My husband Victor died by suicide on January 11, 2019. He was 67 and we had been married for 30 years.
Victor and I first met in high school in Coconut Grove, Florida in 1969 and on our first date we saw Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at a club on Miami Beach. As is often typical of high school romances, Victor and I only dated for about a year, but we always kept in touch and remained friends.
In 1989, after we had moved from Miami, first for college and later for work, and after marriage and divorce, we met again when we both happened to be back in Miami – and we’ve been together ever since – until January, 2019.
I won’t go into the details of Victor’s suicide, only to say that I know the trigger that caused him to make his final decision, and I have no unanswered questions from that last day and the years leading up to it.
I am beyond sad, but I understand why he did what he did.
But, I do want to add that the decision to stop living is one that people arrive at by different paths, some over a lifetime, some over several months, and some in a manner of minutes.
Although preventative measures are essential, many problems that lead people to kill themselves cannot always be fixed by anti-depressants or talk-therapy – this was the case with Victor.
Suicide adds another layer to grieving. There’s the trauma of the event, unanswered questions, mixed emotions, and maybe even stigma and shame.
And, even though you understand there was nothing you could have done to prevent your loved one’s death, there will always be a little corner of your brain that wonders “what if.”
All of us who are grieving have been through an unimaginable loss – no matter how your child, spouse, parent, sibling, partner, or dearest friend died.
Since Victor’s death, I use the word “defiant” to describe myself. I am defiant in my grief and defiant that I will still have a good life. I am not going to let Victor’s death, and how he died, define the rest of my life.
But, as the reality of loss settles in, defiance can be hard to hold onto. I remember at about month four I thought, “I’ve got this, I can do this,” and then month five came around and I thought, “I can’t do this, this is too hard.”
That’s what grieving is: back and forth and up and down. But those waves of grief, so appropriately named, do get further apart and shorter in length as time goes on.
How am I after 11 months?
- I see that my future will not be my present.
- I don’t cry as often, and when I do, it’s in shorter bursts.
- I visit memories of my life with Victor without that horrible pain.
- I still think of our routines but don’t dwell on them.
- I’m sad in the grocery store, but I don’t cry.
- I am not living in my “active” grief, but I still visit it at times.
Grieving is hard work. Not only do we have to learn to live without our loved one, but we have to constantly monitor what thoughts, activities, people, and places are best for us.
Our job now is to take care of ourselves, and that’s not easy, especially with the Coronavirus pandemic. Our safe places and the people we rely on may not be available to us. Triggers pop up more frequently. And, the last thing we want is change. We’ve had enough change to last a lifetime.
But you need to hold onto this: throughout all of the sadness and pain of your loss, throughout these uncertain times – you’re still you. You’re sadder, lonelier, maybe even scared – but you’re still you.
You still have everything that’s gotten you this far in life. You’ve experienced unimaginable loss, and now, this pandemic. But, you’re still you. You may not see it, but you do have the courage, strength, and resilience to keep moving forward.
We must all be defiant.
“Eleven Months” is excerpted from a presentation at CaringMatters, a nonprofit in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which provides free support for children, adults and families dealing with serious illness, caregiving and grief. Sarah Miller, a freelance writer and instructional designer in Washington, DC, is at 15 months now. She still remains defiant.