Piece by piece my heart has healed.
September 10th, 2015: my first husband ended his life via suicide on my Grandpa's land.
Yes, he killed himself on World Suicide Prevention Day.
I no longer believe in those.
Piece by piece.
My Grandpa's land. He could have gone anywhere else but this is where he chose to go. And at first that brought me peace and then it mostly just brought me way more pain because it's where I grew up running through wildflowers when I was a child and now those beautiful and cherished memories are stained. Or they were stained....time does heal some wounds, dear friends. For years I would only go to that land by myself. I was too afraid to go there with the rest of my family....too afraid of them looking at my face for a reaction or sadness or pain. And two summers ago I went down there with my entire family and if they searched my face? I didn't notice....I didn't mind because all I felt was that same girlhood happiness of being on that beautiful land amongst the trees. I didn't think of death or the horror that had once happened there. I haven't forgotten but it doesn't stay in the front of my mind anymore. God has given me mercy. Mercy to sometimes be able to forget. And we all deserve that boundless grace.
Piece by piece.
I don't know "why" he took his life. We were married for 9 years (together around 12 years) and for the last 3 he was on and off: depressed, agitated, angry, and distant. He often turned his darkness onto me with yelling, silent treatment, telling me I was the "crazy one", waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me odd and mean things, pushing me against walls, waking the children up in the middle of the night and I'd find him holding the screaming baby in the living room and he wouldn't hand me the baby...and when he did? I locked the children and myself into their bedroom. Think of that. I can't even believe that was my life. If you have been in this place? I'm so sorry. I carried the entire heavy load of all of this knowledge and if you've been through this....you know what I mean. He tried to reach out for help but I wasn't allowed to. He told me not to tell anyone and I wanted to honor my husband, and this? It breaks a person. One person allowed to reach a hand out of the dark...one person left alone inside of it. The wife is often the life preserver even though they also need rescue in a situation like this. Trauma before trauma. Swirling darkness before the the storm and you need to know that when you are inside of a marriage and the person seems to slowly....ever, ever so slowly change and you have bumps in the rocky road? It never once crossed my mind that he would kill himself. It wasn't even on my radar. I internalized all of his behavior as my fault. I thought I wasn't a good enough wife. I thought maybe he wasn't happy in our marriage. When I tried to ask a family member for help while 9 months pregnant and with a toddler at my feet they told me he likely "just had anxiety". I basically felt like everything I was enduring at home was "all in my head". I felt extremely alone and then? There would be days, weeks, months on end where he seemed himself again and it felt like such a beautiful relief.
The painful truth is that inside of a marriage it is virtually impossible to see any signs of suicide because well, life. There's work and bills and a house to clean and kids to care for and the signs they tell us to see and notice? They go unnoticed because we are living inside of it and we are dealing with our own "stuff". There were a couple of times when I seen his eyes go almost black which is so hard to describe and when I would tell him that I thought something was "wrong" and that I wanted to help him to get help? He would get very angry and yell at me and tell me I must be the "crazy" one. I would start crying...the toddler would start crying and there would be a coldness and fear in our home for days after and yet? No one really knew. No one knew and not because of a stigma. Because who do you tell this to? What are they actually going to do? No one wants to get in the middle of someone else's marriage. So yes....when he died? It was painful and isolating to me that everyone was posting that he was the best and greatest person ever. They were posting that he was the greatest and best husband and Dad ever and while I knew that to be true as we had so many wonderful years together laughing and loving...I also knew the other part and how could I bring that up?
I couldn't. So I was alone in the truth. Alone with deeper trauma. Alone. Alone. Alone.
So I want you to know that sometimes when you're dealing with a grown up and you are trying to help them? They might not want your help. They might be angry that you are pointing out what they don't want anyone to notice or talk about. This is the reality. They aren't always going to say, "Oh, thank you so much for wanting to help me. You're wonderful and yes, I'll get help so I can get better." Am I saying you shouldn't try to help them? Of course not. I'm saying it's so much more complicated than we are told from the outside and from social media posts and yes, even with the rocky bumps here and there in the years before his death? The day of his suicide? The knock on the door? It felt "out of the blue" in the moment. It was the most shocking thing I've ever endured. I had never once in the time I had known him and been married to him ever thought that he would leave me. I felt safe even during the bumps in the road. I haven't been able to write about the full truth of the before until now...8 years after. Anytime I mentioned in person to someone a bit of it...looking for a warm hug and compassion...I was met with silence and a deep feeling of shame and like I am not allowed to talk about it. I write about it now because it's my story too. It's my life. It's my pain and I know there are thousands of women out there with a similar story and they feel so alone so I will choose to be brave and strong because I know God's got me.
