WARNING: this gets detailed and somewhat graphic for the imagination. Please read THROUGH IT before reading this post.
Deep into the earth I go. Deep into the darkness where hell lives. I go in deep because where I am now requires me to be there. In order to go Through It I must first face it and expel the debris. I’ve had to think about not only where his head was at the time of his completed suicide: I’ve had to think about what I was thinking before I knew he’d done, as I call it, “the deed.”
We had a deal. At least I thought we had a deal, and for my part it seemed like the right thing to do. (Had he kept the first part of the deal I’d now be in jail!) The deal was that: he’d come and talk to me and tell me that he was going to attempt and complete suicide. The second half of the deal was that I would not be the one to find him dead. The deal wasn’t realistic.
Had Jon told me about his plan I would have been legally obligated to stop him. I would have needed to get him to the hospital. On August 28th that is where my head was. I was going to have him forcibly, if needed, hospitalized. The numbers indicate that those who go into the hospital come out with more energy and actually in a place where they are more likely to carry out a plan. In Jon’s mind going to the hospital wasn’t an option. Going there by force was most assuredly less of an option. He spent all day Saturday and Sunday morning making the final decision to leave. From his notes it wasn’t an easy choice. In the end it wasn’t a long letter that he left on the dining room table but rather a short note that said he loved me. The letters were his thoughts on the “why now.” I had to read between the lines to understand it as even in dying he couldn’t show it all. He had, over the years, shared everything thus I was able to understand what he couldn’t even write. The note was two short sentences. In small print, so as not to detract from the content of the note, he told me where to find his body.
He kept the second half of our agreement. I did not open the door to the shed where he was. The police broke the glass to open the door which had been locked from the inside. This kept me from using a key to open the door myself. (Yes, on realizing where he was I grabbed the key that hung by the door and went out to attempt to open the shed.)
When the police came shortly after I had called them I went out with them. They sternly, once the door was open, told me to go inside the house. I’m told it was messy and I didn’t look and I’m glad that I didn’t look. The shed had to be sanitized and most everything in there was lost.
The police were required to check for criminal activity but there was none. They came into the house and there I sat on the sofa stunned and wondering how he could have done this. As I mentioned before, this was shock, trauma and a bunch of other stuff all rolled into an afternoon that I had never wanted to have to live through. The police were respectful, kind, and that is all I felt while dealing with them. I was actually able, and I don’t know how, to ask what he’d done. Jon had told me years earlier that he’d decided on a method that would be decisive, swift and not be too painful. The officer told me that at the most he had one second of pain and three seconds till death would have come. He did not use a gun.
To give you some idea of where my head was during all of this I asked a really stupid question. “Did he hang himself?” OK, I knew that there was no way to hang himself in that shed, and we didn’t have the type of rope that would have held for hanging. My head was pretty discombobulated by that time. His body was whole and for that I’m thankful.
I share all of this because I had to begin from this point and go forward. I’m grateful that I had been spared the trauma of finding him. I was lucky that way.
What is the boring machine now sending out on the conveyor belt to be dumped into the earth? Pain, deep pain, loss, sadness, questions of did I do my best and did I do enough. Could I have done things better? And in typing these words the tears return. The answer is YES it was and is enough. Maybe that is what haunts so many people in this situation. This might be the hardest of all the questions to resolve. I was lucky because Jon and I had spoken about our relationship and he recognized, and told me that I’d done enough. Yet doubts still come because that is the nature of this beast.
Why didn’t I see it coming? Sometimes you just don’t see it because the person is extremely skilled at hiding it from you. Sometimes the words are too scary for the person to utter. In so many ways what a person who is seriously planning suicide is going to have to speak is the truth that says I’m going to take my life. I’m going to go to a place that is so unthinkable that speaking the words is even a hard act to contemplate. I’m taking so much control that when I complete this act I can’t reverse it.
Personally I don’t think that you can remain sane and complete the act of suicide. I say that because I do know what it required for Jon to go to the place where he could complete suicide. It wasn’t a calm place. He had once told me that if he could ever bring himself to complete the act he’d have to take himself to a place of hate for me. That is what he did. For less than four minutes he took himself to a place of hate that enabled him to separate from all that was good, kind, dear and loving to himself. Having committed such an act towards me he could no longer live because it went against his value system. If you are reading this and saying to yourself that this is crazy-making you are correct it was, and it is. BUT, for him it worked. In those four minutes he managed to alienate me in a way that I couldn’t imagine. It worked; I wanted nothing to do with him.
