Christmas and New Years Survived.. again..only with New forms of Grief

It was a wonderful Christmas spent with family and friends. Aside from my daughter having caught the flu Christmas Eve it was pretty perfect.

We spent the holidays in the mountains in my childhood home surrounded by the trees, deer and elk scratching below the white snow blanketing the grass beneath. The air was crisp and fresh. The atmosphere quiet. So serenely still.

Nostalgia took over as I walked my dog around my small childhood town where me and my childhood friends played; sharing time between each of our homes, biking through the town without a fear or care in the world. As teenagers we played sports and partied in the forest. The familiar brought a smile to my face.

We celebrated the holidays with family and friends. People who know the kids and I and allowed us to rest and surround us with love. My mom and dad decorate the house each year and the decorations reminded me of the thrill of Santa coming, and the sound of family eating turkey. It was a pretty perfect Christmas.

Except it wasn’t; it was and it wasn’t simultaneously.

I had brought our stockings to hang over the fire place. It’s classic and beautiful. On Christmas Eve I sat in my dad’s rocking chair admiring those three stockings anticipating the kids opening their gifts enthusiastically.

Then it hits. It hits hard, fast, and without warning.

There is a stocking missing. There is a laugh missing. There is a person missing. My person. The person who would be as excited about the kids opening presents as I am. The only person who would share this with me.

This person is dead. He’s gone. My Peter, our Peter is gone.

I had to get up and leave. Grief has this way of coming in and making you breathless at the most inappropriate times. I sat in my brother’s childhood room and cried. I miss him. I miss sharing these moments with him. The kids kiss him in these moments and everything sucks and it’s unfair.

I remember finding his bin last year; the bin full of his belongings I was collecting to give back to him during our separation. I grieved last year but in a much different way.

New Years this year came with a different form of grief as well. A memory of our first New Years together haunted me all day. as I worked some overtime to get caught up at work. My getting ready after work to meet him back at work because he worked until midnight. I remember the outfit I wore. I remember taking the time to do my hair just right and fixing my make up. The black silk tank top matched perfectly with my purple dress pants and black earrings. We had been together for five months and everything still felt so new and exciting. I remember walking through the back doors just as the countdown to New Years started. He was standing at the slot cage, his big green eyes met mine just as everyone yelled Happy New Year. Except we didn’t yell. Our eyes stayed connected and we just smiled. The timing was perfect, the moment was perfect, I thought he was perfect.

This New Years this memory and that moment interrupted my thoughts all day. I wanted so desperately to go back to that place where I seen him and knew he was the one. The place and time where everything stood still; there was just us. The entire day was spent fighting the urge to tear my skin off because I was so desperate to get away from the pain, the grief and the want to go back to the perfect moments where he was alive, we were happy, and we were healthy.

I spent the evening being silently angry at him, getting drunk with two of his friends. I needed to numb the feelings that night. I needed to just not feel how I’d been feeling since Christmas Eve.

The point I guess I’m trying to make is the grief of last year wasn’t worse. In fact, I felt this year was worse. I don’t know if it’s because I gave up coping as well as I was, or if I was numb still, or if it’s just different from last year. Either way, year two is proving to be a challenge I wasn’t expecting.

I’m remembering more of the good, more of the man I married and less of the man bipolar turned him into. I’m remembering just how very much I loved him and how very much he made me laugh. These memories are a blessing and a curse because they make the pain worse.

The anger makes it easier to push forward. The memories make me desperate to go back.

I have no idea which way I’m going again even though I know I have no choice.

I have I mentioned how much I hate bipolar disorder right?

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Who am I mourning?

I wake up everyday still with him on my mind. When I go to bed I find myself going through the motions of the last three years of our lives together in my head…. then the entirety of our marriage. 

Who am I mourning? My husband. Our life. My children’s father. The hope we had for recovery, for  better treatment of the brain, and mental illness. Yet I am stuck with the anger of his decisions of the last years of his life and the hurt he caused dying the way he did. I am wrestling with the guilt.