The shock of that day of his suicide? It saved my life and kept me doing what the wife has to do: talk to the police, talk to the mortuary, plan the funeral, call the relatives, hold the crying babies who don't understand why Dad isn't coming home, stand strong when she wants to fall apart. I didn't wear a black dress to his funeral. I wore an old flower dress because there was no time for me to go get a black dress and not a soul asked if I needed help with what to wear so I dressed myself and the kids in the best we had and held it together the best that I knew how. The moment they started to lower his casket into the ground I picked up my two babies with hot tears streaming down my face, swallowed my scream, and literally...literally RAN to my car and drove off. I couldn't handle it. It was simply too much. My soul wanted to jump into the ground with him so I ran to save me and my babies lives. I drove to my favorite park and jumped out of the car to breathe. I was devastated by the loss of him. He was my husband, my everything. The center of my universe. I was so, so lost without him. I longed for so long for him to just walk up the driveway and all would be forgiven. So, you see? This is the twisted grief of a suicide widow. The "before" that we endure (even if we didn't realize what we were enduring at the time), the loss and shock, our own depression/anxiety/ptsd/trauma that is planted in us after their death, the bouts of anger that they left us behind and hurt us and our children, the missing them and wanting them back and then having to let go to save our own lives and start a new life. It's so many emotions all at once that it is exhausting: physically, mentally, emotionally.
Years after his death: I eventually knew that to heal and keep living I had to set down the questions, forgive, break the chains, and move forward. I now know that it isn't my fault. I also now know that it had nothing to do with me. Both of these are so, so important to moving on and healing and you might only understand this fully if it's happened to you too. None of us are responsible for another adult's life. We can't truly know what someone is thinking or what they are secretly planning.
Piece by piece.
I will never read a goodbye letter because I never found one. No "I'm sorry."...and no, "Forgive me." ...I tore apart our home time and time again looking for that letter. Looking for any physical sign that this wasn't my fault. I longed for a piece of paper that said, "Nik, I'm so sorry. This isn't your fault. You were the best wife and friend to me. You endured my darkness and kept me here as long as possible. I'm so sorry. I just can't handle it anymore. It's not your fault. You and the kids were the best thing that ever happened to me. Thank you for all the years of happiness and love and laughter. See you when I see you. Go live a great big, beautiful life." But...this never was my reality: only long sad years of deafening silence until I found my light again.
That is what suicide does. It leaves you screaming all alone in the silence. They felt alone so they ended their life. You feel alone but you must stay because there's little babies in the next room who need someone to care for them and not abandon them. You don't get to cash out. You have to endure the catastrophic storm....alone. And what I find interesting or possibly shocking and scary? No one handed me a suicide hotline number. Or a phone number to a therapist. Or anything along those lines. I was simply silently expected to stand and deal. Silently expected to do what women do: take care of the babies, clean up the messes, and keep going because we have to.
Piece by piece.
Grief sometimes does heal slowly with time. Time covers over the rough edges and we build new memories that fade out the painful ones. We come to acceptance and this is all it really means when people say, "Give it time."....They know that as time passes we have to make the choice....Accept or hang on. Hang on and we dig ourselves further into the dirt. Accept and we are given the breathe of new life. Yes, I feel sometimes like I have lost over a decade of my life. A huge chunk of my life erased and that's another grief. The grief of your loss of self.
Piece by piece.
I had to relearn how to be human again. Relearn how to laugh at friends jokes and not cry in the grocery store checkout line. I had to find my once happy self again. She was dead and gone and had to be resurrected. I had to relearn basic social skills because grief and trauma of this magnitude will leave you feeling like an alien amongst basically everyone else out there. Women are talking of decorating their living room, baking bread, and where their husband is taking them to dinner on Friday night and you have nothing to talk about but sad and dark things. At first you don't know another woman whose husband shot himself on a Thursday before lunchtime.....and then 8 years later you know thousands and it hurts your heart to have to even know that information. 8 years later: I still don't exactly feel like I "fit in" any of the circles I am apart of. Forever just a slight outsider. I know things other women don't know. I deal with things they don't deal with. I've seen death. I've ate funeral casseroles in my own house. I've been widowed at only 35 just weeks from my birthday. I've cleaned out a man's closet which felt like someone was physically ripping out my soul. And that's ok...or at least I've accepted it even though at times it's still hard to feel on the outside.
