catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 11 :: 2011.06.10 — 2011.06.23



If it wasn’t mental illness that led my husband to suicide, that means there was an explanation — answers to our anguished questions that somehow added up to his decision. If it wasn’t mental illness, then his kids, his work, our relationship and the life we’d built were either reasons to go or not reason enough to stay. I believe that drastic choice instead manifested a tunneling abscess of darkness, need, and yes, mental illness.

To determine precisely how this event has affected the arc of each life he left behind is impossible. Are my daughter’s headaches or anxiety directly caused by the trauma she suffered at age seven? What of my own challenges? I’ll never know for sure — not that I haven’t invested much energy and resources (a.k.a. time and money) in the emotional forensics of therapy.

At some point in that first year, I also attended a few meetings of a suicide survivors’ support group, surprised at how long ago the deaths were that those in attendance were grieving. A year was the average, and I was alarmed. What was left to talk about? Wasn’t the worst behind them? Why weren’t they moving on? I would find out in time — lots of it — that this unique loss results in a tenacious kind of grief and countless side-effects related to the guilt, shame, confusion and rage that remain for a partner left behind.

As the Christmas holidays come to a close each year, and my two kids go back to school, January and February lumber up to the door wearing heavy layers. They barge through, dragging March 6 behind. I’d hoped by now that these months would devolve to a normal level of winter blahs. But nine years later, the date looms, arrives and passes, and I wonder if maybe next year I’ll figure out the right combination of activity, rest, distraction and contemplation that will render the season powerless to impact me in subtle and hard to describe ways.

My children seem to have moved past the unforeseen hurts of a school-sponsored father-daughter dance or “donuts with dad” gathering, and this year, Nora didn’t even realize it was the big anniversary. That was good. There are always days, seasons and events throughout the year when we think about him, feel his absence and muse all over again at what happened to him, and to us.

I took Andrew for ice cream Sunday afternoon to a place that had a line out the door. I figured some things are worth the wait, but the crowd turned out to be a little league team he plays against. They were in uniform, wearing medals on ribbons.  We wondered out loud what had transpired as we listened to the post-game chatter and watched the boyish hijinks. We didn’t talk about it, but I think he felt left out, which, though character-building — as unpleasant things are — isn’t any fun in the moment. Feeling left out is a universal and visceral hurt that isn’t easy for anyone.  

As a widow of a suicide, and a single parent to boot, I’ve experienced all manner of being left out. From the grocery store to the soccer field, to the new home and neighborhood where it’s clear there’s no man in the house, invisible waves of suspicion, pity, dismay and, sure, inadequacy and helplessness, keep people from approaching, calling, knocking on the door with a plate of cookies.

Then there’s the more existential door slammed on the rest of your life, halting what you imagined would transpire, blocking forever your mental newsreel of the kids growing up and your life moving along in predictable ways.

“Well I just do what my parents do,” Nora laughs. “If they cheer, I cheer. I figure it doesn’t really matter if I know exactly what Andrew did on the field.”

She’s on the phone with her grandfather, sitting in a lawn chair along the third base line at her brother’s game. Hearing her say “my parents” has an effect on me like a half glass of wine, and I know her stepdad (not yet a legal member of the family, but still) is pleased. I wonder if her Grampa, her dad’s dad, hears the reference, and whether it hurt at all. For me, it’s a little medal on a ribbon.

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