A Quick Note

Usually this state gives us bitter, cold February days. Instead, we’ve been gifted a few warm days followed (or preceded) by frigid temperatures. Today, the wind is blowing loudly, the trees are rustling, and the sky isn’t quite gray. Still, it doesn’t project a sunny face, either.

My boys, almost finished with their schoolwork, decided to take a walk. The baby is half-asleep and I have a cup of lukewarm coffee; it’s my signature drink on sleepy days when I’ve homework to complete.

I miss him right now. I wonder what he’d be doing. Probably working, probably still in the Navy. The Navy has down-sized and is always trying to save money in weird ways, so I doubt they’d have moved our family far away. But who knows.

I remember he wanted to go IA (Individual Assignment) to Bahrain or elsewhere. He thought it would look good on his evaluation. He wanted to make master chief one day. He wanted to stay in the Navy for as long as the Navy would keep him.

He loved his job. He was an AD (Aviation Machinist’s Mate). He loved getting his hands dirty, he loved the ins and outs of working on jet engines. He wanted to be promoted, but hated the idea of only doing paperwork while the his junior personnel were out working and having fun.

We used to talk about the future all the time. We disagreed on how it would look. He wanted me to stay in the Navy until retirement, but that was never my plan and it didn’t change after we married. I did allow an extra enlistment, but I wanted to be done after that. He was content with two children and I disliked the idea of never having another one.

This blog post is rambly, but that’s how my brain feels right now.

I miss him.

What I wonder about the most is how the relationship between him and his boys would have been. No man will ever love them or be as proud of them as him. I wish they would be able to have that.

And Life Didn’t Stop

I remember the day it happened like it was yesterday. I’ve learned to tuck it away, though, lest I break down every other day. It’s not a fun memory and sometimes it sneaks back into view, leaving me breathless. Most of the time, it’s a small hiccup, a small break in speech, a sharp inhale of breath, or a pause in step. Then, life goes forward.

I remember waking up next to my toddler. I had slept in their room and had curled myself into a ball on the toddler bed. I was still exhausted, but work was a few hours away and we both had to get up and go. I had children to get ready for daycare, he had his cigarette to smoke before his morning routine. We had fought the night before and I knew the morning would bring uncomfortable silence and hurt feelings. I didn’t know I was wrong yet.

I remember the police lights flashing in from the windows. I remember sitting on my couch wondering how someone could cry so much. I remember all of the extra people in my house. I remember my children finally carried out of the house, blankets draped over them so they wouldn’t see their father’s body all blooded in the car. I remember the police asking a few gentle questions.

I remember wondering how the sun was still rising. I remember realizing that people had had their morning coffee, kissed their kids good-bye, and left to work. I remember knowing that the sun would eventually set and the next day would come. My world had shattered and life didn’t stop. That seemed cruel.

With one bullet, my husband had changed my entire life and the life of our children. He had broken the hearts of everyone who loved him. It’s like a rock thrown into a body of water. The impact is violent. And even when the event is over, the ripples continue to stretch and grow.

I am almost six years out after his death. Life didn’t stop for me. It crushed me and it was hard, very hard sometimes, but it didn’t stop.

Our children are seven–almost eight!–and ten years old. It’s amazing how quickly they went from helpless newborns to big kids. I wish their father was here to see their transition. That’s probably the source of most of my anger or regret or guilt related to the suicide.

Still, almost six years later and I can say that life didn’t stop for me. Life doesn’t stop. And it’ll continue for you as well. That is not to say that you’ll forget or ever stop missing them. Nor does it mean that there will be no hard days. However, there are a lot of great days coming. I am now engaged to a wonderful man. I have a four-month-old daughter who is the apple of everyone’s eye. My sons cannot wait until she grows up enough so they can share with her the stories of their own father. I am in college and opening a new chapter of my life. As always, there are ups and downs, fights and excitement, progress and set backs in everything. But life goes on.

There is hope and good things in the future for me and for all of you reading. I get emails and comments every now and again about recent suicides. The pain will subside, I promise. There is no more normal, there will only ever be a new normal. There will now always be a divider in your life: before and after. Milestones will sometimes be marked on the anniversary of the suicide: one year after, first Christmas, second birthday, third anniversary, and so on.

Life goes on. At first that seems like such a cruel thing to bear, but eventually, it sounds like a promise.

 

Are You Afraid of Dying

Having one’s husband completely change his and everyone’s future has a way of messing with one’s mind. In the instant that it takes to pull a trigger, his life had ended, the future I thought we had was over, his children were now fatherless, and nothing would ever be the same. The flood of emotions that comes with suicide would reverberate through the people that knew and loved him. Questions would come that would never be answered. I would still be here. His children would still grow up. Everything would be uncertain for a long period of time.