This does not mean that everyone who completes suicide takes themselves to a place of hate for those who they love. I don’t think most souls who complete or attempt suicide would think in this manner. There is some evidence that points to those who attempt and complete suicide having tears in their eyes. That tells me that they don’t go where Jon went.
Suicide leaves a legacy of damage. Your spouse, partner, parents, siblings, children, extended family and friends are left to sort out the mess and damage.
I am left holding a life that is shattered by an act that, when you pause to think about, causes an existential crisis for everyone involved. How could he go to that ultimate place and contemplate such an act? How do I deal with all the crap that gets pushed out by coping with this issue? Maybe the hardest of all is: what can a friend or family member say to make it better?
Let me start off with the “what to say” response. Firstly, this is the unthinkable act. The reality is that people do consider the existential ultimate powder. People who hurt badly enough, perceive the solution of suicide as a fix-it for a life with too much pain of whatever type it is they are dealing with; these souls do go to the ultimate place. They do consider suicide and for some they act.
So what do you say to someone who is faced with processing their loved-ones completed suicide?
In writing this I wrote a list of do’s and don’ts. The problem is the list is MY do and don’t items. So I’ll keep it simple. Do show empathy. That means do what they need not what you think you’d want.
Be honest and tell them that you don’t understand but that you will listen and try to learn and to be in the moment with them.
If you offer support make certain that it is support you can follow through with.
My one huge DON’T is this: Don’t abandon them because you don’t know what to say. Say you love them, say you care, SAY SOMETHING!
Secondly, I’ve been through one traumatic death before and having survived that I can tell you that this is different. Which leads me to explain what I call “the death bubble”
All death sends you into some kind of bubble. I don’t mean this in a negative way but rather the bubble has to exist in order to give you time to process the event. For some there is time to say goodbye and for others the death is sudden and unexpected. Still others must process some form of trauma along with the death. Then there is completed suicide which is very different to process
Each of these deaths causes us to go to a place of time standing still or ‘the bubble”. While the rest of the universe continues on with life we are stopped mid-track in whatever place it is we are. We do what must be done to either bury or cremate, we plan a funeral, memorial service or wake. Most importantly we gather as family, friends, colleagues and we grieve, celebrate, eat, drink, laugh and cry. After the service and immediate mourning period we exit the bubble to play catch up and realize that life moves on. We might be in slow motion for a while but we do move forward.
We go home to an empty home, someone missing at the table, someone we can no longer speak to or in some cases we go home relieved that person X is no longer there. But still we leave the bubble.
With the death of an older relative or parent you know it’s coming. With younger deaths we may or may not know that they will die; but we may have time to prepare for it thus making it somewhat easier. Traumatic deaths are an entirely different thing altogether.
Heaped on top of the normal grief and pain you have trauma, loss, anger, rage, questioning, disbelief, guilt and this can go on for months. I must also say that I haven’t exhausted the list of what someone who deals with traumatic death deals with. The bubble either explodes, crashes in or it remains forever.
There is no right or wrong way to “do” death. People grieve differently. People think differently,and their learned experience combines with all of this to create an individual experience.
Having said all of that it takes time to get over the death of anyone.
My greatest plea in all of this is to have others recognize that grief takes time. Show compassion and please do not shame someone for their process. They will get through it when they get through it. Their time, their rules, are what matter here.
There are some helpful do’s that you can engage in IF you are committed to support someone who is grieving the death of a loved one.
There are times when you may need to offer feedback. Take your time and be gentle. By this I mean create a conversation and ask questions and listen to the responses. Don’t offer feedback until you have learned more from someone. It might be great feedback but if you listen, you may learn something that makes it altogether wrong for that particular time and individual.
For instance, I realized about six months into my journey within the deep earth that I might benefit from working with a psychologist who specialized in grief. What I was going through was hell and you should avoid going through that place alone. Friends have been supportive but sometimes you need to talk it out with an objective third party. I was clued into myself and what was happening well enough to grasp what I needed. It took me another month or two to follow through on it but it was on my radar and I acted. In some cases someone might not know what they need. Had someone told me that I needed to talk with someone I may or may not have been receptive to the idea. I could have said “I’m fine on my own” and pushed the person away. Timing and understanding are everything.
So deep inside the mountain I go. Deep into a place that I wish I could have avoided. Deep, and in some cases very alone, because I’m the only one who can do this work. When the tears come I let them, knowing that tears lift pain in ways that I can’t do without.
At some point in time there will be light at the end of this tunnel. Logic tells me this and hope lights the candle that I hold in this space. Each turn of the boring, but necessary, machine brings me closer to the other side. For now that is enough.