Your intentional finality ended your burdens and laid them on the shoulders of those who love you most. Not only were we left to grieve your loss, make sense of your secrets, honor you and your decisions with how we carry ourselves through the days, months and years to follow, but also attempt to stand tall against the stigma that lives on.
It makes society uncomfortable to be called out in such a way, but the stigma is very real. I live it. You died on a Wednesday and the following Monday I walked our youngest to her classroom. I asked our children to return to school. We needed some semblance of structure, and we needed to see what we were made of. How long could we last? I walked her in, past the cafetorium where kids were having breakfast. Teachers, aids and volunteers were starting their day and when we entered you could have heard a pin drop. Maybe my head was too full to hear the noise. From the corner of my eyes, I watched aids stop washing tables and teachers stop mid-sentence. All eyes followed us. I held her hand and we walked. I can still hear our footsteps and the sound of the door closing behind us. Eyes forward. Walk tall. Get to the fricken classroom.
From there I went to the bank. You had locked me out of our accounts. I had no clue what I had left to survive on. I was escorted into an office, and a manager sat down to help me. I shocked her with my dilemma and in return she shocked me with, “But you’re so young. How did he die?” It had only been five days. I wasn’t prepared to answer such a personal question from a perfect stranger. I looked her straight in the eye and without blinking, and without tears I replied, “suicide”. So I won that one. I’m the one upper of shock. She was speechless. I was infuriated and that was the first time I realized my filter was gone. I hoped she would carry that moment with her for the rest of her days. I’m certain I will.
As we got accustomed to being in a perpetual state of hollowness, we dealt with the dirty issues of suicide: High school punks that told our daughter it was her karma that killed you, and that they didn’t blame you. Group grief counseling where my presence made other widows/widowers angry. After all, their spouse who may have died from cancer, a heart attack or in the line of duty would have given anything to live one more day and you wanted out. What’s worse is what kind of person did that make me that you wanted out so badly? That you had no trust or faith in the one person on this earth whose faith in you was unwavering? I might have left this town if it weren’t for the thought of Claire having to explain to every single person she met why she doesn’t have a dad.
We are left to grieve the one we so desperately miss who is also the one responsible for the missing.
I still field the questions. Did you know he was depressed? Was he mentally ill? Was he on any medicines? Did he stop taking his medicine? What was his childhood like? We still live with the stigma. If our kids fall from grace the conclusion is “Well you know what happened to his/her dad.” or “She’s doing the best she can. You know her husband killed himself.” If they succeed far beyond society’s expectations it isn’t on their own merit. It is because society got it right and it takes a village to raise a kid. Let’s pat ourselves on the back. What if… this is a big one… what if our kids take the blame for their failures and the glory of their successes. Isn’t that what we wanted when you were here?
I was quiet for awhile. I was quiet for years as I watched the train wreck in slow motion despite my best efforts to help you. I was quiet when you completed suicide. I wanted to be certain that how we handled ourselves and came to terms with your choice would be honorable to you, because you were so much more than that one defining moment. That is still my intention. I’m no longer quiet about it, though. I am admittedly angry that you made a life changing decision that involved our children and me without involving our children and me in that decision. You permanently altered our perception of life here on earth, annihilated our ability to trust, stole our innocence, and burdened us in your absence with your unfinished business. We are left to grieve the one we so desperately miss who is also the one responsible for the missing. We had no say in any of this, but I have found my voice.