I’m aware his decisions were not necessarily his own, as his mind was being driven by illness. But the pain and anger is there none-the – less.  

By the the time he was diagnosed, his caring, compassionate, hard working and creative personality had been scrambled and warped into a cruel, condescending and confused man, who pushed boundaries and shattered his family… the ones he always promised to protect. 

Looking back the illness was always there. My heart ached with regret one evening after a night out with friends. I had turned to look for him and saw him standing in the middle of the road, tears streaming down his face. I walked up to him to ask what was wrong and all he said was that he needed to go home and promptly departed in a cab. He refused to answer my calls until the next day. I had no idea what I had done wrong. All he said was sometimes that happens to him and he was fine. What had I done? 

Then, as the years passed, there were many times he would suddenly turn cruel with no provocation or reason. One night we had made plans to go for wings with his best friend. I decided to call a coworker and friend to join us when he blatantly yelled “No!” And turned to walk away. 

I was left confused and hurt again. I didn’t know what I had done. He came back into the living room and apologized for his reaction noting he had no idea why he had just done that. There were many moments like this in our marriage, and the moments seemed to  blend into days sometimes, weeks. And eventually months. 

I recall times when I’d see him laying on the couch or working on a project and I would think to myself “There he is! There is the man I fell in love with”. And months would go by without a hitch. I assumed these ups and downs were the normal part of marriage. Turns out, most healthy relationships aren’t like this, at least the downs are not as low, and the ups are not as high. 

Who am I mourning? 

All of him. His presence, his laugh, his intelligent mind that once was able to look at something and see a solution and create it when no one else could. 

Who am I mourning? 

The man who was able to be there for us when he was well and stable. The man who loved the kids and I more than anything in the world. The man who was gentle and caring and put his family first. 

Who am I mourning? 

My children’s father, mentor and my best friend. 

Who am I mourning? 

The TV fanatic who loved the river, sushi, and card games. The man who took my son as his own and helped to create our daughter. 

Bipolar disorder affected his brain. It change my husband’s personality and the person it made him is not whom I’m mourning. 

I won’t mourn the man that brought the homeless and drug addicted street people into our home; who put the kids and I at risk.

I won’t mourn the violent man that was rare but still alive just under the surface. 

I won’t mourn the man that destroyed our home, that left our children, that became a homeless person who lied and manipulated. 

I won’t mourn the man that lied about and became paranoid towards me and became delusional. The one that lied about his drug use and self medicating. 

I won’t mourn the man who used his friends, and lied to get his way. I won’t mourn the sleepless, arrogant asshat who left us in order to have a better life. 

I won’t mourn the man that slept 16 hours a day and would get angry at anyone who woke him. 

I won’t mourn the man that tried to take his own life and the one that succeeded in the end. I don’t mourn him because he was not my husband. 

That man was drivin by an illness that twisted his thoughts, impulses, and actions into an unknown person. I did not love that man. I did not love bipolar. In fact, I hated it. 

So when I cry, I will cry for the good man. The well man. The man I called Peter, and the man I loved and married and chose to have children with. When I cry I will cry for the creative fun loving man that taught me not to take things so seriously and to laugh. When I cry, I will cry for the man who would gently put his hand on my shoulder and rub the nape of my neck with his thumb and tell me “everything is going to be ok”. 

God I miss that man. Every. Single. Damn. Day. And that is who I am mourning. 

The Call that Changed My Life – The Day My Husband Died By Suicide (Part 1)

First, I have to say, I have a hard time saying the word “suicide”. It makes my stomach turn and I always fear people’s reactions. No one wants to talk about what makes them uncomfortable or sad, and survivors often fear judgment, especially those closest to the deceased. It took me several minutes of staring at the title of this post to put that word in there; suicide.

Suicide. Suicide. Suicide.

