This is National Suicide Prevention Week (September 10-16). We all know what suicide is. We hear about it. It’s something that happens to other people. I remember being touched by a documentary called The Bridge many years ago. I thought about it a lot when I had the incredible opportunity to run over the Golden Gate years later. I could never have imagined then how I would be touched by suicide.
WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE
Talking about wanting to die
Looking for a way to kill oneself
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
Talking about being a burden to others
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
Sleeping too little or too much
Withdrawing or feeling isolated
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
Displaying extreme mood swings
The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.
Last year I was in the final weeks of training for the Chicago Marathon and, with that effort, raising money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Last year I had waited 11 months to tell my story…or at least find the right words to tell it publically. This year I wasn’t sure anything else needed to be said. This year I am just a few short weeks away from the second anniversary of Chris’ death. This year I am past the grief. This year I have been planning a future for my daughter and for me as we both learn and grow and continue to live. This year I am celebrating a new relationship. This year I am conflicted.
How does one move appropriately forward and still honor the past? How does one continue to tell their tragic story in order to help others when they don’t want to be defined by the event?
Each day this week I received an email from AFSP asking me to promote Suicide Prevention Week on social media with a variety of hash tags representing the day’s theme. I didn’t. I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know how else to say what needed to be said when I’m focusing on my job and helping my daughter through high school, and being a friend, and cooking dinner; when I’m focusing on simply allowing my life to go on.
Then I received the email about today’s theme. #FlashbackFriday It said they were devoting today to remembering loved ones who we have lost to suicide. People who die by suicide have a life and a story beyond how they died. Today join the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in sharing good memories of your lost loved ones. #StopSuicide
I finally understood this isn’t about me. I have the rest of my life in front of me. My story is still unfolding. The story I need to tell is his. And his life can’t be defined by his death either.
I met Chris in 1992. He was working in the editorial department at the newspaper where I worked in ad sales. The relationship between Editorial and Advertising could be described as similar to that of the Montagues and Capulets. The candy machine was on the fourth floor – editorial. I ventured into enemy territory one day when I was too busy to eat lunch. My Snickers got stuck and he was there to rescue me – it – and saved the day. In the beginning I told myself I wasn’t interested. There was someone else. That wasn’t really going anywhere and even as I wanted to say no, I somehow continually found myself drawn to him. He was my age. I never dated guys my age. He didn’t own a suit. My mother told me never to marry a man who didn’t own a suit. I bought him a suit. We got engaged on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor and married on the D Day anniversary the following year, only one year and 3 days after our first date. I was impressed by his ability to tell me how he felt and commit himself to me. Having been in an on and off relationship about 5 years with someone who couldn’t commit to just me, it was refreshing.
We were married 21 years and 4 months. Those who know me know that the last years were difficult. He was laid off from a job at the end of 2003 and never went back to work for a variety of reasons that only make more sense to me now. I grew resentful. He became depressed. We began a slow decline and drifted apart. Before that, however, there were good times.
Chris served in the United States Navy from 1982-85. He said it was a horribly repressive 3 years. And yet, so many of his stories began, “when I was in the Navy…” Thanks to Chris we take “Navy Showers” in our house, I know what a Nimitz-class Carrier and a “Med-head” are and have done “FOD” walk downs in the yard (“foreign object detection” required before mowing the lawn). If it weren’t for Chris, I wouldn’t know that aircraft carriers are so big that they have “bad neighborhoods.”
Chris was funny. One of his greatest achievements was overcoming his tendency to be sensitive and somewhat shy to pursue his dream of being a stand-up comic. He took a class and performed regularly for close to a year at the Comic Strip Live in New York City proving to himself that he could make someone laugh besides me.
Chris was a published poet, fan of Beat Generation writers, and alternative rock. He knew a lot about a lot. Usually won at Trivial Pursuit and often questioned what I had learned in 4 years of college while he was spending his Navy downtime reading more books and watching more movies. He overcame a difficult childhood, dyslexia, a verbally – sometimes physically – abusive father, brushes with neighborhood bullies in Rosedale, Queens, and Catholic school. A move to New Jersey in High School was a needed change; then the Navy was his escape. It provided him with positive male role models, and structure. I suspect now, although never formally diagnosed, he suffered from ADHD; when not managed it can present itself in adults as anxiety and depression.
I knew the challenges that were in his past. I knew he was “rougher around the edges” than what I deemed acceptable in a perfect mate. I married him anyway. And 7 years later came his all-time greatest achievement, our daughter. He loved her so; sacrificed so much to spend as much time with her as be could. Oh those beautiful days when she was small. And everything seemed as perfect as it could possibly get.