This is who I am and I have to accept myself and love myself so I can help others who need me. I have to love myself and feel content so I can raise my beautiful children who are now 12 and almost 10. They know the truth of what happened but they have no memory of it because they were so young (only 4 years old and 23 months). I protect them fiercely. I will never, ever again allow anyone to make my babies cry and scream in emotional pain. I won't let anyone wake them in the night and scare them. I won't let them be used as someone else's healing as others have tried to do after his suicide...this is drowning to a child. They aren't anyone's legacy. They are their own whole and amazing people and they deserve to live free of all of this and to grow up and live healthy and beautifully amazing lives free of nightmares of the past. 8 years later and they are happy, joyful, intelligent, caring, brave, curious, kind-hearted, loving and all around amazing kids who love Jesus and nature and animals. They have all of these beautiful qualities because of God's love for them and the fierce love and protection of their Mother.
I got remarried in 2019 and being loved and cherished has healed my heart....piece by piece. No, I won't tell you that you can become widowed by suicide and getting married again will "fix" everything that goes on in your heart, in your nervous system, in your soul. Except it does heal a magnitude of things that are small and nameless to outsiders but so significant to your daily life and ability to live joyful and content.
This is suicide inside of my story.....suicide grief, suicide widowhood and it is just a bit different than other pains and tragedies. Being loved again after feeling abandoned? It has stitched up most of my trauma. It has made me realize my worth again. The moment I chose to tell fear to take a long hike and I said "I do" to the man I now call my husband? In that moment God took away so many layers of my hurt, so many layers of "Why me?", so many layers of the night terrors and the loneliness and the feeling lost and horribly broken. I sold my home, moved to a new town, and stepped into chapter number one of the next part of my life. I made the hard choice to not live inside of that painful story anymore but I didn't run away. I stayed in that house for years and I fought and I cried and I healed and then I packed up my suitcases and closed the door with grace in my heart. It was one of the best decisions of my adult life.
Piece by piece.
Yes, I am a strong woman and I'm also human.
Yes, I am resilient but I also need Jesus.
Jesus saved me when I thought my life had no meaning and no future.
Jesus saved me when I wanted to end my life.
And when I announced this to the world in 2018?
I lost followers to my writing.
I had people unfollow & unfriend me online and in real life.
People gossiped about me. They think I don't know...I do and it doesn't matter because the truth is the truth. But ask yourself this: Why does it offend someone so greatly that a person who was so low in the dark that their own spouse threw them into......says out loud that God saved their life and pulled them from the trenches. Why does that deserve unfollowing and unfriending and laughter? Did you want that person to stay in that dark pit and end their own life? Even if it is not what you believe...wouldn't you be so grateful and dare I say happy that this human being found a way out of the darkness? I've never once told others that my story or my experience must be theirs too. I have simply written the truth of my experience. My experience that I own with my soul.
It's ok: if you unfollowed, unfriended...haven't contacted me in years and years because it's too awkward or you don't like who I am now? I forgive you. I've moved forward.
Yes, I healed what I could before putting my heart out there to love again. My current husband saved my life in ways that are indescribable and some that are private to only my heart. Love has the power to clear up the pains of yesterday. Love has the power to make you feel brave and honest, strong, and free. And it doesn't mean that you forget that it all happened. It only means that the very painful past doesn't control your daily thoughts.....it no longer has the power to make you feel weak and unworthy.
Piece by piece.
Today marks eight years of me sharing my story. Eight years since my world blew to pieces. Eight years of fighting and crying and eight years overcoming and letting it all go and in some ways it feels like it happened yesterday...I can conjure up that day very quickly in my mind and in many other ways it feels like it was another lifetime and for that I am grateful. I don't want to spend the rest of my hopefully 50 more years on this earth replaying that horror over and over and over. I've endured enough. I deserve peace and happiness and I deserve for my mind to be calm and content.
You can overcome anything.
You are still alive.
Will it be quick? Your healing? No. I like to be honest with you even when it's hard to do so. I wanted to die and I wailed until I threw up for hundreds upon hundreds of nights. I thought life had cheated me and then one day I decided to stand up in the grave I had dug myself and I climbed out. "Enough is enough...I have suffered enough."... I told myself. Life didn't cheat me. I cheat myself if I stayed down in that dirt hole. We cannot control what happens in our lives. We cannot control if another person will leave us. People can abandon people and I'm so sad that I have to know that very truthful information.
We cannot control what happens in our life but we can control how to put ourselves back together. We can make the choice to forgive and that forgiveness often needs to be extended over and over and over when our trauma bubbles and burns once again. Forgiveness doesn't make what happened ok. It only sets you free from the darkness of it all. Forgiveness is for you...not for them.
