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One summer evening in August 2012, my toddler and I came home to find my husband hanging in the garage. Dead. He killed himself.
Our relationship had been failing. I knew he had been depressed for over a year, but even more so since I asked him to stop smoking marijuana two months earlier. Robert’s use of marijuana was starting to infect our marriage and also invade his relationship with his son. I never suspected he would be one to complete suicide. It wasn’t even on my radar when my mind wandered to horrible future scenarios. I thought he was too proud. He was an athlete; a Judo player. He was a big tough guy with a soft heart.
We had just been to our second marriage counseling session earlier that evening. The therapist told him to ask me any question he wanted to. But the rule was, I had to give a truthful answer. He didn’t like what I had to say; I was unhappy. He was too, but would not admit it to himself or anyone else. He clammed up and would not participate for the rest of the session.
Leaving the counselor’s office in tears and my head swirling with frustration, I took one last look at him alive. I asked him if he wanted to pick up BooBoo.
“No. I think you should,” he said flatly, then turned and walked away. Walked away for good. For the last time. He didn’t say goodbye to me, he just got in his car and left. The next time I would see him, he would be dead.
I have made an educated guess as to what was happening at our house while my son and I were on the drive home. After two years of putting together little bits and pieces, this is what I see Robert doing: He parked that damn Mustang in his man-cave, smashed a pot pipe on the floor, went inside, changed his clothes, put his work clothes in the washing machine, started it, became hysterical, went rifling through his closet trying to find something that was strong enough to hold him suspended in mid-air, found a small black cord, but that would never do, left that out on the table, found his judo Black Belt, ripped open a new package of Sharpies, took out the red one, went to my son’s playroom, wrote “I’M SORRY” and under that “I LOVE YOU BOOBOO. LOVE DADDY.” He left his glasses on my son’s little Winnie-the-Pooh activity table, picked up our son's Christmas portrait from the living room table, put the note on the front of it, and leaned it up against the big Elmo doll on the floor, went to his garage, got the ladder, brought it back to the garage, set it up, climbed up, and tied his belt around his neck. Done. Irreversible.
Twenty minutes later, I opened the door to the garage. My son and I both saw him hanging there. “Mommy, why is Daddy hanging in the garage?” That visual along with my son’s innocent question is forever etched in my brain. He left us all with many questions: WHY? And the worst: How could you have left our son?
I remember the events of that week so vividly. Being in shock. Seeing him in the medical examiner’s office the next day. Planning a funeral. Who would ever think they would be planning a funeral at the age of 35? Hearing people refer to me as “the next of kin.” Feeling nauseous. Flashbacks. Talking to trauma counselors to see what I should and should not say to my son. Lying next to my little boy while he was sleeping, weeping for his broken heart. He was only three years old. I wanted to cradle him and tell him everything would be alright.
And then there’s all the secondary trauma that come with widowhood. I was judged. People actually said that I wasn’t crying enough at the funeral and that I didn’t look sad enough. His family separated themselves from me at the reception. People talked about me behind my back. I endured staring like I was some kind of freak. People told me how strong I was and that I was dealing with it all so well. But at the end of the day, alone, I would collapse and cry, feeling like a fraud.
Looking back I saw red flags. Increasing erratic mood swings; apologies, promises, arguing the next minute later. I tried to get him to go to counseling, and a day-treatment center. But he wanted to make the phone call himself, so I didn’t call to set it up for him. I wish I had. I thought it would be more effective if he made the call himself. I gave him the phone number. I will never know why he didn’t use it. I wish he had.
Wishing and wondering and not knowing will never change what has been done. But what I can do is try to make other people aware of the mental health issues that go along with suicide. Mental health and suicide are getting more attention in the media these days with teenagers and young adults killing themselves over social media bullying. I am glad for the attention. It needs to be in our faces. In the faces of our parents with teens. Depression seems to be rampant, as well. What is going on here? Why aren’t people being treated for depression? Or why isn’t their treatment keeping them alive?
Each person is different, but I can tell you what I observed in my husband right before his suicide. There were the erratic behavior changes that I mentioned earlier. Fighting one minute, apologizing, being happy almost to the point of euphoria, and sliding back down into depression again.
Robert isolated himself a lot. He would call it hanging out in the man-cave. It became a nightly thing. Then it wasn’t fast enough to wait for our son to go to bed, he had to go out there and smoke weed before giving him a bath. He was self-medicating and regulating with the marijuana. By the end of the work day he was irritable until he got to smoke. And most of the time he was irritable, except when he smoked pot.
That’s pretty much expected, right? Cause people become more laid-back when they smoke pot? What I’m talking about is irritation due to withdrawal. He had been on the anti-depressant Effexor for at least a year previous to his suicide. However, the week before he had missed a couple of doses, and took one way after his normal time. I saw a change in him. He went to the doctor that week and his dosage was increased. He only took one or two of those pills at the new dose. He was unstable.
In two days it is the second anniversary of his death. I cannot believe how different my life is today. A lot can change in two years.
I was forced to figure out how I was going to spend my life in the professional world, a.k.a. making money. But my whole perspective on life had changed since my husband’s death. I did not give nearly as much of a shit about things I used to give a shit about. I knew everything was temporary and you didn’t take anything with you when you die. We only have so much time on earth, so I wanted to do something that made me really happy. Writing. Writing is my every happiness.
I’m on a roll; I now live in an area of the country I have always dreamed of living in. I am engaged to be married to the person who was my rock through this whole ordeal. When I, and everyone around me was falling apart, he was there for me. The new writing career seems to be gathering speed. My son is happy. He is well-adjusted for what he has been through. This experience has changed me for the better. That might sound crazy. But, I found out what I am made of; I feel like some of my dreams are slowly becoming reality.