: You will survive this. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not always going to be fun. Sometimes it’s by the skin of your teeth and sometimes it’s after swimming upstream for miles and miles, but you will survive this. On your own timetable, in your own way, you will survive this. You will lose friends and gain others. You will clean house. You will scream at people; you will act like a crazy person at times; you will sleep your life away at times; you will cry more than you thought humanly possible, but you will survive. For yourself, but also because your loved one wants that for you. Truly. It’s why we are called Survivors. There is no other way to describe this type of loss. To get to the other side is to survive.
I have often said that rocking in the corner in the fetal position would have been preferred to some of the things I have had to go through since Greg’s death. However; that isn’t the legacy I want to leave for him. I wanted his death to have meaning. To serve a purpose. To help others. In sharing his story, my story, our story, I hope that if one person can relate, if one person seeks help, this is not in vain. It’s why I continue to do what I can to raise awareness regarding mental health issues, and why I continue to volunteer with SAS.
Greg blessed me by leaving me beautiful letters with instructions on what he wanted for me. They included, in his words,
1. Continue to smile that smile of yours.
2. Be happy.
3. Love. Love the way you do and don’t let this change that.
I have tried my best to do all three of those on a daily basis. My process, as difficult as it was at times, brought me to my husband and to our boys. And I cannot imagine life without them. That is sometimes odd to even speak or write, because it means that Greg is not here. And that is something that is so hard to imagine – a life where I didn’t know Greg or a life where Greg doesn’t exist. Many people don’t understand why I continue to speak about, write about or honor Greg as I do. It’s simple. The me that you know, well, that me wouldn’t be here if not for Greg. His death was a defining moment in my life. I do not let it define me, but it is a part of me. And I can honor the love we shared while still giving all my love to my husband and our boys. Some people just don’t get it. But they haven’t walked in my shoes.
Twelve years ago, my life came crashing down around me. I survived.