Maybe if I keep saying the word, I’ll become desensitized to it. Maybe my stomach won’t turn every time I say it, maybe my eyes won’t swell with tears as much and maybe the pain will stop. Probably not. But not talking about it or acknowledging suicide as a symptom to an illness doesn’t stop it from happening. So the word needs to be said even if it feels uncomfortable. 

The day my husband died by suicide, was like any other day I’ve had for the last year and a half. Simply put, fucked up. I’m not kidding. Our story with the existence of untreated mental illness in our lives was devastatingly fucked up.( Please excuse the language, but if you do not like cursing, I don’t recommend my blog!) I’m not meaning to cause stigma, it’s the exact opposite. We need to talk about it. Our communities need to acknowledge it; the worst needs to be acknowledged too; not just the ups and downs; the whole picture. The psychosis, the rages, the scary parts, the good moments, and the bad. But this is a post for another day.

Where was I? Oh right. Fucked up. It was fucked up because my husband had come out of a severely long, mixed manic episode that consisted of delusions, psychosis, losing our home, numerous police calls, numerous calls from the fire department, and random homeless people coming in and out of what used to be our safe place. No communication for several months to amicable text messages and me waiting for him to file for the divorce he so desperately wanted(which I believe was a result of the earlier mania) and I wanted to contest until he sought treatment.

After a seven month period of mania, mixed mania, five of which were riddled with psychosis, suddenly, he was “better”. According to his sister that is. I had lived with him for 11 1/2 years. I’d seen the ups(that’s an understatement) and had experienced what it looked like for him to become “better”. Due to his playing around with his medication, and marijuana use, his better didn’t last long, and after this episode, I needed him to commit to treatment and have at least 6 months stability. The pendulum usually swung quickly the opposite direction; a severe dark depression also riddled with psychosis. I was being cautious with the children, and skeptical with his sister’s claims that he was better. But I was still hopeful and responding to him with kindness and love, because when you love someone with mental illness, you love the person they are, not what the illness makes them.

I was hurriedly making chicken, calling for my daughter to get her soccer gear on. It was a warm day, May 16th, 2016 and I was co-coaching her soccer team. My husband had messaged the night before, and usually had been calling on Mondays. You see, we were separated for 3 days short of 11 months and he was now living with his sister and dad out at his family farm. Our home was foreclosed on in March because he wasn’t paying any of the bills or the mortgage(poor money management is a symptom of mania). I was wrought with fear and guilt as I had temporarily set up visitation through a local safe visitation program due to his unpredictability and anger towards me during his manic episode. It was a temporary arrangement until he stabilized, was attending regular counseling and on proper medication. He’d never hurt our children intentionally, but his behavior was confusing and scary for me, and he refused to stay sober. How would our then seven year old daughter interpret his behavior…

I was anticipating the call, or a text. Just hearing from him brought me relief he was ok. Or at least re-confirm he was safe. When the phone rang, I picked it up not expecting to hear the strange voice on the other end of the line. It was 5:02pm.

” Hi, Kerri?” “Yes? This is she.” I replied.

The next sentence was a blur… something about George from victim services, blah blah blah … All I kept thinking was “How did these people get my home number?” I had assumed it was a work related call. Suddenly, my heart started beating faster and the room felt like it was spinning. I heard him say Vauxhall and my mind started racing. 

“We don’t usually do this over the phone, it’s, um, it’s not protocol, but it was insisted I call you….”

First what the hell is this you don’t do? Second, if it’s not protocol then why are you doing whatever this is? “OK” I said. I wanted the call to stop. I wanted this man to either spit it out or shut up. It’s funny how in those moments you know the trauma is coming, but a part of you just can not wrap your head around it. I thought maybe my husband was finally in the hospital, getting help or maybe his dad died or something. I did not expect the blow I was about to receive.“I’m sorry to tell you this, but Anthony, your husband, he’s well, he’s dead.”

