I was driving home from work recently, singing along to the radio in my own little world, when I passed a car the exact same model and colour as my husband's. Next thing I knew I was instantly transported back to That Day.
The last time I saw my husband, 11 months ago, was around 8am as he kissed me goodbye and left for work. But he didn't go to work that morning, he drove an hour away from our home, parked his car in a hotel car park, checked in and took his life.
Seeing that car triggered my grief and my brain went careering down that slippery slope: ‘What did he think would happen to his car? Did he realize that I’d have to arrange to collect it? Did he realize I’d have to find a new purpose for ALL of his possessions? Did he know his parents would fly in and help me with that? How did he think we’d be capable of sorting this out? Why would he do that? Why didn’t he TALK to me? What the hell happened to us?’
And I’m back. Right there in that very moment where my husband’s suicide defines our existence – all there was and all there ever will be.
So. Many. Questions. He left a note for me, written on the hotel stationery (which indicated that he hadn’t planned or prepared for his death) but what about his parents? His sister? His friends? They all wanted answers too. Didn’t he realise they’d be just as devastated?
He left so many things unfinished – dirty laundry, paperwork, our weekend plans to visit friends at the beach. He received and made work calls on his drive that morning, set up meetings even. Did he know then that he wouldn’t be able to attend?
I had planned to plant a garden in our backyard that day and sent him a photo of my handiwork via text message only 15 minutes before he died… didn’t he want to come home and see it? See me? Hug me? Crawl in to bed with me and tell me he was scared and let me help him and hold him?
These questions are such torture and I will never get the answers. Why did this happen to him? How did he get to that point? When did he decide that this was his only option? If only I'd seen it, if only I'd stopped him from leaving the house that morning.
I’ve had intensive suicide bereavement counseling and I understand and accept that it wasn’t Dan that day, it was a disease in his brain, but in that moment I forget all the rationale and the questions build and build and build until I feel like I’m drowning in them.
I finished my drive home with tears flowing freely and fell in to bed, muffling my howls with my pillow. Until, almost like she I knew I was struggling, a message popped up on my phone from an old university friend I haven’t seen for more then 10 years. We drifted apart but are Facebook friends now and even though she didn’t know Dan, she felt compelled to reach out when she heard the news and still checks in with me now and then.
I replied to her message, confessing how distraught I was, telling her I couldn’t understand why and how this happened.
In her reply, she said she understood more than I realized. She opened up to me about her own depression. Unbeknownst to me until that day, her battle was a fierce one, and ongoing one. One that she had come close to losing.
My beautiful friend told me that almost five years earlier she had been in a dark place, struggling with an abusive relationship and a stressful job. Her depression was deep and she had thought abstractly about suicide but knew she would never, could never do that to her family. It was not an option she would ever consider. Until one day she had a sudden ‘brain snap’ and decided in an instant it was the only answer. Within moments she had made a serious attempt on her life that failed purely because she had been in such a rush. It was incredibly close though and only by pure luck and chance that she survived. She eventually reached out to her family, admitting how serious her state of mind was and got the help she needed.
Today, she still struggles with her disease, but she is strong and determined. She wanted me to know that she came very close to a similar fate as my husband’s. Under different circumstances he might have survived his 'brain snap' too, and gone on to get the help he needed. We might be telling his story to other people who are suffering and giving them hope.
It made me realise (again) that my husband wasn’t a man who took his own life. He was a man who had a disease that took control of his body, and caused an incident that claimed his life. I stopped thinking of his death as a suicide even, because in my mind that implies a conscious act or choice.
This conversation with my friend calmed my raging questions but made me very sad. Sad that she had been through such a terrible experience, one that lasted years and still affects her deeply. Sad for so many others who are battling with mental illness and not getting the support and treatment that they need. And it made my sad for my sweet, gentle husband. My beautiful Daniel. My darling didn’t deserve to leave our world in such a tragic way. If life was fair, he wouldn’t have died so young. There wouldn’t be disease in the world taking such beautiful souls from us, there wouldn’t be accidents or murders or cruel twists of fate, there wouldn’t be so much pain.
It sucks. Death sucks. It’s just not fair.