It’s been a little over three years since I wrote a proper blog post. When John died I lost interest in a lot of the things I used to do – writing, photography, cooking, reading, volunteering – nothing had any meaning any more. I started blogging in college in 2008 and had kept it up as a bit of fun. It was a nice way of meeting and talking to people and of getting to attend a few events.
I’ve thought about writing this post for a long time. Losing someone you love to suicide is a traumatic experience. For those of us left behind it can be incredibly difficult to reach out for support. Grief, denial, disbelief and utter confusion reign, and it becomes almost impossible to function.
The 10th of February this year marked three years since I last spoke to my husband. I never thought that morning,after he left for his job in Waterford, that I would never see him alive again. That evening when my phone rang and it was John’s boss to tell me that John had left the office at lunchtime and hadn’t returned, I thought perhaps he’d gone to a meeting and had forgotten to let anyone know.
I reported John missing in the local Garda station in Clonmel at about 6:30pm. John was predictable and reliable. When I wasn’t able to contact him at 6:00 that evening, the time he’d usually have been coming home at, I became worried. I gave them John’s details while, at the same time, thinking he was going to tell me I was being ridiculous when he got home.
Late that evening the winds rose – a precursor to Storm Darwin which would arrive on the 12th of February – and my anxiety rose with it. I tried texting and phoning John, afraid to phone him too many times in case, wherever he might be, his phone battery might run out. But his phone was turned off or had already run out of power. I phoned family members to see if he was with them. I phoned my parents. I phoned friends. I phoned the Gardaí again and drove down to them later that night. I went to bed but lay awake crying and unable to sleep, growing more and more frantic, and wondering where he was. I considered driving to Waterford to look for him but didn’t know where to start looking.
I phoned the Garda station in Waterford the next morning to see did they need John’s bank details and photographs. Less than half an hour later two Gardaí arrived at my door. I presumed they were there to collect the paperwork I’d gotten for them – his passport, bank details, photographs. I was relieved to see them – a short lived relief. They’d found his jeep they said. I instantly assumed he was in hospital – he must have had an accident.
I can still remember the shock and disbelief I felt as the words “He did take his life” were uttered. I remember that sudden, horrible, gut wrenching pain as my lungs struggled to find air, my stomach knotted up, and my mind tried to comprehend what was after happening.
In those few moments my world fell to pieces. This was the sort of thing that happened on television, it happened to other people. It couldn’t be happening to me. This couldn’t have happened to my wonderful, grounded, level headed, strong, loving husband who’d promised to love me forever.
The Guards asked me if I wanted to call someone. I was reeling from the shock. Who would I call? My parents arrived. The guards left. And then everything began to happen so fast. People began arriving at the house. I can barely remember making the calls I made to friends, to family.
My father took me to the hospital. I will never forget the moment I saw my beloved husband laid out in the mortuary chapel, still and lifeless. When I took his hands in mine his skin was so cold. The most awful pain that I’d ever felt took hold of me. As I roared, I pressed my hands to the sides of his face, willing what I was seeing not to be true, wanting him to wake, my mind in turmoil denying what I could see before me.
I don’t remember coming home. People were coming and going around me while I was detached, numb and in shock. The funeral was arranged. Friends in the Civil Defence were like angels moving furniture so that I could bring John home, directing traffic on the country road outside, serving tea and coffee and doing the washing up, and bringing in lights when the power went down during Storm Darwin.
In my grief it became so important to do everything the way that John would want it done. But nothing had prepared me for the fact that he might be gone before me some day. When we’d walked down the aisle together on the 23rd of July 2005, we hadn’t thought anything other than that we’d happily grow old together. Now he was gone, without any warning, without any signs, and he’d left me behind, brokenhearted. I felt like I couldn’t carry on without him.
I didn’t want to remember Valentine’s day as the day I buried my husband. He was laid to rest on the 15th of February 2014……
There are five stages of grief. I know this from the times I Googled the word “grief” to find out when I would be normal again, when would I stop hurting, and would I ever stop crying.
There are five stages of grief but no set path. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
There is no start point and no end point. Progress through the five stages of grief can spin backwards and forwards and out of control for a long time, especially in the case of traumatic and sudden loss. PTSD can occur.
I suffered from complicated grief. This was compounded by those who abandoned me and chose to blame me for what had happened. A counsellor told me that people will try to blame those closest to the victim.
The shock at being accused of being responsible in some way for my husband’s death drove me to the point where I thought of taking my own life. I had lost him, I didn’t know why I lost him, and now everyone was talking about me and blaming me. I became nervous and anxious. The pain was more than I could bear. When I found myself seriously considering how I could make my death look like an accident I made an emergency appointment with a doctor. I attended a crisis centre in Clonmel and then a grief counsellor.
Research has shown that relatives and friends of suicide victims are at risk of suicide themselves. There is huge guilt at not being able to prevent it, a feeling of failure, the fear of judgement by others, the shame due to stigma, confusion not knowing why it happened, and the unresolved issues that might have existed before the loss. All this on top of the immense pain and grief resulting from sudden loss.
Anger delayed my grieving. Anger at those who had abandoned me, anger at John for leaving me, anger that I was having to deal with all the mess left behind.
I drove myself crazy trying to figure out why John had taken his life. I scanned through all his emails, searched the pockets of every piece of clothing he owned, lifted the mattress on our bed regularly, emptied every drawer in the house over and over, put everything in his jeep into a bag and went through that bag daily, read over the messages on his phone again and again. There was nothing to be found and I didn’t know what that meant. Why hadn’t he left me a note?
I drove out to the place where he had been found on that morning of the 11th of February. I drove out there again a few months later. It was as if I expected to be enlightened just by being there, but there were no answers to be found.
Finally I had to accept that I would never find a reason for what he did. It was unexplainable. On Sunday the 9th of February 2014 he had tweeted a photo of his new hiking boots (bought the day before) and had tweeted that he would be organising a scout walk. We had had dinner and sat watching TV together with the girls. The following day he went to work and didn’t come home.
It has taken me three years to write this. I have cried my way through it as I’ve faced those horrific moments of loss and sorrow again. My dreams have been shattered and sometimes I feel very lost in life. I have felt like taking my life on one other occasion in the past three years but thanks to some wonderful people who were by my side I came through it.
It’s daunting to reveal so much about my own mental health online and risk being judged. But if anything I’ve typed here helps even one person open up about how they’re feeling, or helps reassure someone who has suffered a sudden loss that things do get better, then it will be worth it.
I am not the same person I was three years ago, or even a year ago. I am stronger and wiser. I preempt the moments or dates that will trigger strong emotions in me and I make plans for those dates. I set goals for myself. I might never achieve some of them but I’ve achieved some things that I never thought I would. The enjoyment is in making the effort. My confidence has grown. I have good people in my life who are there for me, and I am here for them. And I’ve done my best to make sure that John is remembered for the good, kind hearted and wonderful man that he was.
****If you need to talk to someone, please phone one of the following numbers****
Aware 1800 80 48 48
Pieta House 1800 24 72 47
Samaritans 116 123
Walk in my shoes 01 249 35 55
Teenline 1800 833 634
Taxi Watch Clonmel 083 817 15 15
River Suir Suicide Patrol 083 863 53 68