It has been almost four months since my Pops died by suicide. The time and space since the night I lost him, and through today, has been a dizzying mixture of emotions; a ride I hope never to revisit in my lifetime.
A few weeks after my Pops died I removed my wedding ring and stored it in a safe place. I’m sure that statement sounds odd and misplaced, perhaps irrelevant to this story. However, it has nothing to do with yet everything to do with the loss of my Pops. It has to do with my needs not being met. It also has to do with someone else, of course, my husband, and his inability to feel empathy or to be empathetic – specifically for and to me during an overwhelmingly devastating time.
In early July my husband was admitted to a treatment facility that focuses on PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and the months leading up to that admission were painful for our entire family. Shortly after my husband was admitted, my Pops attempted suicide. Pops spent five days in the hospital, and the day I picked him up I knew he wasn’t alright. I knew. The hospital staff disagreed. Five weeks later he was successful.
Fast-forward a few weeks…
My husband was angry, demanding, and the only thing that seemed to matter to him was his belief that my attention should have been solely on him and not the loss of my Pops – but it wasn’t. He didn’t care about my kids and their healing, and certainly not my grieving or healing.
At that point, I had been my husband’s caregiver for two years. I did a lot of things wrong in those two years. I focused on my husband and his needs while completely disregarding my own or those of my children. Our life and home revolved around my husband and during the majority of those two years, having my focus only on him didn’t seem disruptive. I was accustomed to caring for others, and I was used to putting my needs last. I was a people-pleaser who seldom complained, and somehow we made it work. Until August 13, 2016.
I overlooked a lot of behavior with my husband that I wouldn’t have overlooked with anyone else. I granted him a wide degree of latitude due to his brain injury. I did my best to keep him active and helped him with daily tasks. I assisted him in pursuing his dream of becoming a public speaker, and I ran our household alone most of the time. I also put my dreams and career goals on hold, willingly. I did it all willingly because I was in love with my husband and watching him reach new milestones was amazing and fulfilling. I never stopped to ponder what would happen if I needed him. I assumed because we were married, and in love that we would be there for each other. I thought that it went both ways; I believed it was possible for it to work both ways.
There was so much in play during the time surrounding my Pops death. My husband was still in the treatment facility, and we had just moved into a new house. Things were already stressful and then August 13 happened. I remember calling my husband that night after I spoke to the police and medical examiner. I also recall several conversations and interactions over the course of the weeks that followed Pops death. I remember one night on the front porch and my husband screaming at me because my focus wasn’t on him. I remember asking my husband not to call me the week of my Pops memorial because I couldn’t emotionally handle one more fight.
Less than two days after my Pops memorial, my husband had a major seizure episode so severe that he was admitted to the hospital – the same hospital I had picked Pops up from after his suicide attempt. I abandoned my grief and stayed by my husband’s side night and day until he was out of the woods medically. I was hopeful that we could start putting the pieces back in place and move forward, together. God, how wrong I was.
The two months that followed tested every single thing I knew – or thought I knew – about love, commitment, loyalty, being a caregiver, grief, loneliness, despair, self-preservation, and forgiveness.
From the start of what I refer to as the dismantling of our lives – I was given lots of advice; most of it was unsolicited. I was told what I should be doing, what I should be feeling, and what my role was supposed to be. I was talked about negatively – to my face and behind my back. I had people explain to me how they would handle things if they were in my situation. The thing is, they weren’t. None of them were in my position, and none of them totally understood the complexity of what I was dealing with. Not in the beginning and certainly not after the death of my Pops or my husband’s hospitalization. I understand that (most) of these people had good intentions; they were trying to be helpful and supportive. It’s hard to know what someone needs while in crisis mode.
