My discussion of this topic might be a little jumbled because this is not an easy topic to tackle. There is no wrong or right about it. No definite boundaries. It’s a messy subject, but an important one.
And that topic is suicide.
I imagine that most widows have had the thought at one time or another that they could not or did not want to continue living on without their spouses. I did. In fact more than once. I still do every once in a while.
Again, I am not suicidal so please don’t jump on the intervention wagon and come charging over to my place.
But it’s understandable to have that thought.
I’m not a shrink or a trained counsellor. I’m just an ordinary woman who probably ponders way too much about things. But to me, having to suddenly readjust my thinking, reevaluate my future plans and goals and reestablish my life as a ‘single’ again is scary. Terrifying in fact.
I was extremely happy with my life with my husband. Sure, we had problems like everyone else. Not enough money, too little time or energy to get everything done. But we loved each other completely and there was nothing that we couldn’t handle together. So, in other words, we had a perfectly happy, normal, busy, hectic, hopelessly-in-love life together. And having to switch gears and suddenly come up with a new plan, a new strategy, a whole new life that is so much less than what I had, well, it is unfathomable.
Right now, I pretty much take it one day, or one hour, or even one minute at a time. I shy away from thinking about the future. Because thinking about the future means thinking about all of those things I mentioned above and I don’t want to.
Like Veruca Salt from Willie Wonka, I want things my way. And my way consists of regaining the life I had. I don’t want it, so my mind responds in a most childish way. It stamps its foot and refuses to even think about a new life.
Which, of course, means that here I am once again trapped. Unable to go backward, unwilling to go forward. And many widows are stuck right there with me. And that’s why the thought comes to mind that continuing on is unbearable, that it seems easier and less painful to just stop forever.
According to recent studies, suicide among widows 55 and younger are 4 times higher than the norm. Older widows, over 55, are 2.5 times higher. Even with good support systems. These statistics are sad and alarming. With hundreds, if not thousands of women becoming widows each day, the number that do finally commit suicide is astounding. Whether they actively seek their own death or do so passively by wasting away, it is sad and should be unacceptable by society. But society quietly ignores these bereft souls. When my husband died, I was given a pamphlet about grieving and sent on my merry way. That was it. No follow up, no referral to a professional for help. Just a 24 hour deadline to get a mortuary to take his body and a 'we're so sorry for your loss and fare thee well'.
I was one of the lucky ones. I have friends and family who watched over me and helped me in those mind numbing weeks that followed. There are many, far too many, who don't have that.
I know that my husband would want me to continue on living, even without him. And I think it’s a safe bet that most of the husbands who passed away want the same thing for their bereaved spouses.
But it is very difficult to go on. And sometimes the struggle just doesn't seem worth it.
So, why am I not one of those statistics?
I find excuses. I combat each thought of wanting to leave this world with some reason to stay instead, no matter how little.
For example, I was at a horse show all weekend. The first without my husband. It was hard, extremely hard. Although I laughed and talked with everyone, underneath I was crying out that I didn’t want to be here, it was too painful. I even lost it and cried through the first half of one of my classes because I looked over to where my husband usually sat and saw an empty chair. Doing everything alone was too hard, too lonely. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I wanted to quit and retreat back to my cozy bedroom where I could curl up with the four footed furry brigade, turn on some mindless TV and dissolve into nothingness. I didn’t want to continue on anymore like this. My first and foremost great love was dead and my second great love, riding and showing my horse, was too painful. I felt like everything that mattered was gone.
But then something happened. My friends, or what I like to call my ranch family, stepped in and quietly helped me. They boosted me up both physically and mentally.
By being there, by doing what they normally do. By talking about normal things and politely not noticing when I would suddenly ‘zone out’ on the conversation and stare into space when a memory came to mind. By standing next to me, patiently, as I sat on my horse and cried, and not caring about the odd stares I was getting. By not recoiling or quickly and awkwardly changing the subject when I mentioned my husband, but instead would add an anecdote of their own. By nodding in understanding when I said I missed my husband and agreeing that they missed him too, as he was always a big part of the horse shows for everyone. By pushing me and coaching me and pointing out what I could have done better and what I did right. Just like it was any other horse show when my husband was with us.
Other people that I only knew from the horse show circuit were also there, acting normal, but also making sure that I knew I had their support and help if needed.
Gradually, I started to regain my love of showing. Slowly getting back the joy in pulling off a good maneuver. Starting to feel proud while noticing the small improvements since the last show. Of relaxing and sinking into the secular world of the horse show where everything that happens on the outside doesn’t exist for a few days.
Suddenly, I wanted to be there. I wanted to continue on. I wanted to show my horse, win ribbons and buckles and achieve something great. When the show was over, I waved and said goodbye to those I knew from the circuit and cheerfully told them I’d see them next show. I looked forward to working on those things I needed to improve on in the meantime. I started to get that old fire back. Maybe it was only a glowing ember but it was still lit.
Don’t get me wrong, I missed my husband the entire time. My chest ached with it, and I doubt I’ll ever lose that little spot of emptiness that occupies the back of my mind. But it was less scary, I could do this. Especially when my ranch family stepped in to help.
I love them all tremendously. Do I really want them to have to deal with the pain of my suicide? I had a good friend commit suicide when I was younger and the aftermath is terrible. How could I do that to them?
But what about those times when I’m not surrounded by friends and family? Well, those are harder.
When the bills pile up and the work overwhelms and the chores are too much and the loneliness threatens to crush me like a tidal wave, how do I carry on?
Again, by finding reasons. The four footed furry brigade for one. Who would take care of such a motley crew of creatures, some who are understood only by myself and my husband? Who would know that my husband’s cat likes to be petted exactly three times and then you will lose an appendage? Or that the pup needs to bury his head in my lap when he he’s been disciplined by myself or the older dogs? Or a hundred other little idiosyncrasies that make up the wide and varied personalities of this fuzzy bunch of creatures.
What about when I’m not around them? What then? Well, once again, that’s a little harder but doable.
Then I look around me. I look and see clouds scuttling across a blue sky. I feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I listen to the rain when it falls. I watch a hawk soaring over the horse field searching for rabbits. I see a flower, or listen to a child laughing or talking animatedly in the store to his mother. I just look around and find something, anything and then ask myself…..do I really want to leave and not ever see this again?
And just those things, those myriad of reasons, give me the strength and determination to keep going.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say, in my own muddled little fashion, is that if you are at that point, please take a second and look around. Find one tiny thing, anything to postpone it. To deflect the thought. To keep going for a few more minutes. And then find something else so that those few minutes will hopefully be come more minutes, then hours, then days, then years.
Because one day we will see our loved ones again. I'll be honest. I'm not totally 100% certain about this whole Heaven thing, but I do 100% fervently hope it is true. And that hope is enough for me to keep trying to believe.
My husband often joked about that the song ‘Waitin On A Woman’ by Brad Paisley was written for me. But now it has become much more than a song. It has become a mantra for me to believe in.
For those not into country music, the song is about an older gentleman sitting next to a younger man on a bench, both of them waiting on their wives to finish shopping. The older man tells the younger one all about how he has spent his life waiting on a woman and how much he doesn’t mind because of the love he and his wife have. He advises the younger man that this is what he has to look forward to and he’ll find it just as rewarding.
Then the older gentleman tells the younger one that he knows that he will pass on first and then he’ll be sitting on a bench in Heaven, patiently waiting once again for his wife to join him.
And that’s how I picture my husband. Sitting on a park bench in Heaven next to that old man, watching me, and patiently waiting. Telling me to take my time because he doesn’t mind waiting on his woman.