Journal Entry March 18, 1993
Who is the man who murdered himself in our garage? Who’s the man who took such liberty with my life, and with my son’s? Who hated me so much that he destroyed our family with a single slash?
The day he came, you left. He’d been haunting us for a while, I see it now. He looked so much like you, had some of your mannerisms down pat. He even liked Butterfingers.
I mistook him for you. How betrayed you must have felt that I couldn’t tell the difference. I didn’t notice he was an imposter. I thought he was you, with something weighty on your mind. But when he died in my garage he took you, too.
I know not to open my door to strangers. But he came when I was at work. He went to the garage and murdered my children’s father. He left notes everywhere.
But I couldn’t find a note from you.
Loss evokes feelings of anger, abandonment and outrage no matter the cause. Suicide does so in spades. But how can we be angry with a victim? Especially one that has apparently already suffered so greatly that death seemed reasonable escape.
I asked our therapist, “Did he hurt this badly? Worse than we hurt?”
Without hesitation he answered, “Yes. Even more than this.”
So how is it that we who are left behind reconcile our sorrow, regret, grief, guilt, and anger? How do we allow ourselves justifiable outrage without eventually feeling even more guilty if we believe the victim was in that much pain?
Books, I read books, searching for answers about suicide and survivors. I found information about the psychological make-up of both, data about who they are, observations about grief and healing, statistics about which month and day of the week suicide is most likely to occur, even the physiology I could expect after a shocking loss. But I couldn’t find the answer I was looking for and didn’t know how to go on without it.
For me finding a solution to carrying competing and conflicting emotions, beyond “it’s what’s so”, was essential to helping my young son cope with his loss and finding a road map to our future. I hoped it would set us on a course to life.
Later as I watched those in the family who moved forward, and those who didn’t, I made my own observation. Without reconciliation and acceptance of the paradoxical emotional residue left by suicide one overriding behavior seemed to remain, blame.
I saw a ping-pong game of blame. First, I blamed me for not being astute enough to see the signs and read the future. When that was too painful to bear I blamed others for every oversight, slight, and perceived wrong doing to my husband. Rarely could I blame him for his choice. It seemed unthinkable to make a dead man culpable and so I left myself two possibilities: my fault, or the fault of others.
In the early years after our common loss, my husband’s family and I attempted to remain close. We traveled to them a couple of times each year, and they to us. I wished for my son an attachment to his father’s kin, especially his half-sister and grandparents. I wanted them to have access to the boy their son, brother, and dad had left behind. I thought they’d find something special and comforting in each other and perhaps their family could satisfy a need to contribute and participate since they couldn’t with my husband.
Within a few years contact dwindled and eventually stopped. One can only blame one’s self for so long before it becomes too much to live with and finger pointing turns outward. When the burden of guilt became too great to carry, they began to blame me. Sometimes subtly, other times overtly. I believe the inability to appropriately place responsibility was at the heart of the rupture of relationship.
In suicide, victim and murderer are one. That is the solemn, simple truth. That was the sentence I had to fully absorb in order to put the puzzle of emotions together. It was hard for me to let those words seep into my psyche but once they did I could inhale deeply again.
The victim and the murderer lived in one body. Though I can’t fully understand the reasoning behind the act because I didn’t walk in his shoes, it’s no less true. It’s therefore reasonable I would experience a landslide of grief and horror at having my husband murdered while also feeling anger, resentment, outrage and sometimes hatred toward the one who ripped my beloved away. It was a horrifying experience, and my own husband was the horrifi-er.
Victim and murderer. One person.
Not long after writing then reading what I had written in my journal I began to understand its implications. I didn’t have to choose among my fault, or his, or anyone else’s. I didn’t have to protect him from the whispers of others. I didn’t have to keep a flame glowing to remind people that he was a good man. And I didn’t have to squelch my feelings of anger.
He could find his rightful place as a decent, hardworking, loving man who made an irresponsible, dreadful and tragic decision the consequences of which derailed our lives by depriving him of us, and us of him. His decency did not mitigate his choice. His choice did not undo all the good he had done. His last day did not erase the 50 years that came before.
Victim and murderer. Good man. Life-ending, life-altering decision to abandon us in order to set himself free. His freedom was our pain. It was fact. Concomitant, seemingly competing emotions could coexist and I didn’t need to protect him from my indignation and outrage. It was well earned. As was my sorrow and longing to have him back.
I didn’t find it in a book. I never heard anyone say it. Yet it was a hard truth. And it did set me free. I could begin to move forward.
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