Its 10:30am on a Friday. I am home with my sweet 2-year-old son who has caught whatever new stomach bug is floating around. It is my 28th day home from work this school year. I am now in unpaid time off territory as all my paid time was used for an unexpected funeral for my husband early this year. I am the only parent now. This is what suicide looks like.
It’s now 6pm on the same Friday. Our family had a tradition of fish on Fridays. My husband would come home from work, wrestle around with our two boys, put on some tunes and start working on our grilled fish dinner. Tonight, I am making the fish. We listen to some of our Angel Daddy’s favorite music, giggle and smile sharing memories and then cuddle up to watch a movie and sleep. This is what suicide looks like.
One lovely Sunday morning we spent the day at our local blueberry farm. Just the 3 of us, picking blueberries, listening to live country music and enjoying blueberry flavored everything. Last year, this moment looked starkly different, as my husband was alive and filling buckets of blueberries with us while singing along to the music. Now, I’m the only one singing. And our two boys are doing all the picking. This is what suicide looks like.
Sunday, 7:15pm. We have a family photo shoot in a beautiful outdoor setting. One person is missing though. We have brought some of his favorite items. A guitar, his favorite chair and pictures of him to hold so he is with us as we pose. His absence felt huge that evening. This is what suicide looks like.
Since receiving the phone call that my talented, beloved, artistic husband was found dead, I’ve read article after article about suicide including how to survive following spousal suicide and how to talk to your children about it. I’ve been to therapy and attended a grief support group where the phases of grief are discussed and where I learned it wasn’t my fault or anyone’s fault. I’ve tried to find purpose by reading others’ suicide survivor stories. The list goes on. The one solid thing I’ve learned is that the life we knew before is over and that we must find new purpose following our loss. This is what suicide looks like.
My husband loved his children. He loved our two dogs. He even loved our wild cat. He cherished his job and loved his work family as much as our own. Life was chaotic, yet beautiful. I knew my husband suffered from depression. I knew he suffered from suicidal ideation. After suffering my own suicidal thoughts, my husband and I opened up to each other about our mental health. He shared how far back his “darkness”, as he would call it, extended. I shared the visual and intrusive thoughts I suffered following the birth of our boys. It actually brought us closer. I believe in the power of therapy. I also believe in medication management for mental health, if indicated. Pair those two things with mindfulness, exercises, and gratitude and we should be able to overcome anything, right?
While I wish this were true, it isn’t for many. My husband had all those tools. He used all those strategies. But the “darkness” and stigma he felt he carried for decades proved to be too much of a burden. He practiced mindfulness via yoga and walking. He lived a life of gratitude. I went back and read text messages and notes he left where he reminded himself to be thankful for his children, his family, and his job. And he smiled. Boy did he smile. His laugh was contagious. He gave his laugh freely and cooked for our community. He loved to feed our friends and family. How could a man who was filled with gratitude, humor, and love plus all the strategies needed to overcome “darkness” still feel such hopelessness? There is no tangible answer, for he is gone. This is what suicide looks like.
There is no one to blame; this I know for certain. One more thing I know for certain is that our society’s stigma played a role in his mental health.
After being with him for 10 years, I knew of his depression and suicidal ideation. I watched him battle a war no one should have to bear; a war that exists in a world that hasn’t accepted it yet. The truth is that mental health is far too unaccepted, hushed, stigmatized and denied. This is not what mental health should look like. My husband belongs to a large group of people who won’t speak out about their inner thoughts. Instead, they continue to live in fear, shame, and guilt over these emotions. The stigma contributed over and over to my husband’s destructive loop of self-hatred and shame. This is not what suicide should look like.
Telling my husband all he has to live for, his children, his wife, his mom and dad, his job, his love for his pets, his love for Georgia Football and grilling and laughing and work would not, and did not, save his life. He knew all these things. What he needed was acceptance and understanding. He needed connection with resources while in college and graduate school without feeling the stigma of going to therapy, taking medication or speaking openly about suicide, depression and personality disorders. He needed to be told, over and over again, that what he is experiencing is temporary and treatable. That is what mental health support should look like. Like an ocean of acceptance from family, friends, co-workers, medical staff and yourself.
We can longer be afraid to ask the difficult questions such as “Have you wished you were dead?”, “Have you thought about how you might do this?” and “Have you done anything, started to do anything or prepared to do anything to end your life?”. We must have the difficult conversations about counseling, psychiatry, inpatient hospitalization, outpatient services, medication management and so on. It is time to truly end this stigma so we can save lives and ensure the next generations of moms, dads, sons, daughters, friends and more choose to live. Not because they think they should due to being a parent, an employee, a son, etc. But because they believe their darkness is temporary, accepted and treatable. My wish is change to what suicide looks like so that another family doesn’t have to look like ours.
If you are suffering in silence or someone you know is suffering, please seek out these resources: