We were divorced, yes, but my grief has been no less than if we had still been married. I’m extremely sentimental to begin with, and I loved Dan with all my heart. Even after our divorce. Even after being able to acknowledge we were no longer right for each other. Even after going our separate ways. That kind of love for someone never dies.
So the shock that my ex-husband died by suicide remains. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real. We were high school sweethearts – a couple for nearly 21 years, married for nearly 14. We became adults together, owned our first home together, experienced life together. Until it became obvious we couldn’t do all those things together anymore. Our divorce was civil. No lawyers. Just a sadness that it had all gone wrong somewhere.
Not one of the suicide warning signs applied to Dan. I thought he was doing well based on snippets I’d hear from mutual friends. His suicide four years after our divorce truly was, even in hindsight, something none of us saw coming. Except for one thing that haunts me.
After many months of marriage counseling, at the point we both knew it was over, Dan mentioned other options he had considered – options he thought would have made it easier on me, such as just leaving never to return, or suicide. I know it’s not unusual to have fleeting suicidal thoughts during times of stress, so at the time I didn’t think it had ever been a serious consideration.
That single admission though…oh the what-if game that plays on me now. I still recall the look on Dan’s face when I told him suicide would have never been a better option. His face showed a helplessness, like he didn’t quite believe me. That look alone will haunt me forever. I can’t help but feel like I should have known, like I should have done something then, before it was too late. And I should have told him when we went our separate ways that I would have always answered his call if he needed me. Maybe, just maybe, he would have called…. Should’ve, would’ve, what if. It’s an endless loop.
I’ve never been angry at Dan or thought his suicide selfish. I’m just so very heartbroken for him and what he must have been feeling. It makes my grief over his death that much worse, knowing he was in such a hopeless dark place that suicide was the only way he could see relief.
And of course there are the memories. All the memories often overwhelm me too. Mostly because I’m the only one who knows now. And that’s perhaps the loneliest, saddest feeling of all. It almost makes 21 years of my life seem invalid in a way, because the one person who shared all those years and experiences with me isn’t here anymore. Was it even real? And even more frightening, memories can fade. What if I forget?! God, please don’t let me forget. I have never been closer to or shared as much with anyone else. Dan was my first true love. And now he’s gone. And a piece of my soul died with him.
I lost many hours that first week in a surreal daze of shock and confusion. In the months following, I didn’t want to get out of bed most days. Or I’d be sitting at my desk with tears streaming down my face, beyond my control. At this point, a year and four months later, I can tell stories about Dan and even laugh about the good times. But the pain is still so very close to the surface. And it’s just that there are so many things that still trigger tears.
I’ve also had people say things that were not well thought out. “But you were divorced.” “But you weren’t together anymore.” “But you weren’t in contact.” As if to say my grief doesn’t really count because we weren’t still married. Yet for 21 years, nearly half of my existence, Dan was the most important part of my life. So those kinds of comments, along with a sense that many people seem to think I should have moved on by now, only make the grieving process harder by making me question whether they’re right, making me wonder what’s wrong with me, and making me stay silent instead of talking about it.
I don’t want to stay silent. I want to keep talking about Dan to help keep his memory alive. And I want everyone to know there are no requirements for grief. There are no limitations. There is no timeline. I will grieve my ex-husband’s death for the rest of my life. And I will love him always.