For months after Tom’s death, I was anxious. The world outside suddenly looked and felt differently. I wasn’t sure how to relate to it. I’d drop the boys off at the school bus in the early mornings and this wave of anxiety would hit me as I walked back to the house. A new awareness loomed, suddenly there I was, alone. Not sure what to do, what to say, how to think. I felt raw, as if someone had unzipped my skin and I had stepped out, exposed for everyone to see. It was incredibly uncomfortable. And not just me, our family felt exposed. Many people had learned of his suicide, which was way more people than I would have preferred. I like our family business private. Suicide is often not a private event. The patriarch of our family system was suddenly ousted in a very public way. People knew our family, and they knew him, me, and our children. And with losing him, a feeling on some deep level of security also disappeared. There had always been two of us to take care of our family, we provided and protected. Even while divorcing. Now he was gone, and all of the responsibilities were on me. I was suddenly struggling with a new kind of aloneness.
I married Tom because we fell in love. He was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Tom was the person in our relationship that was the extrovert and made things happen. He was adventurous but also really wanted a to build a family. Having children and a strong home was a big deal. He was the husband that provided for us for many years. We chose to have me home full-time with the children so they would not be raised in childcare by other people. I brought income in at various points, but when we started having children, my role developed into the responsibilities of home life. Everything relating to our children and our family became my domain. And I loved it.
His income, hard work and travel allowed us to do that, for which I am grateful. Our beautiful boys are the product of that. Our children had quantity and quality time with us. He was the one that went out into the big wide world. He took it on. He was fearless in that way, and I admired him for it. It also suited his temperament. Through most of his life he was a friendly engaging guy who loved being out in the world discovering things; that new brew from Pete’s coffee, that jazz club on Broadway, a time-share a colleague offered. Life was exciting for him. Things were always interesting when you were with Tom. His network was wide and large, spanning across the United States and 3 continents. That guy knew, in many ways, how to do relationship, which made our lives fuller.
I think I found a security in that. I could be the introvert at home, working on my master’s degree for my future career. I could provide balance from within the home and support our family by creating a network through our children’s school, friends, and sports. He did his big wide world thing which balanced things out. It was a perfect combination in many ways. What I didn’t anticipate was the way anxiety would twist things up. It began when death showed up and we buried both of my parents 6 months apart. Freud wrote that when deep pathology is not addressed, it can morph into really dysfunctional ways of being. I had my grief, and suddenly there was a new energy in him that was very unsettled. Something had shifted and I wasn’t sure what it was. I wasn’t looking at him, his thoughts, or his behaviors from a psychological perspective, more from an intuitive spouse perspective. I sensed something was wrong.
Then shifts at work followed which caused a new response in him. For the first time in 12 years, I heard him yell. Arguments started, over stupid things. Lots of little things suddenly were up for issue. I never would have guessed methamphetamines were his go to for solace. I feel now looking back that I was quite late to that party. Perhaps I should have been looking at him from a psychological perspective. Not that it would have changed anything. We were both grieving in our own way. His was more destructive and led to a separation. Even at that point, I knew we would always have each other to rely on, and there were two of us to take care of the children. Now I know drug addiction and suicide wreck marriages and wreck families. There is no middle ground. They cause things to happen that you can’t come back from. They were not on my radar. He was too high performance, too motivated and Catholic. Catholics don’t kill themselves because it is considered a sin against God. His wife was a counselor by this time. Surely he’d go to her if he had a serious problem. He had too much at stake to put so much at risk. He had a family, a wife, and a career. He loved his children, and he loved providing for his family. Something like that couldn’t happen. Clearly I was wrong.
Often fear is equated with anxiety. Fear elicits anxiety and anxiety can elicit fear. When Tom died, I was suddenly filled with fear. The unknown elicits fear. Fearful, not of one thing but of many things. My head was full of unanswered questions, unclear answers, vague promises, and very inaccurate assumptions. The ex-husband I had known for 17 years would have never killed himself. But that had just happened. How was I to make sense of that? And how were things supposed to work now? What happens to souls when they suicide? Why hadn’t he come to me for help? How could he wound our children so? And how was I going to protect and provide for the family now without him? I had many things to sort through and a lot of fear to go with it.
I can say now, after 8 years, much of the fear and anxiety have been worked out through time and living life. Moving forward is really important. Not in a forget about it or bury it, but in combination with healing modalities. Therapy was helpful during the first year, then group therapy. So was church and a loving community around us. Then journaling. Eventually I wrote a book, which helped bring things together for me. Helping the children was healing, focusing on them, and devoting my energy to them was healing for all of us. Exercise, yoga, and cooking helped at times. Reading and gardening helped. Long walks and hikes helped at times. Regular prayer and meditation helped immensely.
Journaling was really the saving grace for me. Any questions I had, I could write out, any thoughts, concerns, or feelings, I could express through words on a page. No one edited, criticized, or judged it. All was kept private. They were my words, my thoughts, my experiences. Pert of the process was giving myself permission to think certain things and then express them. The narrative I developed was where my healing would blossom. I learned how to express my voice on paper. To this day, writing is still a big part of my world. I write in journal form, short story form, in essays, and I put book chapters together. I read poetry, grief books and watch movies about death. Writing offers healing and the opportunity to express a narrative. In this case I had to build my narrative and then our family narrative. Our family legacy had to include legacy and a grisly story about the father that got addicted to drugs and then suicided. Not easy. It took a long time. I learned how to write about it, in its true organic form, as it is right now. And it’s been very healing for me.
Your experience of loss, your grief, your reaction, and your healing path will be different because you are different. Don’t shy away from listening to what your soul needs. And don’t shy away from therapy. I spent 13 years of my life in therapy, between 2 therapists. I counseled others for 6 years. Next to my master’s degree and building my career, next to many years of marriage, all of it was some of the best work I did on myself. Therapy works. It can be an incredibly transforming space because it is designed as a safe space for you to work on yourself. That is what it is designed for. Other forms of supportive healing will present in your life in a variety of ways because that is how the universe works – through people and through opportunities. The divine, whatever positive energy is out there in the universe will guide you. Be open to those moments and opportunities. Open yourself up to the healing presence that is out there. Surrender and invite it in. It’s there, and it’s worth it because you are worth it. Your journey is just beginning.