It’s been almost 6 months since I lost my person. A half a year since I’ve kissed him, woken up next to him, or heard him say the words I love you babe. And it feels like just yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time. The grief time warp is weird like that, but when you lose your spouse, everything about your life seems to change. Sometimes I even feel like I lost so much of my identity when Jesse died, which is pretty dramatic, but it’s the honest truth. I spent 10 years as either Jesse’s girlfriend or Jesse’s fiancé or Jesse’s wife, and then in an instant I was handed the “widow card” and became none of those things. All of a sudden I’m left to figure out who the hell I am apart from him, as a “me” instead of an “us.” It’s weird, sad, uncomfortable and mentally exhausting.
Marriage is definitely not for the faint of heart, but I loved being Jesse’s wife. If you told me a year ago that someday I’d miss finding his stinky socks right next to the hamper (instead of actually in it) I’d have said you were NUTS. It’s true though, I miss it all, the good and the bad. I’d even let him shove the blanket over my head after he ripped ass one more time if it meant one more conversation at the supper table, one more hug goodbye, one more opportunity to lay on his chest and listen to his heartbeat while watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory…a huge mistake we make in this life is assuming there will always be one more.
It’s hard to explain the rollercoaster of emotions that you experience when you lose someone to suicide. And even though every grief journey is as unique as a fingerprint, I can confidently guess that there is one emotion that is more present than all the others for every suicide survivor….GUILT.
Jesse struggled with PTSD, depression and addiction for as long as I’d known him. The trauma from his childhood haunted him, and it was almost like he would use whatever he could to escape his reality and numb the pain..sometimes it was drugs, sometimes it was alcohol, sometimes it was even video games. I knew that things would even get so dark from time to time that thoughts of ending his life would creep in and that was scary. For many years he was resistant to getting professional help, and I was completely in over my head thinking I could be the one to help him, but I loved him and knew that he loved me, and I hoped that would eventually be enough. (In case you’re new to this, that’s not how addiction or mental illness work)
The first time my grief counselor asked me when I started walking on water I was completely taken aback..I mean YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY FRIEND CAROL!! Now you’re accusing me of thinking I’m Jesus!?? But she was right. I spent many years thinking I was capable of saving Jesse, desperately trying to hold on to him. To keep him here. To convince him that living was better than not living. And when I couldn’t. When he’d fall back into the depths of depression and addiction, I’d feel like it was my fault. Like somehow I wasn’t enough or I didn’t do enough or say enough of the right things. Like it was my sole job to fix him. It sounds silly when I say it out loud now, but at the time I was doing what I needed to do to survive a situation I didn’t at all understand.
On October 1st, 2017 my worst nightmare came true when Jesse took his life. And when I realized it wasn’t all just a bad dream, I wasn’t going to wake up, it wasn’t just a sick joke he was playing on me..the guilt started to flood in and completely consume me. The what if’s, why’s, should have’s and would have’s were all I could think about. I didn’t know that emotional pain could make my entire body physically hurt. And even though Jesse is the one who pulled the trigger that morning, I felt 100% responsible for his death.
This is the reality of suicide. The pain doesn’t disappear, it simply gets passed on to someone else.
I had spoken with one of our close friends a few days before Jesse died and asked her for some advice. It was a quick conversation and there was no way she could have known how badly we were struggling, because I didn’t share that with her. I simply took in her response and that was that. Some time after his death, this same friend and I were talking on the phone, and that conversation got brought up. With an intense sadness in her voice she asked me if I was mad at her for not asking more questions that day about why I needed her help. I had been so consumed by my own grief that I had no idea anyone else had been carrying the same burden of guilt for so long. My heart hurt so badly for her, and my thoughts turned to other conversations I’d had. I realized there were so many others I’d brushed off who felt the exact same way as she and I both did…
The friend who sensed something was wrong when she gave him a hug that Friday before. The buddy he had spoken with on the phone less than 24 hours before. The ones who said they wondered if they could have said more or listened more. His mom. My parents. So many people who loved and cared for him and who were also asking themselves those same questions I had spent weeks playing over and over in my head.
But the reality is we’re all holding on to guilt that doesn’t belong to any of us. Just like Jesse spent all those years carrying around shame that didn’t belong to him. We couldn’t love his problems away. Like I said earlier, that’s not how it works.
Jesse didn’t want to die. In fact, just days before his death he told me he was finally ready to start living. He backed those words with actions (something he never did) by attending an AA/NA meeting and even calling around to different therapists in our area. He said he was ready to do whatever it took to take his life back, even if that meant in patient treatment. He wanted to be there to teach our son to hunt and fish and to walk our daughter down the aisle.
This part is important. This is not how Jesse wanted his story to end, and it should be him here using it to help bring awareness and encourage others, NOT the absence of him.
I miss my husband. My kids miss their dad. And I will keep sharing our story over and over and over again if it means sparing even one family from this heartbreak. If you are the “me” in your story, please know that you are not alone, you don’t have to do this alone, and it is ok to forgive yourself. If you are the “Jesse” in your story, please choose life, accept the help, and be here tomorrow.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255