When your husband commits suicide

Last week, I spoke with a woman whose husband committed suicide in 2010. Doesn’t your heart just break when you read those words? Her husband committed suicide. Few things are more dreadful than that. I can imagine the turmoil that must have caused in her at the time.

And then again, I guess I can’t because it isn’t something I have ever gone through.

I thought she would be in a much better place by now than she was at the time, when she seemed to be blindly lashing out in pain at anyone who reached out to her to comfort her. Understandably!

To my initial dismay, I noticed that she seems to have decided that her life is now ruined forever, by contrast.

That is more or less what she said, literally.

If she has really decided that her life is ruined forever, then that is what the rest of her life will be like. That idea makes your heart break too, doesn’t it?

It may well be that all she actually meant is that she is still mourning, still busy getting back on her feet.

Nobody gets to decide how long someone else’s mourning process will take. To mourn means to heal.

Every person is the expert on his or her life and on what he or she needs. We cannot decide that for someone else.

Well, at least, very rarely. Exceptions that I can think of is children, and persons who are ill or injured and really do need someone else’s care. You can’t make decisions for yourself when you’re unconscious, for example.

But I noticed something intriguing.

Noticing the anguish that is still present in this woman induced a serenity in me, a calm, some kind of grounding, and from that place some kind of very tentative and gentle reaching out, a passive one, more in the sense of a lack of doing anything than in the sense of actually doing something. Maybe I was sending her unspoken positive thoughts. Or feelings, rather.

This serenity took me by surprise. What did it mean? (Afterthought: That there weren’t any actual real feelings on the other side, merely empty drama intended to get an emotional response from me, perhaps?)

Also, I could have pointed out to her that while this happened to her, other things happened to me, to create a different perspective for her experiences. I didn’t. I knew that that was the last thing she needed to hear.

How did I know that? I don’t actually know. (Afterthought: Some pathology at work? The attention needing to go to that person, according to the person? This may sound very harsh to the casual reader, but stranger things happen in life all the time.)

After I tossed that around for a while, later, I was reminded of something that happened to me once, a very long time ago. Though it was not so much the actual event, but the realization that I suffered from such a large degree of disbelief at the time that I froze. It’s probably the only time in my life, ever, that I froze. And I’d never before asked myself why – but now I suddenly saw where it came from.

“I can’t believe it! This is not really happening. This can’t possibly be happening. This didn’t just happen. How on earth could he do that? How on earth could he do that to me?”

Then it dawned on me that the woman whose husband committed suicide may also still be resisting – coming to terms with – the idea that this happened to her. In her life.

The shock of it. The “I can’t believe that this happened to me!” shock. The “How on earth could he do that? How on earth could he do that to me?”

Maybe she is still clinging to something more positive than what really happened in a small niche of her thoughts, possibly the notion that if she tries hard enough, she’ll wake up and it will all have been a bad dream.

And maybe on another level, she is still struggling with the idea that her husband’s suicide means that she has failed. That she wasn’t good enough.

After all, bad things do not happen to good and capable people, right? Capable people always maintain complete control over everything. That idea.

That misconception. That feeling!

Yes, it’s a feeling.  An emotional response.

Fortunately, a feeling is something you can change. The cells of your body know how to make you feel a certain way, just like they know how to make you walk if you want to walk.

I know that the woman whose husband committed suicide will be okay. There was plenty in the conversation I had with her that indicated that. I could hear that the island within her is still there and that she was dipping into it, slowly replenishing her energy, restoring her soul.

I wish she knew how many tears I’ve cried for her, though, but I am probably wishing that for me, not for her. I too am merely human. And that’s okay.

Life goes on. She has her life. And I have mine to live. That’s perfectly okay.



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