It’s been almost 21 months since my life was turned upside down again.As I write this, it is exactly been 21 months, 13 days, and four minutes since I got the call that made me drop to the floor screaming no at the top of my lungs.
I try not to look back too often. I try to keep moving forward towards my goals, helping my children achieve their own goals and bathe in the joy they bring me with each milestone.
I try to bring my focus on the now, so I can be present in my day to day and take care of what needs to be taken care of now and work toward keeping my promise to my husband.
Every once in a while though, I still find myself thinking about the past. Well more like living in it. Every morning I think of Anthony, but the moments I “relive” aren’t as often.
It can be something that reminds me of him and our life together, or sometimes my mind drifts to the chaos of post bipolar diagnosis without any trigger.
My good friend from work and I were talking about her pregnancy and upcoming wedding. I have come to a place in my healing where I can talk about Anthony openly without crying or tearing up. So, in conversations about significant others I openly refer back to our happy, imperfect and mundane experiences as husband and wife.
She was talking about her fiancé’s over zealous excitement for their upcoming wedding and his persuading her to attend a wedding show this past weekend. She talked about her feeling out of place; hair disheveled, no make-up and feeling physically uncomfortable due to her pregnancy. I want to shake her because she is one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, inside and out, and her pregnancy only illuminates her beauty.
“It’s not that I’m not excited to be engaged, it’s just right now, the wedding is the furthest thing from my mind! All I can think of is this little person inside of me. I just wanted to run out of that place! I’m so glad he’s excited and wants to plan, I’m just not in the same place right now.”
I smile. I’m so happy for her and the new stages she is entering in her life. Genuinely happy for her. Which, makes me smile even more because I don’t have to fake it. The grief doesn’t steal those genuine moments from me very often anymore.
I tell her about Anthony’s excitement. I tell her about my asking him to narrow down venues while I plan wedding lists. I tell her about our making our own wedding favours together. We were a team and we worked together to create the most perfect day symbolic of our own personalities and relationship.
Suddenly I’m thrown into the past as we drive by the Galt Gardens he frequented in his psychotic manic state.
The mania changed everything about him; The way he dressed, the colour of his eyes, the way he smoked a cigarette and drank his coffee, even the way he walked. It was like he had morphed into some unknown being.
I see him walking in a black dress coat that was too small for him. His eyes fixed on the sidewalk in front of him and his backed hunched slightly forward. His fists are clenched and his face looks distorted. It’s 11 at night and he’s walking towards the park with an unknown purpose.
I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I remember it so clearly because it was right before he was hospitalized on the mental health warrant his sister and I went to court for. I remember praying the police would drive by and pick him up and he’d finally be stabilized. He’d be my husband again. He’d be a father again. He’d be the person all of us needed, loved and missed.
Unfortunately my hopes were in vain. He was picked up that night, but he was released 72 hours later, with a prescription for anti-psychotics he was intent on not using. The weekend after, he and his homeless friends moved into our home while the kids and I were visiting family for thanksgiving.
Breathe. Just breathe for a moment and you’ll be back in the present.
Suddenly I default to insecurity and doubt. “Do you think if I would’ve left first, or if I had said enough when he got his medical marijuana card, he’d still be here?”
My friend shot a quick look my way with empathy in her eyes and quickly put her attention back on driving.
“No. No I don’t. I don’t think anything could have been done. He was sick. That’s all there is to it.”
I have managed to analyze every moment of our life together placing blame on myself and occasionally others for the choice made that day. I have managed to accept responsibility for things I’ve had no control over. I’ve even gone as far to dismiss the wonderful good in our marriage. Which I know, is so, so wrong and so, so, soooo damaging to my healing. But I also recognize this as part of my process to moving forward.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, being a survivor of suicide. Somethings are repetitive, and I’m sure you’ve read on other sites, but here is what I want to share in what I’ve found to be most important and most prominent in the process of my healing and in keeping my promise to Anthony;
1. This is not your or my fault
This has been the hardest part for me to accept. This was not my fault. I have to say it often, and try my damnedest to believe in this. I’m at a point where most of the time I do.
I had no control over what was going on in his mind. What he believed about himself and his perception of his circumstances had nothing to do with me. If I had any ounce of influence in his decisions he’d be hospitalized, treated, and stable. He’d be home, healthy and loved.
People fight. People make mistakes. I’ve made many mistakes in my life and in my marriage. If I was not blaming myself for faults in our marriage, I was shutting down, not talking and lying about my feelings. But this isn’t what caused his death. My finally throwing my hands up with the creditors and giving them his number was not what caused this. None of my actions were done out of maliciousness; these decisions were made out of compassion for both him, me and our children. My best friend and her husband argue too; neither of them have died by suicide.
What I’ve learned here is no matter how connected we all are, no matter what was said or done before the act, we are all imperfect human beings who have no control over any other human beings actions. By taking responsibility for his choice, I would only be damaging myself, and denying Anthony’s beautiful and tragic story.
I’d be minimizing his experience and what it means to be human. I’d be denying the suffering he endured and the torment bipolar caused him throughout his life. I wouldn’t be acknowledging the incredible battle Anthony made for himself and for us.