I’m afraid of dying. I’m slightly aware that one day my life will end. In that sort of way, I have the vague thought of life simply slipping from my grasp. I will give my last breath to the universe and in return, I will start my journey in becoming something else entirely. It’s strange to think of myself as ceasing to exist.

In the other sense, I’m terrified. I’m so afraid that I will leave my children motherless. I promised them, hoping that if there is a god out there, that he would hear me and make my promise come true, that I would stay here. I may have even uttered forever, because small children don’t understand time. Forever to them just means for a long, long while. I promised I would not just mysteriously vanish, I would not get sick. I promised them that I would be beyond human and stay until they didn’t need me.

“I’ll need you forever, mama,” they said.

Forever I’ll stay, then.

I have a daughter now. She is four months old and growing rapidly. She’s a delight and the apple of everyone’s eye. The boys find her playful and beautiful. Yet, there’s something that separates them. She has a father who can dote on her. They do not. If something happened to me, she has her father. They, on the other hand, would be true orphans. And while I know that losing their father was a blow, at this age, I feel that losing me would be even worse.

I feel that I’m more anxious, post-suicide, than I ever was before. Sometimes this rabbit hole is opened and I fall down it, tumbling faster and faster as I think about life after mother (me). I imagine the days and months after my death. I imagine their tears and hurt. I try really hard not to go down this path, but sometimes it grasps hold of me.

I’m acutely aware of this and sometimes when I’m far from them (they are 7 and 10 years old, so every now and again they are at a friend’s house or being baby-sat while I go on a date with their stepfather), I begin worrying that we’ll meet our ends in a car crash or something similar. What then?

I wonder if I should keep these fears internalized or utter them out loud every now and again. I’m not really sure what to do with these feelings. I know they’re irrational. I know that death is inevitable for everyone. I know that I can only be as safe as I can be, aside from that, we’re all at the mercy of our circumstances.

Still, it haunts me.

I Wish I Had His Voice with Me

I saw a video on Facebook showing two young girls getting a build-a-bear with their grandfather’s voice recorded on it. The girls were delighted with the stuffed animal. Then, at a relative’s prompting, they squeezed the paw and their grandfather spoke. The big deal was that their grandfather had passed away the year before.

Cue tears.

It hit home for me, though, because I wished I could do something like that for my boys. I wish I had videos of their father. Recordings of his voice. I wish I had hours upon hours of him talking and laughing and playing with them. I wish I had more pictures. If I could be granted the tiniest wish, aside from them still having their father, of course, it would be having recorded memories.

It’s one thing to tell them stories of their father. It’s another to actually let them see how they were swung around, tossed up in the air, and smothered in kisses. It’s another to hear bedtime stories read by him. Even I don’t quite remember how he sounded like. I can almost hear it, like whispering that’s a little too low. Whenever I get close to realizing the sound, it’s scampers away into the recesses of my mind.

I know that if I were to hear his voice or laugh, I’d recognize it immediately…but as of right now, I cannot describe it.

Why didn’t I take more photos, record more videos, and store them more carefully? What ignorance, to think that we had the rest of our lives…

December 5th

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Today’s your birthday. You should be 33 years old. Would we be prepping for Christmas? Would you still be in the military? It seems so weird that you’ve been gone so long. Sometimes I feel like you’re going to walk in the front door. Or I’m going to bump into you accidentally when I’m out and about shopping.

Every now and again, a stranger will have your profile or chin or gait. He’ll remind me of you when you walked away, the way your shoulders moved subtly. Or maybe someone’s boisterous laugh will grab my attention.

You’re an old friend who moved far, far away.

Other times it feels like you and I were together in a past life. In our old life we were husband and wife. Maybe we stayed together until we got old and gray. We had our children and watched them grow up and make their own little babies. We shared sunsets and coffees. We argued and made up.

That’s an alternative life. Maybe in a world with parallel universes, one of those threads contains that reality.

You feel like a past life sometimes. Whisps of old memories shutter through my current ones. A flash of a different color in a movie scene.

You took your life when you were 27. Now here we are almost six years later.

Today weighs heavily on my heart. You shouldn’t be in the ground yet. You should be with your sons. Oh, how I wish you could see them. They’re beautiful. They’re growing into little men.

Instead, I wake up with a bitter taste in my mouth, a heavy stone on my chest. You didn’t even complete thirty rotations around the sun. With your own hand, you created this harsh reality. Today is your birthday, but there is no celebration. Only memories. Some smiles, but mostly tears.

We miss you. I wish you would have known that.

The Right Partner

Loving after loss is hard. It’s hard to let go again. It’s hard to forgive yourself enough to open up to another. It’s hard to think that if it weren’t for your loss…you wouldn’t be where you are today. What a trippy thought.

It’s hard, I’m sure, for your significant other as well. There will always be another person in your heart. There will always be triggers, moments of sadness, memories (both good and bad), and more. It’s a lot to handle.

People come with all sorts of baggage, but the loss this big is a doozy.

At first it feels like you’ll never love again. Do you deserve it? you’ll wonder. Do you need it? Is it worth it? Why should you care to fall for someone else? Or maybe it’s the opposite: you fall for someone very quickly. It’s up to you to decide when it’s right to enter a relationship, no one else.

A word of caution, though: some people are intimidated by ghosts.

Yes, your husband/wife/significant other is gone. In ugly terms: they’re dead and will always be that way. However, that doesn’t mean that they have been erased. Some people cannot handle that.

“When will you get over him (her)?”

“It just feels like you talk about him (her) too much.”

“Will there ever be a time you stop thinking/talking/crying about him (her)?”

Those are all wrong questions. Those are all huge red flags that you are with the wrong person.

The right person will be okay with the memory of another. There will be no competition, no jealousy, no envy. There will be no mention of “getting over” your loved one. There will be no feelings of hiding what you’re feeling. Crying in front of your new partner should be okay. Discussing your loved one should be okay.

Death is so taboo in this country. More so mental illness and/or suicide. After our loved one has died and the weeks following the chaos is over…people assume the dust has settled and you’ve made your peace with it all. No one realizes that it haunts you forever. Yes, the pain fades. Yes, the triggers lessen. But you will never forget him or her. You will never forget what happened. You are a different person than before that awful day. It is a not a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing that happens. How could you be the same after such a tragedy?

The truth is that the right partner will be able to accept you with all of your demons and all of your memories. And I do not mean that in the romanticized way that means you’ll never fight and he or she will be 100% understanding 100% of the time. It just means that he or she will never make you feel as if your loved one has died and needs to disappear from memory. If that’s the case, then know that there are people out there who aren’t intimidated by the memories.

Parenting After Suicide

I’d love to say that your children will always be your strength. In a way, this is true. You get out of bed in the morning those first few days, weeks, months…years…for them. You keep a stiff upper lip for them. You keep hope alive for them. Even so, sometimes they are what make the days hard.

Parenting is hard. Period. Much more when something this monumental happens. My children were younger when their father took his life. My middle child was 2 and my oldest 4. My oldest has a few concrete memories of his father. My second has a few made up memories. I don’t correct him.

They miss their father. Or rather, my oldest misses his father, my second missed the concept of having a father. Now that I am with someone, “married” so-to-speak, he is content. If nothing else, he is curious about the man that is part of him. He asks questions about who his father was, what he looked like, talked like, what he liked. My oldest, since moving in with his stepdad, is the one who continues to cry about his father. My second has stopped. It’s interesting.

We cope as a family. I talk to my boys about their dad. They enjoy it. They know that their father took his own life. They know about depression. They know about mental illness. They know that suicide is a very real thing. They are now 7 and 9 years old.

7 and 9. Babies, basically. The experts say that children don’t have a real grasp of what death is until about 5 or 6 years old. Before that, it’s an abstract concept. I believe that. I have seen the stages of accepting their father’s death as a permanent thing.

I think the concept of suicide takes longer to internalize. The concept of mental health and mental illnesses even longer, maybe.

An example: My children were told to clean. At first, they are somewhat willing. As the work gets harder, they do what a lot of children do: whine. They complained and drug their feet. My patience grew thin, especially when the baby started crying and needed to nurse. This is my handicap. She is 6 weeks old and nursing around the clock. I cannot supervise like before.

“We’re done [with the bathroom],” reported my oldest. When I checked it I saw that they had dirty rags on the floor and a wad of toilet paper soaked in urine next to the toilet.

“Uh, no. Not even close,” I sighed.

“This is taking forever!” he cried. We had a bit of a fight and he storms off, “I wish I could just kill myself!”

This is a refrain that he likes to repeat. Along with: I want to die. I hate my life.

You get the idea.

Early on I melted every time. It brought me to tears. I know that my children have a higher risk of developing depression, etc. I know they’re at a higher risk of attempting and/or completing suicide. It terrifies me. And I would melt and cry.

However, the years have passed and I have come to realize that 1) I cannot let their father’s death act as a crutch in which they can escape any difficult thing in life and 2) I cannot live my life terrified that any wrong thing I do will up their desire to actually attempt suicide.

And so my oldest and I collided. You will NOT say those words in my house. You will NOT say those words in front of me. 

He was angry and upset. His face darkened and he stamped about the bathroom. But he cleaned the bathroom with the help of his brother. Later that day he would hug me and say he loved me. His earlier tantrum was over.

That’s how I have to think of those outbursts. Tantrums. He doesn’t know exactly what he’s saying. Just like five-year-old him didn’t know what he was asking for when he would plead for us all to die and go to heaven to visit his father. My guilt, my conscience, and my grief cannot undermine my ability to parent. It just can’t.

