Someone told me that yesterday (May 3rd) was “National Widow’s Day.” I don’t know much about that, but I do know that it’s been a little more than a year since my husband killed himself.
Grief is a messy business and way too much folks seem to think that after the earth has spun around the sun 365 times, a widow should be “over it.”
I understand their position: It’s tough to see someone in pain and it seems that grief – a type of extreme emotional pain – is especially difficult to watch.
My husband was seven years my senior and I’d always assumed that I’d outlive him, but not like this and not so soon. I always assumed that I’d be a “good old widow” and cheerfully reminisce and cherish the memories of our long life together.
The suicide tainted everything. Every single thing.
It’s true that “suicide is a death like no other.”
Obviously, my husband wasn’t happy. Obviously, he didn’t want to grow old with me. Obviously, this wasn’t the love affair I thought it was. Obviously, I was not the wife that he wanted, and obviously, this wasn’t the life that he wanted.
Or maybe it was.
But I’ll never know. There were no clues and no hints and not a whiff of an idea of what he was planning. April 18th, 2016, he dropped me off at the Norfolk International Airport so that I could travel to Boston and see my middle daughter. As soon as I landed in Boston (five hours later), I called him and asked him how he was doing. He was starting a big court case on Tuesday morning and I’d been very worried about his health.
He answered my questions and then started an argument over the phone. His words were so vitriolic that I was stunned.
I asked him why he was doing this.
He simply continued with the angry words. Wayne knew, “he who asks the questions controls the conversation.” He was in control of what was going to be our last conversation. I don’t and won’t remember how that conversation ended and/or who hung up first. One year later, it’s a path in my brain that must remain barricaded and closed and permanently sealed, lest I slip into insanity.
About 10:00 am, he sent me a text claiming that his next action would be my fault. It was a text that was both puzzling and terrifying. Yet not in my worst nightmare could I have imagined what would come next. As soon as that text had been sent, he turned off his phone and left his office at City Hall. Within 90 minutes, he’d be dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
For several weeks, I slept at friends’ homes and lived out of a Harris Teeter shopping bag. I lost more than 30 pounds in two months. Three or four times a week, I returned to my beautiful home in Norfolk long enough to get fresh clothes and then took off again. Sometimes, I traveled to see friends in Illinois. For a couple weeks, I stayed at a religious retreat in northern Virginia. A couple times, I spent the night in the car. So much of that time is lost to memory. I was in deep shock, and didn’t even realize it.
Family and friends feared that I was slipping away. There were days that I thought that insanity might provide some relief to the excruciating emotional pain. For the first time in my long life, I understood – with great clarity – why people become homeless and why they become alcoholics and drug addicts. I wanted to slip under the radar of society and take my Harris Teeter bag and disappear into a crowd somewhere and live out the rest of my days, weeks or years with “my people” – the hopeless homeless.
Lyrics from my favorite song “Don’t Laugh At Me” (Mark Willis) became crystal clear.
I lost my wife and little boy when
Someone crossed that yellow line
The day we laid them in the ground
Is the day I lost my mind
And right now I’m down to holdin’
This little cardboard sign…
Would people say that the day Wayne died was “the day I lost my mind”? People had cracked up under less. Would this be the event that cost me my sanity?
As I slipped further into the deep black well of hopelessness, friends tried desperately to lean over the rock-ribbed walls and throw a rope down to me. The problem was, I was too cold and too weak to grab onto it. The turning point came sometime in Summer 2016 (I don’t remember the date). A friend – someone that had been on the periphery of my life – appeared and said, “You’re going to come stay with me. I have a spare bedroom in my house and I live out in the country. Pack up some things and come out tonight.”
For four months, I lived with my friend on a peanut farm. Each evening, when she returned home from work – too tired to take a deep breath – she’d stand at the foot of my bed and talk with me, and pray with me. Every morning, she’d greet me with a smile and pray for me and help me remember that I was loved.
There was another friend that I’ll talk more about later. These were two of my angels (and there were so many others), who kept me going when I no longer had the will, the strength, the desire or the vision to face one more day.Without them, I would have been another statistic.
Throughout this last year, I have literally craved love. Over on Facebook, at my “Sears Homes” group, I asked the 1,600 members to post a few happy words about how my books had blessed their lives. I read that thread again and again and again.
About six months after Wayne’s suicide, I moved into a rental home where I’m living now. I remain hopeful that – in time – I’ll find a home to purchase, and can then unpack my things and restore some order and structure to my life.
I know that several readers of this blog are prayer warriors, and believe in the healing power of prayer. If that describes you, I’m so very grateful for your love and your prayers. Please know that at the darkest times of my year, I’ve visualized those many prayers being poured into my soul, and that imagery (and the love behind it) has brought me much comfort.
Because of Wayne’s suicide, I’ll never be the same. This has forever changed me. But because of Wayne’s suicide, I’ll always be part of a “club” that understands the full depths of human suffering, as well as the unbelievable amounts of divine love and genuine kindness that can be found in a stranger’s heart.
Each day is still a mighty struggle, but each day, I strive to find one thing for which to be sincerely grateful. And many days, I find several things.
Perhaps that’s what healing looks like.
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