A year ago today my husband took his own life. These are my recollections of that day.
The events of July 3, 2010:
John had been staying with a friend for a few days, since getting out of the hospital earlier that week. He was in the hospital after overdosing on antidepressants as an attempt to take his life. I didn’t take it seriously as he really wanted to die but more like a cry for help. I was trying to get him to see the counselor I had seen, or someone in that office, so we could get help for him, me, us.
He had texted me til 1:30 in the morning. Crazy, senseless texts expressing his frustrations with everything. I didn’t reply. I thought replying would only make things worse. I had hoped he’d stop and go to bed.
At 3-something in the morning my cell phone, on the bed table beside me, buzzed. I was asleep and didn’t answer. I woke and looked at the missed call number and recognized the extension as a call from the hospital. First thought? Crap, what’s John done now, fearful he’d been in a wreck or had tried to overdose again.
I listened to the voicemail. It was the Emergency Room. They had John in the ER and he’d fallen from a height and was hurt and they needed someone to come to the hospital. I was confused and mad. I remember thinking crap, now he’s gone and hurt himself or paralyzed himself or is on life support or something, and I was just mad.
I said I’d need to get someone to come stay at my house with my children and I’d be there as soon as I could.
I called my parents. I told them the hospital had called and John was there and was hurt and they needed me to come. They both came over immediately; my mom to stay at the house with the boys, who were asleep, and my dad to drive me to the hospital. We didn’t talk much on the way. I didn’t tell dad what they said about him falling from a height, only that he was hurt and they needed me to come.
We got there and were taken to a small room where the man who called me talked to us about what happened. Two officers on a break heard a noise and investigated the noise and found that John had fallen or jumped off the top floor of a parking garage near the hospital. He died of internal injuries, blunt force trauma. They worked on him but there was nothing they could do.
I was numb. Shocked. Mad. In disbelief probably. I can’t even remember if I cried. At some point a police officer came and talked to me more. They’d found an empty prescription bottle in his car. His glasses and his phone were on the ledge. His wallet was on him. They returned it to me. The officer had a bag with his clothes in it that he asked if I wanted. I said I didn’t. There was no note, but everything indicated suicide. A security camera showed him drive into the garage about 1:30 a.m., but the camera didn’t see what he did after that.
They needed positive ID that it was John. Dad went first, probably making sure it was OK for me to go, that I could handle what I was about to see. Then dad went with me. It was just a regular ol’ ER room with a gurney covered in a white sheet. I never saw his body only his head and face, which surprisingly looked fine. I saw no injuries, for which I was thankful. I was scared for the worst. He looked like he was sleeping. He hadn’t shaved in a while. I just stared, in disbelief. He looked like he could wake up at any moment. I’d seen him sleep like that many times and had gone to him and touched him or spoke to him and have him startle awake. I wanted to reach out and touch him and have him startle awake like he’d done do many times. It seemed possible.
Dad recommended the funeral home to use. That’s where they were going to take him and we were free to leave.
I’m sure dad said comforting things but I don’t remember them. I was numb. So many thoughts going through my head. I’ve got to tell the boys. What do I tell them? How do I tell them? How do I tell his mother? His sister? And I was mad thinking about having to plan a funeral and … just so many overwhelming thoughts.
I remember dad taking me home and I guess he told my mom. I don’t remember. I don’t remember if the boys were awake yet or not but if they weren’t awake when I got home they were soon. My dad left to pick up breakfast for us all and I said I wanted to tell the boys, by myself, by taking them for a walk around the block.
I don’t recall my exact words but I believe I told them that something happened and their dad was hurt and the doctors tried to fix him but weren’t able to and their dad died. Some people may have chose to say words like “went to heaven” instead of died — and we proceeded to talk about daddy going to heaven to be with Jesus when he died — but I felt it important to be honest with them and not sugarcoat too much. I wanted to protect them as much as I could, of course, but I felt it important they understand what was happening. They asked a few questions — how did daddy get hurt, where was he, etc. — which I answered best I could while not letting them know that it seemed to be their dad’s choice to end his life. They got quiet and we kept walking. Finn asked who was gonna throw baseball to him. Caden cried that he wanted to see his daddy. I responded to their inquiries the best I could.
I remember everyone who came to our house Caden announcing, almost proclaiming, “My daddy died!” I’ve since read in grief books that that is normal reaction for children his age.
How was I going to tell his mom and sister? Dad recommended I get a message to his sister that she go to her mom’s house and then call us when she got there that something had happened and they needed to be together and then call us. She did that and dad did the difficult thing of telling them. I just couldn’t.
I saw them when we first got the funeral home, hugged them both and cried that I was so sorry. They had no idea John had been having a rough time; he didn’t want to burden them and wouldn’t let me tell them or tell them himself. So this was a HUGE shock to them. HUGE.
I sat numb and in shock as the coroner asked me questions for the death certificate, about where I wanted John to be buried and when to have the visitation and service. I chose a casket and remember commenting that it was a color of wood John liked and then thinking to myself not that it matters what he likes. I wrote a bad check that the funeral home director said he would hold until I told him it was good. It was then the financial aspect of things started to hit — I had no idea if any of the life insurance would pay because of the nature of death, and if not how was I going to pay for this? I can’t afford our house on my salary alone. Would we have to move. Oh my, reality was coming at me fast.
I chose burial at the cemetery nearest our home. It made sense for ease of visiting and maintaining a grave and for the boys to be able to go there easily whenever they wanted to, if they wanted to. We went there next and I purchased a plot in the newest part, in the Serenity Garden, which sounded nice.
I went home. The rest of the day is a blur. People brought food. People came to visit. Neighbors checked on what was going on because so many cars were at the house. Word had spread and several friends called to make sure what they were hearing was true. I gave my sister a list of people who should be called — friends, co-workers, church people.
At some point the day ended and I tucked my boys into bed like I always did and I went to bed myself. I took a sleeping pill to help me sleep. The thoughts in my mind were still going, going, going.
To be continued …