His suicide has impacted so many things in our lives. It’s not just that we miss him. It’s not just that it introduced grief and guilt into my life. It affects my parenting. Little by little, I’m learning that it shouldn’t be allowed to anymore.

There’s a Future not Just a Past

I haven’t been on blogging as much recently. Life is changing. Currently, I’m trying to type while nursing my one month old daughter.

I have a daughter now. How amazing.

Emotionally, this pregnancy was harder than my previous two. I know that guilt accompanied some of that. It was so easy to feel guilty about “moving on” or being happy. More than that, the strange realization that if it weren’t for my husband’s death, this little girl wouldn’t have been born. Though, those two things aren’t very much related. It’s all the same long path in life. I’m just walking down the road.

Either way, I wanted to write something down since the days are still so hectic. The postpartum period certainly isn’t a calm time. I have a lot of topics I want to discuss and a lot of things that were brought up during the pregnancy and postpartum for myself and my boys. I doubt they’ll be addressed soon, but I’ll try.

What I wanted to get out today was that I’m happy. I’m content with my life at the moment. My boys are watching a show on Netflix after a day of home school. My daughter is finally drifting off. My partner is fast asleep after a long shift at work and some work he had to do at home. It’s mostly quiet and I hear the sound of the crickets outside our bedroom window.

So often, I turn to this blog when I’m sad or distraught. I type furiously away as emotions roll through me. I receive a lot of feedback on how this blog has helped people feel less alone or helped them with an issue. You all have no idea how much you help me. I’ve felt much less alone when you all contact me via email or comments. This blog was a scary thing to put out to the public for me, but after a while it was my way of coping and decompressing.

I do feel sad still, guilty even, angry sometimes. Yet, there are so many more days that I’m filled with joy or hope or peace.

I have a past, but I’m not living in it anymore. I live for today and plan for tomorrow. I smile and laugh without guilt (usually). The pain is still there when I look at pictures or reminisce with my children, but it’s duller. I look back at the happy memories and smile more at the thought of them.

Life goes on. Happiness returns. And my husband’s memory will always be here with me.

Letting Go of the Guilt

One of the resounding feelings that stays for months and years after a suicide is the guilt.

I feel guilty.

I missed warning signs.
I missed things that were said.
I missed how bad the depression was.
I accepted every smile as “fine.”
I never thought…

And I think that’s why there is guilt. Hindsight is not only 20/20, but it’s a magnifying glass. It shows you exactly where you went wrong, what you  missed, and gives plenty of room for “what ifs.”

How do we let go of guilt?

Perhaps the first step is to realize that suicide is the symptom of something bigger, deeper, and more problematic. It is a side effect. It is not the “thing.” Some people complete suicide because they are depressed. Not all depressed people will complete or attempt suicide. And so on.

Suicide is an irrational thing. The question of “why” will never really be answered, because while there may be a trigger, it’s not a satisfying answer. It’s not concrete and logical. It is irrational, illogical.

So at the very least I need to keep telling myself: I did not do this. It was not my choice. It was barely a choice for my husband. He was not himself.

The second step?

Forgiving him….

Life After Death: A Thank You

The blog is called Life After Death. What does that mean?

When I first began this blog, it was in response to the very few resources I had found. Sure, there are websites that are great for responding to suicidal threats, full of resources for the months and years after suicide. Even with all of their resources and information, they read like pamphlets, manuals of what to do. These are the stages of grief…… This is normal after a suicide….. These are the numbers to call……

There was nothing to connect me with the other people reading those words, those pages. I felt completely and utterly alone. I could read the website pages, but it had none of the empathy as someone who could tell me that sobbing yourself to sleep would happen. It didn’t describe the empty feeling that stayed like a black hole within your heart. It didn’t explain that you would walk into a room and The Remembering would happen…that feeling of expecting your loved one to be there, only to remember that he wouldn’t be anywhere. He was buried deep within the unforgiving earth. It didn’t explain that you would have great days. It wouldn’t explain that there were wild, crazy days.

I searched for a blog or book or webpage that would have the rawness that I wanted. I needed someone to reach out to me and say that I wasn’t alone. I found nothing. And so I created this blog…

And I want to thank everyone who has commented, messaged, and emailed. You have no idea how much it means to me that you read what I write. Most is written and not edited. Pure emotion plasters the screen sometimes. Other times I try to infuse the stories with statistics or resources. Either way, it was a scary thing to write what I was feeling. There was a vulnerability there, but also a way to release all of my feelings and emotions. I get a lot of thank yous, but I want to return them all 100-fold, because your stories have also made me feel less alone. If I’ve helped you at all, you’ve helped me so much more.

Again, thank you for reading, for reaching out, for sharing. It means the world to me.