Forgiveness says, "I am not a victim of another's actions. I am a survivor. A warrior."
Piece by piece I have healed my very shattered heart and I have made the choice to live, to love, to let go, and move forward. I turn 44 in October and I'm grateful. So very grateful for my life. So very grateful for the calling God has placed on my heart to be of help to others with my writing and my grief support.
I'm no longer afraid of absolutely everything and yes, I am still afraid of many things. This is a harsh truth of trauma. Fear. Fear that cannot be extracted...only endured.
I now look both ways before I cross the street because I do not want the bus to hit me. I want to live. This is my story and I'm not ashamed of it anymore.
I have learned so much within my tragedy. Many things I never wanted to learn but they are burned into my soul forever. I know how much a funeral costs. I know the varying prices of caskets. I know that after you are gone most of your belongings will fit into only a box or two....an entire life in one box, and I know how to stand at a wake and funeral and let the hot tears drip down my face while I am in fact....completely silent to onlookers. I never wanted to feel how painful it is to throw out a toothbrush, or to feel so unloved and forgotten, and I never wanted to know that one persons actions could forever alter my own destiny.
Piece by piece.
I have learned how to pick myself up, walk away from pieces of my past, and start a completely new life.
I have learned........piece by piece.....that God often gives the hardest battles to His toughest soldiers. I am a warrior, a wounded healer.
I have learned that the human heart can be smashed to bits and it can heal and it can open up and love again. It's how God designed us and it's pretty amazing when you witness it for your own self. All those stories really are true....if you fight and if you set down the past...God will restore what you lost. You will be restored to a brand new you....possibly to the person you were always, always meant to be.
Piece by piece.
I didn't choose this life. It was chosen for me and so far...I think I've done pretty good with the cards I've been handed. I've played the heck out of them for the goodness of other humans. I've opened up my life and my story for the world to read and I've never regretted it for one split second. I have friends around the world....a couch to crash on in almost every city and my heart is overflowing with that authentic love and friendship. All from being brave and raw and writing what was on my heart without fear. Amazing.
Piece by piece.
A phoenix rising from the ashes......and piece by piece we must learn to let those ashes go so we can live again and no longer retreat to dark basements to wail and pound on cement walls.
Piece by piece my heart is healed.
I am grateful for my life.
I am grateful for my second chance at love and marriage and to live out my dreams.
I want to live until I'm very old with very long grayish white hair and I want to tell my stories around campfires and on stages and in churches and in living rooms. I want you to know that you can rise up. I want you to know how loved you are through it all. I want you to believe that you aren't really alone.
My trauma from this tragedy will stay with me forever.
It keeps me afraid of the dark and tight corners. Afraid of bumps in the night and trusting other humans and choosing the brave thing over the easy thing but I won't ever again allow it to make me believe that I should jump in front of the bus before my time. I won't cash in my life.
Piece by piece I have learned that humans are so resilient and we are also so very fragile. It's ok to be both.
Keep fighting through your storm. No matter what happens you can start new. Give it time. Let others love you. And please know that God loves you.....even when you're in the dark.
Love always, Nik
Photo: Me on my Grandpa's land where I danced with the fairies as a little girl and where my first husband shot himself in the heart knowing my Grandpa would find him when he came to mow at lunchtime. My Grandpa and I were already extremely close before this tragedy. We became even closer after because we were the two widowers in our family. We only had each other to talk to about the extreme isolation and loneliness of being a widow. We became friend and friend and not only granddaughter and grandpa because of how this tragedy bonded us closer together. To everyone else he didn't say much about being the one who found my first husband dead on his land. He shook and off and did what people do....go straight to that they are so sorry that the person did that. To me? I was the only one he could maybe say some truth to and get some compassion. He would say over and over, "Why would he do that to me? Why would he make me find him? I thought he was my friend." And I want you reading that to think about that. It broke that old man somewhere deep inside. He didn't deserve that site or that brutal memory. It isn't "an honor" or "special" to be chosen as the person to find someone after they killed themself. It's a trauma and a tragedy. It's pain and it's unfair. When my grandpa would say to me "why did he do that to me?" I agreed with him. I affirmed to him that he didn't deserve to see that. I hugged him and said a friend shouldn't have done that. He needed to hear those words from someone to heal parts of the hurt inside. He was my true-blue friend. My sweetheart. He as so dang proud of me and how I got through this mess. He loved my kids to the moon and back. He died of natural causes at the age of 90 in 2020. I had him for 40 glorious years...I needed him for 40 more.
I miss him every single day.