Is there still hope? Life after the suicide of a loved one, pt 4
This is the fourth of a four part series about correctional suicide
Editor's Note: This piece is continued from last week's part 3; if you haven't read it, please check it out here.
So why do I give you so much detail? Before you take those pills, or pull that trigger, I want you to think about who and what you are leaving behind. The pain of those you loved and left, the nightmares of the people who find you, and the ripple affect your death can cause. If you think no one cares or loves you, you are not being honest with yourself.
I also want to give you a message of hope. There is life after your loved one passes in this horrible manner. I did not think life could ever be enjoyable again. I started to understand the emotions that Jennifer experienced the first months after Phillip’s death. If the wrong song came on the radio, I cried. If I saw anything in the house that reminded me of her, I would cry.
I remember checking the mail and finding letters for her, and how much that hurt. It seemed that everything reminded me of her. I was surrounded by a great group of friends and family who carried me through the toughest first few months.
People used to comfort me by telling me she was in a better place now. I did not believe them. I was haunted by her memory, unable to recall any good parts of our marriage, only the trauma of losing her.
On the fourth of July I had what they call an epiphany. I was sitting by the beach watching the fireworks; my boys had run off to watch the show with their friends. I sat there alone, for the first time in my life. As the fireworks went off, I quietly sobbed, and begged Jennifer to show me she was okay; show me any sign that she was really watching over me, and that life would be okay.
Now I have been told that if you look hard enough, you will see signs that you want to see from passed loved ones to make you feel better. In this case, at this time, I got what I needed. As I watched the fireworks, a large firework exploded directly over where I was sitting about 300 feet up. As it burst, it formed a perfect red heart.
After I gained my composure, I thanked Jennifer, and knew that she was now safe, and I could live again. The next week I drove to Lake Tahoe where Jennifer and Phillip were married, and laid them to rest on a mountain side overlooking the lake. It was a wonderfully emotional moment that helped me begin to move forward.
As we near Christmas, and I start to deal with many of the emotions and issues stemming from Jennifer’s suicide, I find myself comforted and loved by those around me. After swearing off love, I have found love and happiness with my girlfriend, and in the comfort of my sons and family. Am I the picture of mental and physical health? No, not at all. I am on medical leave as my heart condition worsened after Jennifer’s death, and may not return to work for some time. Random things will still make me cry, and will for years. This does not mean I am not happy now, it just means I am able to remember the past.
To the potential suicidal person: please call someone. Call anyone, it doesn’t matter who. Call someone and ask for ideas, alternatives or just someone to talk to. I wholly believe that most people who kill themselves regret it the instant they carry out their plan.
I will repeat this, as I did in the article I did for Phillip two years ago: not everyone who is suicidal will follow the commonly accepted signs. In Jennifer’s case it appears she had made up her mind weeks in advance, and was exceptionally happy because she knew it would soon be over. She made sure I had great memories of us before she left, and made sure I would not find her. She never reached out, never asked for help.
This is what I find in common with many of us in Law Enforcement, or their spouses: we do not talk about our emotions enough. Most of the LE related suicides I know of have been deaths of solitude. The officer, or their spouse, never reached out; or if they did it was too subtle to notice.
Keep a sharp eye on your coworkers. One day I had pulled over to make a call on my cellphone. I looked up and saw a truck pull up behind me, and a man approach my car carefully. As he got closer, I noticed it was a partner from work. He told me he saw my car on the side of the road, my head down, and was concerned, especially after all I had been through. I had no desire to die that day, but I can guarantee you that if I did, and a brother stepped up like that and cared, it may change my perspective on life enough to get help.
Some people are scared to call for help, or bring attention to an ailing coworker, afraid that it may affect the career of the person hurting. I assure you that the spouse cares nothing about the career when compared to the officer’s life.
I am taking courses and am going to become an advocate to help those who feel the need to take their own life, and those they leave behind. The suicide rate amongst us is far too high, and it is time for us to take some responsibility for it. Forget the department; please do not complain they don’t do enough, we already know that.
Take 10 minutes out of your day to reach out to an ailing brother or sister. Have them over for dinner, for drinks or just to BS outside of work. You may be saving more than just one life.
To those of you left behind after suicide, don’t despair, you can move forward. You never move on, and Jennifer will always have a place in my heart. I do not want to move on; my marriage to Jennifer was a wonderful chapter in my life that I never want to forget, but I must continue to live. If you are left behind, set aside your pride and find some professional help. Jesus himself had seven people to help him, so do not think you are weak for needing support.
The guilt is probably the worst emotion. It takes therapy and being able to honestly assess the situation to understand that the majority of the time, the loved ones left behind are not responsible for the suicide. Guilt is the emotion that can often turn the ones left behind to the ones next in line. Imagine my guilt, formally trained in suicide ideation detection, and I could not even see my own wife’s suicide coming. What did I miss, how the hell did I not catch it? I did have the benefit of a letter ensuring me this was not my fault, but guilt lingered over me strongly for months. I have come to accept that this decision was made by Jennifer, and no one else. It was a decision based on emotional trauma that was seeded deep and hidden from everyone. There is no way I could have known. Jennifer even saw her counselor the Saturday before her death, and she reported nothing unusual was talked about. Guilt is normal, but most often misplaced. If you have this guilt, talk to someone as soon as possible: do not let it fester!
On a side note, there has been a lot of research done on when you should consider dating after the death of a loved one. As humans, we crave affection and togetherness, being alone should be a choice, not an obligation. There are two things to look for before you start to look for a mate…
First, are you happy by yourself? Are you confident that you can handle whatever life throws at you without the help of a spouse/partner? You cannot be happy with someone, until you are happy on your own.
As far as time limits, it depends on the individual. There are some sites out there that recommend waiting a month for every year you were together, or some other interesting formulas. The easy answer is that if you are searching the internet to see when it is okay or healthy to start dating, you are probably ready to start the process. This may not mean you are ready for another relationship, but you can dip your toes in the water and see what happens. I have been very lucky to find an understanding, loving woman who accepts me for all my faults, emotions and scars.
Life does go on. It’s up to you if you decide to live life, or simply exist until your time draws to a close. I am not a mental health professional, and can only tell you that it is possible to move forward after suicide, if you only let yourself be happy again.
There is much more to say, much more to learn, but I will end this article for now with this:
If you consider suicide an option, do me one favor: call a professional or just one friend and tell them your plan. If you have no friends, contact me on Facebook and I will listen. We have so much stress in our occupation (which we will explore in the next article) that we need to make sure we are here for each other. Remember to leave your comments below, and email me anytime with questions, concerns or comments.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. They can provide anonymous support.