National Survivors of Suicide Day – Nov. 20th – Part 36 Special Edition
Today I’m doing a special post to honour all those survivors, myself included, who have lost a loved one to suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is organizing this with many cities and countries participating holding events to allow those survivors to come together with others who share the common bond of suicide. It’s an opportunity for healing.
I belong to quite a few suicide prevention/support pages on Facebook, today if you check out AFSP’s page, you will see many posting pictures and messages to their loved ones lost. It breaks my heart with each story I read, yet somehow it helps me heal too just knowing others are out there just like me, all in varying stages of grief and healing. Only those who have lost someone to suicide truly know what it’s like, it’s a different kind of grief than any other for many reasons.
There still to this day is a very strong stigma attached to mental health illness and especially to suicide. Most often it makes people uncomfortable just hearing the word suicide, they don’t know what to say or do to comfort and many just avoid it entirely. As a result, those left grieving and in so much pain, with so many questions that go unanswered, don’t get the support they need. Let me just say as a survivor myself, there is no expectation for others to have the answers to my questions, you just need a soft, safe place to fall, a shoulder to lean on or cry on, someone to just listen and comfort you.
I lost my husband Rob to suicide almost 10 years ago now, it was Christmas 2000 when he died by suicide. I can say that my life changed from that moment on in a way I could never have imagined. I am using this blog to tell of my experience, both from the time prior to his suicide, as well as what transpired afterwards. I will briefly recount a bit now just for this post today, if you’re interested in learning more, go back to the beginning and you’ll get the extended version.
We had separated Valentine’s Day Feb. 14th, 2000. It was mutual, but upsetting nonetheless. We continued working together as we shared a business, that was particularly difficult. The circumstances under which we’d separated where not at all what I thought they were and many painful discoveries were made over the next 10 months prior to his death.
I’d been with Rob since 14, he was my first and only love. I loved him but also hated what he’d done so this was an especially difficult emotional rollercoaster. Rob really began to fall apart badly at the beginning of December 2000, had tried many ways and many times to end his life and he would discuss all with me in great depth. This too was something I had never thought I’d be experiencing, but I listened trying to figure out how I could help him stay alive. One of his attempts resulted in him being committed to a mental health insitution, but even after attempting, the laws only allow 72 hours holding time, so he was out in no better shape than when he went in. It was at this time that he was diagnosed as being bi-polar, and finally we had a name or medical condition that explained much of what had gone on for so long.
Our relationship was always tumultuous, but I felt we’d be together forever and had known no other relationship to compare it to. I felt we were a team no matter what. I knew for my own self respect I could never be his wife again, but I also loved him and wanted him to stay alive and get the help he needed to turn his life around. Our business was failing badly by this point, we had absolutely no employees at all and something I thought Rob would never do, which was bail on me and the business started happening with alarming frequency during the month of December.
My world was already upside down, I was dealing with way more emotions than I’d ever had to before, yet somehow I kept it together. The constant strain of not knowing what he might do next took a toll on me, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for him day in/day out. We talked more in the last 6 months of Rob’s life than we’d talked in almost 30 years of being together. It’s what I’d wished all along to have with my life partner, was such a shame it took such drastic circumstances to bring that out. There was nothing left unsaid really, apologies were made, lots of tears shed by both of us, but it didn’t change the outcome that our lives both personally and business wise were coming apart at the seams.
Rob was losing weight, had not been sleeping well at all, he’d started smoking again and unfortunately was drinking too much as well. I remember quite clearly looking at him, I mean “really” looking at him, seeing the strong, stubborn, obstinate, cocky man I’d known most of my life become a shadow of his former self. He was broken in all ways and it broke my heart to see him like that.
The holidays are an especially difficult time for many and for those with mental health illnesses and alone, it’s the highest rate of suicide time of the year. I was aware of this, so was Rob. He had promised to attend Christmas at his sister’s place Christmas Eve, they were German and always celebrated on the 24th. I was exhausted and it’s the last thing I felt like doing, but I so wanted to give my 9 1/2 year old son as normal a Christmas as was possible under the circumstances.
I fluctuated between absolutely hating Rob and being furious at what he’d done to feeling very sorry for him and having great compassion. This fluctuation increased dramatically during the approaching holidays. I didn’t know how I’d get through Christmas with his family, but knew somehow as I always did, I would. I was burned out and tired of checking on Rob day in/day out so on the 24th I did not call him to see if he’d be going to his sister’s, or whether he’d like to drive up with my son and I. I just didn’t feel like calling and felt he’d promised me, my son and his family, so it was up to him to get himself there.
I arrived at his sister’s, his entire family was there, but no Rob. They all asked where he was and I said I didn’t know, but that he’d probably show up in a bit. We did our usual gift opening, sat down to dinner, Rob’s spot vacant. His mother was very worried and had tried several times to call the boat to see where he was, tried his cell phone too and got no answer. I was very mad that he’d not shown up for his son at least, so I made no attempt to call.
We got through that day, in fact, it was one of the nicest, most relaxed, harmonious times I could remember. My son and I drove home that night, I was wiped out, but happy it had been a good day overall. I thought about calling Rob that night, but just didn’t have the energy to deal with him and was mad he’d not come, so I tucked my son into bed and think we even read “The Night Before Christmas” which was a tradition using an old book of mine from when I was a small girl. I kissed him goodnight, filled his stocking and put his presents under the tree and poured myself into bed.
Got up Christmas morning, my son woke me up before getting excitedly into his goodies. My mood was not good but I put on a brave front as I watched him. The thoughts going through my head were whether Rob was still alive, whether he’d taken off with someone else, how was I going to get through today and another Christmas with my family. I then thought what a strange thought to not know if your husband was alive or dead Christmas morning :(. I suggested to my son to call his Dad and wish him a Merry Christmas. My son said that his Dad could call him and there was definite upset in his voice. I told him your Dad isn’t well right now, why don’t you be the bigger of the two and just call, I know he’d like that.
My son called, got no answer but did leave a quick message. Rob was probably already gone by this point, but we wouldn’t find out for another 2 days.
When we did find out, a girlfriend of mine came to my shop where I was in doing some paperwork necessary for year end. I’d asked her to please knock on our boat just to see if Rob answered. It took too long and I knew something wasn’t right, but then she was knocking on my locked entrance door. I crossed the showroom floor, all the while looking at her and could see she was most upset. I unlocked the door and she immediately burst out saying “He’s Gone! Barb, he’s gone!”. I realized immediately she meant Rob was dead. The first words out of my mouth were “It’s over”. The finality of it hit me all at once, what I meant was that it’s over for Rob, that he was no longer suffering, that it was over for me, that I didn’t have to keep fighting to keep him alive.
I knew right there and then that life would never be the same again. I could never have imagined that things would end this way, not in a million years. I got into auto mode doing what needed to be done, it kept me occupied and busy. I never really had the thoughts that so many survivors have of whether I could have done more, I knew I’d tried harder than anyone and so there was absolutely no guilt. Just complete and utter sadness that this is what had come to be, mixed with relief that it was no more. Most would never use the word relief as it seems so harsh and self-centered, but for me, it is what I felt.
Those who are in such pain and turmoil do I’m sure consider what their suicide will do to those left behind. I’ve read many times with many stories that they feel the world and everyone in it would be better off without them in it. Rob had even mentioned this a few times too. On Rob’s previous attempts and our ensuing talks about them, I always asked what it was that stopped him. He always told me he saw our son’s face and he just couldn’t go through with it. I latched onto that and told him “Good! Keep that image every time you’re having those thoughts”, but in the end, I guess even that was not enough to stop him, the pain just too much to continue for another day.
I’ve also seen many survivors say that their loved one couldn’t have loved them all that much if they chose to do this, they chose to leave forever. Please understand that it’s not a measure of how much they loved you, it’s the fact they were in such turmoil and pain that they simply couldn’t stand it a minute longer and felt this was the only way to end their pain.
Many survivors feel they didn’t do enough to stop it, that they didn’t see the signs – again I ask you to not beat yourselves up, in most cases, there is little we can do when one is completely determined, and many have these thoughts for a very long time. In my husband’s case, he said he spent a great deal of time planning out exactly what he would do, down to very minute details.
I think if there’s one question that comes up the most with survivors, it is WHY? It’s a question that I finally learned to stop asking because there is no way to get the answer and you make yourself sick with wondering. I don’t think there’s ever one easy answer anyhow, I think it’s often times many reasons why and the person contemplating taking their own life often does not have the answer either. If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be to stop asking why, accept that this is what they decided, whether of sound mind or not, and just know they are now in a better place and no longer in such anguish.
This post is to honour not only our loved ones departed by suicide, but it is also to honour all those left behind devastated by their loss. Survivors are amazing, resilient, loving people left to deal with a tragedy the best way they know how. Fortunately there are many support groups and sites now for those who are ready for this type of support. In the meantime, if you know of someone who has lost someone to suicide, I ask you to reach out to them, give them a hug and tell them you’re sorry for their loss. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than just doing that – and it will help!
I am posting today for the very first time a photo of my late husband Rob. It’s not the best, but one where I know he was at his happiest, aboard our first boat, a sailboat. He’s got a big white bandage on his finger and that brings a smile to my face as this was typical Rob too. He was a master mechanic by trade and constantly hurting himself so to see this brings back those memories too. It’s been almost 10 years now Rob, I wish you much peace too. RIP Rob Hildebrand Mar. 21, 1953 – Dec. 25, 2000.
My heart goes out to each and every person lost to suicide and their loved ones left behind grieving, sometimes inconsolable. My wish to each survivor is that you heal and have peace and in closing I’d like to quote something that really struck a chord for me on AFSP’s site today:
“It’s one minute at a time. That’s all you have to make it through. One minute at a time”. ~ Glover, Richboro, Bucks County.