The grief journey by a loved one bereaved by suicide
Suicide of a loved one changes who we are, our lives are forever changed and although the feeling of loss doesn’t go away, the intensity does subside. And unbelievable as it sounds, I am here to tell you that there is a tomorrow!
I lost my husband at Christmas 2008. He was a highly respected Police Officer who had served the community for 30 years. He was a wonderful, much loved husband, father and grandfather. We were all well and our children were happily married with gainful employment and young families of their own – our world was good.
On the morning of the 23rd December 2008 I was minding my daughters’ two small children whilst my husband was at home mowing, whilst awaiting the arrival of my eldest son and his family to arrive from Queensland – this was our first Christmas together as a whole family in 10 years – we were all gathering at this Christmastime because we were going to celebrate Christmas and sometime in the following week my youngest son and his wife were due to welcome their first baby into the world – we were all so very happy and excited. Little did we know how our world was going to change forever that morning.
On arriving home just before lunch, my daughter, with her two small children, and myself found my husband dead – he had shot himself through the head. Nothing can prepare you for this assault on your sense of well being. The feeling for us, the survivors, are unwanted, unanticipated and overwhelmingly intense.
I was consumed by guilt for having failed to save the man I loved; I felt guilty at being alive; I also felt abandoned and rejected. The tension between my anger and sadness was so very complicated. I felt so angry with the person who is the same person who killed the man I loved so much! I felt unlovable at being rejected by the man I loved – I believed that I had to be unlovable, otherwise he would not have left me!
And so began a long journey of guilt and of feeling a failure. The “ifs” and the “if only” that may have prevented this senseless death. The regrets of conversations that might have been key. The wanting for just one more day that I thought that might have made the difference! And amidst all my sorrow, my beautiful family began crumbling!
My eldest son became angry with his father because he didn’t wait for him to arrive with his family – he believed that his Dad couldn’t have really cared about him!
He waited for weeks for a letter to arrive in the mail from his Dad telling him that he loved him and that he was proud of the man that he had become. Needless to say, that letter never arrived. And so he became full of anger at the man he had looked up to and loved so much – his anger spilt over into his home life, and understanding as his wife was, after 5 years it became too much and she left him, taking their three children with her! He became so distraught and I feared for his life; sometime later I received a phone call that fills every parent with dread – he had been in a bad car accident – on his own! He had lost all regard for his own life.
Then our second son – a beautiful young man who had been a police officer for over 16 years – he loved his job, and was so very, very proud of being a policeman like his Dad – his Dad was his hero! Well, he struggled for 3 years in the job after his Dad died, and finally resigned. He was so very, very sad and became majorly depressed! His wife and I took turns in staying with him for fear he would suicide – that was a very scary time!
Then our beautiful daughter – a clinical nurse specialist at a large hospital and was no longer able to function as a nurse anymore – she spent more time in the Emergency Department as a patient herself suffering from severe anxiety attacks which crippled her – she was unable to drive her car! I moved in for weeks at a time to care for her and her two small children – I didn’t recognise her, she just stayed slumped in bed, blaming herself, saying that she was a nurse and should have recognised the signs!
Then our youngest son – couldn’t believe that his DAD couldn’t even wait around to meet his first baby due that week – why didn’t he want to see his child?? So my youngest son decided to drink; and drink he did!!
So our very functional family, admired by many, was a totally dysfunctional family pitied by most!
I felt so empty, barely capable of loving those who needed me, and the world was going on as if nothing had happened!
In 2012, Alan invited me to a convention in Sydney, where he gave me the opportunity to have my husband’s photo and name on the quilt. Finally, his life was to be honoured – he was to be honoured – he was not going to be defined by the way he died, but instead by the way he lived. For if I can talk openly about the way he died, so I can talk about the way he lived, in a manner that brings healing to my heart and honours his life.
Life has presented many challenges to my family and myself over the past six years and our lives are forever changed, and although this final and irrevocable act will forever linger in our hearts, it must not have the final say!
A quote from Mother Teresa: “When someone takes his own life, we anguish that we should have known enough to help. But only God knows the weight of another’s burden.”
Well, six years later:
My eldest son is no longer angry with his Dad – he speaks only with love about him now. He is running a very successful business, is very good friends with his ex-wife and has shared custody of his three children! He assures me that he is in a “good place” now!
My second son is working four days a week in a job which he enjoys, and on the fifth day works voluntarily with troubled youth. He is happy and smiling again, and enjoys his family.
My beautiful daughter – confident and capable again – she is now a nurse educator, passing on her skills and knowledge to new graduates! She is fulfilled and happy again and also enjoys her role as a wife and mum!
My loved youngest son – happy, well-adjusted, executive chef at a resort in the Hunter vineyards – no longer drinking, and a very proud, loving Dad of two beautiful little girls – loving life!
And me, I am running a free Breakfast Club for disadvantaged children at a local school, cooking breakfast and spending many hours seeking donations!
And so, although each of us here has a story of loss that seems too much to bear, I am a living testimony to the belief “that, yes, there is a tomorrow!”
Thank you, Yvonne