I suddenly found myself fighting a battle, and I was shocked when I realized I was fighting it alone. My husband had become suicidal, and although he stated his feelings in front of hospital staff, on more than one occasion, I was forced to have to advocate for treatment for my husband and by advocate I mean I had to plant my feet in the sand and refuse to budge. The irony came when I found myself fighting everyone; the hospital staff, the VA, my husband, and people who I thought were in my husband’s corner. It was frustrating, frightening, overwhelming, and it made me see red. Then there came the point when I realized that I had done all that I could and I had to take a step back – a huge step back. My emotional health was spiraling out of control, and I had children who depended on me. If I fell apart, then what?
I was able to get my husband transferred to a VA facility nine hours away from home. I knew he was safe and it was time to focus on myself.
I want to preface this next part by stating that I am not suicidal. In case those who love me read this I want to make sure that is clear.
I had no idea where to start on me. My heart and my life had been shattered in more pieces than I knew how to organize; hell, I didn’t even know how to start. I wanted to pack my car and drive far, far away. I didn’t know if I was going to stay married, if I was going to move, or if I was ever going to be able to eat or sleep again. I took my wedding ring off, and I distanced myself from virtually everyone. I spent a lot of time alone, pacing the floors of our new, empty house. I wrote, I cried, I screamed, and I spent most of my days in silence. I was angry, hurt, sad, resentful, and completely lost. The only comfort I found during that time was the thought that if I set my children up by getting a big enough life insurance policy and put a new caregiver plan in place for my husband, I could leave. I could quit. I could go away and not have to feel the pain anymore. So I focused on that task. I never let myself follow the thought all the way through – I always got hung up on the fact that I could never do that to my children – but there were many days that the task at hand was what got me to the next day and allowed me to retain marginal sanity.
I began to grasp something that resembled clarity after months of therapy. I started seeing a counselor and going to group therapy for survivors of suicide loss shortly after I lost Pops. I began to reach out to people who listened, without judgment and offered only acceptance of whatever decisions I made. The people who truly made a difference – who really helped – were the ones who didn’t try to fix an unfixable situation. It was the people who just sat in my uncomfortable space with me and loved me without expecting me to ‘be better.’ They didn’t tell me what I should be doing or how I should feel. Thank God for those people. If I had listened to the people that I cut from my life I have zero doubt that I would be in the process of a divorce, and/or another grave tragedy would have followed.
Being a caregiver does not make one responsible for the actions of the person they are caring for. Being a caregiver does not include having to give up your life. Being a caregiver does not mean that your needs or feelings are no longer valid. And, being a caregiver wife does not mean that you should have to carry the entire weight and responsibility of your family and your marriage.
The way things unfolded was unfortunate. It wasn’t planned – any of it. But it happened, and it all occurred in a relatively short period. It sucks, but it’s the way it went down. I would never have believed that I would have to go through the loss of a family member to suicide, as a married woman, alone. But I did. I am. I have been alone – doing life alone – since July and I will be doing it alone until next spring. I can continue to be angry and resentful about that fact, or I can accept it. I can even make something beautiful out of the broken pieces all around me. I can’t do that until I do something difficult. Before my husband and I can move forward and figure out where we go from here, I have to forgive.
Today I took my wedding ring out and placed it back on my ring finger. I didn’t do that because everything is okay. Nothing is okay. We made mistakes. We didn’t know how to give what the other needed. Things were done and said that broke our foundation. But without forgiveness, there is no chance of repair. Love is supposed to lend the benefit of the doubt, second chances, and forgiveness. Forgiveness is the best antidote for the poison of resentment. It neutralizes hurt feelings and makes room in our hearts for love to flourish and grow.
I believe forgiveness is my best chance at moving forward and sometimes forgiveness has to come first. So I choose to forgive first with the hope that we can begin to pave a way forward.
#marriage #veterancaregiver #caregiver #stopsuicide #PTSD #TBI #weddingring #forgiveness #youmatter #transferofpain #survivorsofsuicideloss #suicide
© R.J. Belle and Transfer Of Pain, 2017, 2016