I now understand why being told over the phone by a complete stranger named George from victim’s services that your loved one is deceased is not protocol. I had no one to fall into, no one to touch me, which is especially important when something traumatic happens. I am thankful my daughter was in the basement and the TV was on at the time. It was the only time I was grateful she didn’t listen to my instructions to put her soccer uniform on. To this day I do not know how she didn’t hear me; maybe she did and ignored it, or maybe she was just zoned in on the TV. I don’t know. But I’m grateful she was not in the kitchen at the time.

The scream that escaped me in that moment still haunts me. It hurt. Everything instantly hurt. “Nooo! No! No, No!!” I screamed, as if screaming no, as if my not agreeing with what this stranger just told me, would be enough to bring my husband back. “What happened!!!???What happened!!!???What happened!!!???”I continued to scream over and over as though this guy was an idiot(which he was not, but at the time I didn’t like him much) couldn’t understand what I was saying.

“I’m sorry. He committed suicide.”“What?!Suicide? WHAT?!” By this time, I somehow ended up in my bedroom, on my knees, on the floor. Between sobbing and screaming, I do not know how I didn’t pass out. I don’t remember how I got there. I can only assume I was trying to run away from what had just become my reality.

When trauma hits, your mind goes all over and then freezes and then all over again. Your body doesn’t feel like your own, and you don’t think clearly. I stood up, and demanded to speak to my sister-in-law. I needed to speak to someone who was not a stranger and could confirm what this guy, George, had just told me. I didn’t have much respect left for her after the years of criticism, lying, blaming and pointing the finger. They believed his illness was my fault. Truth be told, there were times I believed them. “What happened Les? What’s going on? Where’s your dad? What happened? How did he do it? Who found him? Where is your dad?!” The questions just came, and I don’t think I took a breath or paused, nor did I have much control at this point.

” He hung himself in the barn. I found him.” Oh god. How awful.. As much as the years had brought me to a place of strong dislike for her, I never doubted her love for her brother, and I certainly wouldn’t have wished this on her. You see, shortly after my husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a rift was caused between them and I. We had very different views about mental illness, and when manic, my husband could cause a storm of arguments. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”  We sobbed together for a brief time. She said he had been crying a lot, and that he had asked to go the hospital on Friday, only three days before. “What? Then why didn’t you take him!?” I was still screaming out of control. I now realize this statement was accusatory, but at the time, I was in shock, and hurting. She didn’t cause this.

She went on to say something about me and the voice recording she had sent my best friend as an attempt to “reach out”. I had to cut off contact for a while from everyone to save my own sanity. To save myself so I could help and support my children in a healthy way. So I had little to no contact with her since Christmas. In February sometime, she sent a voice recording to my girlfriend that was, in my opinion, completely uncalled for, and crossing some significant boundaries. My response to her was just that “It’s not the right time to discuss this. That recording was unnecessary and cruel..” click. The line went dead.

What the hell? I froze, staring at the phone. Did any of this really happen. Please tell me this is a night mare.

I ran outside, and the world kept spinning. I didn’t know what to do next. I started to hyperventilate. My son was at work, my daughter still going about her day watching TV thinking she was going to go to soccer. Oh god. Oh no. What do I tell my babies? I ran behind the house and began to vomit in the garden. I couldn’t break their hearts. How could he have done this to them?

What happens after that moment was very much a blur. At some point I called my best friend and between sobs, managed to tell her my husband was gone, and she needed to come over now. She did. In fact, she got there before victim services called me back. Before the police showed up at my door. Before anyone else. I called my parents. They immediately said they’d come down.

My best friend has been there for me throughout all of the trauma. The first time the illness completely took over my husband, she was there. She seen his delusions. She sat with me when I cried about our separation, she helped me move the week after he had brought homeless people and drug addicts to the house while the kids and I were away. She seen the way he treated me when the illness was at its worst. She knew our story. She seen my pain, and I am ever grateful for her making it to my house that day. She had tears too, we hugged, we cried, and I began to get sick again.