2. Don’t Accept Blame
The biggest mistake I made was blaming myself(I still find myself, on rare occasion analyzing and blaming myself, but I don’t accept that internal dialogue as truth anymore) and accepting blame from others.
The only good it did was well…. nothing. He was still dead. He was still ill before he died. I became physically and mentally unwell by accepting blame from myself and from certain people. It affected my work, my parenting and my ability to move forward. I was hypersensitive to any comment or look. In part because I was accepting blame my internal voice was placing on me and in part because I was accepting blame others put on me.
Here’s the thing; as noted before, I had no control. I now believe the fingers of those who pointed in my direction were in fact projecting their own feelings of guilt onto me. Instead of taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture, I honed in on their words as truth and accepted them as truth. In reality they were also hurting desperately and failing to cope with their own emotions and in turn using me as a scape goat.
If you are the brunt of blame and abuse, from yourself or others, let yourself be a wall. Imagine the words being slung at you hitting your brick structure and falling to the floor. Be curious but don’t take things literally and personally. Let the words go. See the bigger picture and know you did all you could do given the situation you were in.
3. Boundaries – Set Boundaries – Ask For What You Need
As ridiculous as this sounds, boundary setting is a new concept to me and has not come easily. Hence my once healthy marriage turned codependent.
Boundaries are important for healthy relationships. They keep us safe and define us from others. EVEN IN Marriage! The saying when two become one, has been taken too literal. We are all separate individuals (with different goals, opinions, beliefs etc) who choose to share our lives with another separate individual who may share some commonalities, but who also has their own ideas and way of thinking.
When grieving, setting boundaries is especially important. People with good intentions may come across as hurtful, and malicious hurt people may try to hurt you to make themselves feel better. You need to determine what you can and cannot accept in your time of grieving and healing.
If someone is hurting you, let them know it’s not ok and ask them to correct the behaviour. If they refuse or are not capable of change let them go. That’s their issue. If they are calling too much tell them you appreciate the calls but need some space right now. If they aren’t calling enough, if you need someone to just sit with you, or you need to be alone. Tell them. Set boundaries or ask for what you need.
Grief is the most vulnerable, exposed, and painful experience I’ve ever had and in order to survive and start moving through the pain, I had to let people go completely. Occasionally this was done in anger, and occasionally it was done with love. But these relationships had to go because I had to take care of myself first so I could take care of my children. This doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me a healthy person .
4. Don’t go it alone.
Grieving on its own is exhausting. Especially in the early stages. Grieving a death by Suicide is a special kind of hell.
You’re gonna need people. One who you can call to when you can’t sleep. One who can just listen to you cry. One who will tell you to get up when you’ve locked yourself in your house for days on end crying. I was lucky. I had a support group that was there for me in my darkest hours of grief. They still listen almost two years in.
Get grief counselling. Have a professional help you process the loss and information you can’t on your own. If you found the body. If you can’t sleep. If you can’t eat. Get professional help. I did. I believe in many ways it saved my sanity – possibly my life.
Find other resources. If you find yourself alone or immobile for any reason, join a support group online. Your friends will help lift you, but the people in these groups will understand the devastation, confusion, anger and guilt. They will help you to realize you are not alone. I joined a suicide survivor group where I live, but childcare was an issue; so I joined two support groups on Facebook. Many of these people have become more like friends. Plus, they get it when I need to be got. I know my friends and family love me, but sometimes I just need to hear “I was there” or “me too”.
5. You ARE stronger than you think
I think this speaks for itself – Trust me. I never thought the pain would let up. I never thought I’d laugh again or feel joy. I never thought I’d get off the couch. I did. You can and will. Give it time. My best friend and one of my greatest supports kept telling me “this too shall pass”. It won’t always feel this bad. I don’t know that it will ever go away, but you’ll be ok. You ARE STRONG. Even way you don’t feel it . . .
6. It’s Your Grief
Need to get a little tipsy? Do it. Need to spend a day in your bed eating chocolate chips and melted peanut butter? Do it. Need to have sex with complete strangers(with protection of course and safety)? Do it. Need to write? Do it. Need to dance your underwear? Do it!!! Please. I highly recommend it!
Own that shit. If someone doesn’t agree with how your grieving, f em. They haven’t been where you are. They are not you. Do what you need on your time.
I’m not advocating for becoming an alcoholic, or a drug addict or an exhibitionist (at least not intentionally – close the blinds while you dance in your unders – lesson learned). Simply what I am saying is that if someone is judging your staying in bed all day or feels you’re too happy to soon or grieving too long tell them it’s none of their business to judge. They can support but judgement is not needed now.
Write. Run. Cry. Dance. Stay in your pyjamas. And own your grief. You will have to get out of bed eventually, because you are alive, in the land of the living, people need you, BUT you need to grieve your way.
I realize this post is extremely long. I really want to drive home no matter how low you are right now, it can and will get better. You will get off the couch. You will laugh. You will also have moments like I did in the car with my friend. You will have forward steps…. and backward steps.
You will learn from this experience and you will still miss your loved one.