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What My Husband’s Suicide Taught Me

What My Husband’s Suicide Taught Me
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Eighteen years ago, life as I knew it stopped.

I was happily married, had two very young, beautiful daughters and a nice home. My husband was a successful doctor and I was a part-time bookkeeper for his practice.

In June of 1998, I took the kids for a long weekend to Seattle to visit family. We were staying at my brother’s house and it was there that I received a call early one morning from my husband’s office manager. “We can’t find him,” She said. “I’ve called his cellphone and the home phone too.”

In that moment I feared I knew exactly what had happened. In a panic, I called a neighbor and close friend. Several minutes later, she confirmed what I already knew in my heart. Rick was gone.

At some level, I saw it coming and luckily, I also knew my own limitations when it came to my beloved husband’s mental illness.

Self-blame, shame and thinking I could have somehow changed the horrific outcome of that morning had I been there, would have been an exercise in futility. It also would have led me down a path of self-destruction and left my children without either parent.

I’m forever grateful that while Rick was seeking help for his dreaded demons, I too received support from a good therapist. With her, I learned that I had no power over his disease and that it could take me down with him if I allowed it.

That morning began a journey I had never expected nor wanted. It was a time filled with grief, anger and darkness that no one could ever really prepare for or anticipate. But having come out on the other side, it also taught me many lessons (mostly about myself) that I would otherwise have never learned. Here are a few of them:

  1. The stigmas around mental health are alive and well.

It infuriated me to have “well intentioned” people actually say, “I’m so sorry he took the coward’s way out.” Mental illness is a disease. Unlike cancer or other diseases, it can be extremely difficult to manage or “cure” which makes it far more dangerous. On top of that, many who suffer are fearful of the “labels” others may give them. That means millions of people suffer and don’t get help.

This was a huge issue for my husband, especially as a physician. He was terrified others would “find out” and that it would end his career, so he put it off for years.

Until we can talk about mental health openly, honestly and without shame, we will not solve the problem. There is a lot of help out there (see resources at the bottom) and asking for it actually makes you brave and willing to face your fears.

  1. Learn to ask for what you need

Friends and family want to help but don’t know how. Many don’t even know what to say and will struggle with it. If you’re not used to it (I wasn’t), asking for what you need will feel strange at first. But the response I received was so positive I got better at it. I also learned that most people who care about you are thrilled to have a way to help. 

What kind of help did I need? Every kind you can think of: from finding a good attorney, learning how to apply for social security (which was a life saver) and help fixing a leaky sink before the house went on the market.

  1. Take care of yourself 

You need alone time. If you have children ask friends or family to help with some childcare. Give yourself time to grieve and have your feelings. If the kids see you cry, tell them you’re sad and miss Daddy. That gives them permission to grieve as well, which is really important. 

Take a walk and get some fresh air, even if you don’t feel like it. I always found that especially when it felt like I was “just going through the motions” of self-care, I was better for having done it.

  1. Find joy again

Sometimes I think my girls saved my life. I refused to live in sadness forever, if not for myself, then for them.

It started as simply as holding their hands and skipping through the grocery store parking lot. (Their giggles were infectious). Then, it was turning up the volume on the car radio and singing at the top of my lungs. 

Slowly, these small steps taught me to laugh again. It took time but it did happen.

  1. Face your fears head on

Up until this point, my husband had taken care of all financial matters and decisions. I was terrified that I couldn’t do it alone.

What I learned was that I was extremely capable of taking care of my family and myself. I turned to my brother and other trusted advisors to learn what I didn’t know. Yes, mistakes were made along the way, but I got stronger and smarter for having made them.

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, mental illness, or you just want to get a diagnosis, there is help. Talking to your primary health provider is a good first step. Here are some other resources:










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