Beyond death do us part

by: Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC

Dear Toni:

I am a 40 year old, recently widowed female. Six weeks ago, my husband of only four years shot himself on our back porch. Since then I have been lost and struggling. We were just at the beginning of our life together. Mike was a professional who had started his own (struggling) business. I have a good career, and we had purchased a home together that I told him, at the time, I would never have bought without him as it really requires a guy who is great with his hands to maintain. But here I am, all alone with a house that is beyond my ability or desire to keep up, memories of a relationship I believed would be there for many years, and my dream of becoming a mother, possibly destroyed.

We were trying to conceive, and I do still have one fertilized egg I will need to make a decision about eventually. The question I keep asking myself and that haunts both my waking hours and dreams is “How could this happen, and why?” Mike struggled with depression from the time I have known him, and he was seeing a therapist. He also was feeling a lot of pressure about his new company, his ability to do what he wanted and be successful at it, and money was tight.

One of the problems is that I didn’t realize just how tight. I am an accountant and offered to do his books, but he always resisted. After his death I realize that it was because we were more in debt that I knew and he hid this from me. Apparently he hid a lot because I had no clue that something like this could happen. I’m the one who found him and I can’t get those images and the moments before and after out of my mind. They play like a slow motion tape, over and over through my head.

Mike’s parents and my friends and family have been very supportive. Everyone checks up on me, offers to help me around the house, invites me out and to things in their home, and even my boss has been very supportive and given me a lot of leave to grieve and deal with the emotional, financial and administrative aftermath.

My question is, what comes next? What could I or should I do to deal with this loss? Are there specific steps people take following a suicide, especially of a spouse? How can I help myself to grieve this in a way that helps me move forward - or is it just time and a lot of pain that will take me there? I still wear my engagement and wedding rings and I don’t want to take them off. I’m also aware, as are others, that I talk about Mike in the present tense as though he is still alive. Is this normal? Any thoughts, feedback or direction would be greatly appreciated.                   

-Literally Shell Shocked


Dear Literally Shell Shocked:

Let me begin by conveying my deepest sympathies for your sudden and traumatic loss. It’s not productive to compare and rank order tragedies, but what you have suffered is certainly at the top of anyone’s list. Your questions are all about the grieving process. What you can expect to feel, how you should handle those feelings, and what is normal/not normal for those who are grieving.

You are also asking for a lifeline to help you deal with the enormous pain and the related sense of being completely lost and adrift in a new world that you had never planned to visit. These concerns and questions are very normal for anyone dealing with sudden loss, and especially suicide, which often leaves survivors with many impossible to answer questions and additional feelings of guilt and anger.

Even though the process of grief and the steps involved are an accepted and wellworn path to recovery, every loss is unique and should be treated as such. For instance, when your partner takes his own life, you are not only dealing with the sudden loss, you are also having to accept that he made the decision to leave. Therefore, your “what comes next” may be different from someone whose partner was killed in a sudden accident or died after a very brief illness.

You may have more questions and feel more isolated in your grief than other recent widows who don’t have the added dimension that suicide brings. Your next steps might involve seeking out a suicide survivors support group and/or finding a counselor who is specifically experienced in working with family members of those who have taken their own lives. What will be most important is to recognize that there is no one way to deal with the immediate aftermath and move towards recovery. It will all hinge on what feels right for you- and only you can really know this. A good therapist, great friends and supportive family can also help you by listening, supporting and just being there for you as you decide what comes next.

Grieving is a process that, with time, support and the right interventions, will move you forward. Yes, time and pain are part of it, but what contributes most to success is gaining new insights, finding inner strength you never knew you had, finding the right new course for your life and with it, the desire to not only survive but fully live once again. As you move through your grief you will know when the right time is to take off your rings, and that there is no rush to do so. You will begin to notice yourself speaking about Mike in the past tense. Thoughts of him and your life together will not continue to be the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thoughts you have before you fall asleep.

Those horrible images of the day he died will fade like the open wound that, in time becomes a thin scar. You will accept that he made this decision because of feelings that he didn’t know how to handle and did not attempt to address openly with you or anyone else who might have been able to throw him a lifeline. Your feelings of guilt will subside as you embrace and accept these and even the anger at having been left this way will fade and eventually become a small sadness that this was something you couldn’t control or stop, maybe not even if you knew Mike saw this as an option for dealing with his pain.

Give yourself the time and permission to grieve in a way that is right for you. Avoid people and situations that are not helpful or even unhelpful. Allow yourself to cry, scream, feel self-pity and shake your fist at the universe. These are all normal and healthy expressions when confronted with suicide and ones that do not last forever. Most of all, remember it is OK to laugh, do something nice for yourself, think about a future life that Mike will not be a part of and yes, even consider that you may get to be a mom, after all.

Toni Coleman is an internationally recognized dating and relationship expert and founder of http://consum-mate.com. Her expertise is sought frequently by local and national publications, top-ranked dating and relationship websites. Toni has been a guest on a number of radio and TV programs. She is the featured relationship coach in The Business And Practice Of Coaching, (Norton, September 2005); and authored the forward of Winning Points With The Woman In Your Life, One Touchdown At A Time (Simon and Schuster, November 2005). Toni's popular relationship articles can be found in several magazines and a number of self-help, personal growth, and dating/relationship websites. From March until December 2005, she was a weekly contributing commentator (love and dating coach) on the KTRS Radio Morning Show, (St. Louis, MO). Toni holds a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, is a licensed psychotherapist in the state of Virginia, and holds certification in life coaching. She is a member of The International Coach Federation and The National Association of Social Workers. Toni writes bi-weekly for HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com. Follow her on FB at www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman and Twitter @CoachToni.

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