The other day I looked at some photos of my old life before suicide. I don’t do that normally, haven’t in years. I think I was afraid to chance it. But it went okay. I didn’t dissolve into an emotional mess. In fact, it was kind of nice. Almost like looking in on the past of someone else. That life is gone. I am not that person anymore. I could see the family sailing through the decades on one of those big, seagoing schooners of old, ships with complicated rigging and a practiced crew ready to fight off any pirates that might come along.
And there were pirates. All kinds of things that took every ounce of strength we had, storms of loss, medical emergencies and decisions about which way to go when the winds were high. There were also bright, sunny days and wonderful adventures. Pretty much the tale of a lot of families. My husband was the captain of our ship. He was amazing and kept our vessel on course through all of it with unmatched strength. That’s why the decline of his mental health was so hard to believe. And why I felt I had to step up and be there for him. It became up to me to set a course and keep us on it.
What I didn’t realize was that dealing with mental health issues doesn’t work that way. If he had lost his job, I would have known what to do. I would have taken a second job and reorganized our budget. If he had had to have major surgery, I would have waited in the waiting room for hours and nursed him back to health the way he did for me not long after we were married. But this...and suicide...this was different. When we lost our captain, we were shipwrecked, hopeless, lost.
As I looked at those pictures and the new ones that have been taken in the last decade since his death, I thought about that grim shipwreck. I thought I had abandoned it just to survive. I did have to dive into some pretty dark waters and leave everything I knew. I did have to find a way to build a new life, one I didn’t even want at first, one I was not sure could float. But after the hollow-eyed photographs in which I thought I was smiling came scenes of progressive healing. After the poses that showed forced smiles and stiff postures - if you saw these, you would be able to tell we were clinging to each other just to stand - there were captured peaceful moments and ordinary scenes, celebrations, new little family members and friends, and even silly bits of joy.
Then I saw the ship. We had not abandoned it. We had drug its battered boards behind us and pieced it back together, a little at a time. The sails might not be as glorious as they once were. The greatest storm of our lives had taken a toll. We would never know again the innocence we had lived in when my husband was our captain. But the family - his family - is still in the photographs. Life - our life - is still being lived. It’s going on in all the ways he taught us, in the precious moments I thought I had lost forever.
There will be more storms, but the sea is calm right now. I can look out over the deck of this ship that has seen way too much and know that, but I can also find comfort in the glorious sunset of today. And in the knowledge that all was not destroyed. At the moment, we still float.
Way for Hope
Losing someone you love is difficult, but it can mean a lot to hear from others traveling similar paths.
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Links of Value:
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Word of God
"My Story" Big Daddy Weave
"Hope in Front of Me"
The Joy FM
Traumatic loss or preexisting conditions can worsen mental health. Use this info graphic to find help.
"Take Charge of Your Mental Health" - a free download from www.nami.org: