Finding life after suicide

Grief Diaries

Grief DiariesI met James Cameron Mjelve in 2005 while we were both living in Edmonton. At the time he worked for a laborer’s union. We married in 2007 and had three beautiful children together, one boy and two girls. In 2009, Cameron decided to go back to university and finish his Education degree.

In 2010, Cameron was in his second year when I began to notice that he was struggling more with the course load. During Christmas break Cameron seemed different, a little off from his usual self. Perhaps a little depressed, but nothing to be overly concerned about. In January 2011, our youngest daughter was born with a disability and the stresses of life became overwhelming for Cameron. He began to struggle even more with his university courses.

On July 21, 2011, my husband committed suicide. We were both forty-two at the time and our children were three, two, and five months old.

There is much that has changed in my life from losing a spouse. Perhaps the first is that I’ve had to learn how to use the word widow when speaking about myself. That alone has been a tough adjustment. I’ve become single again and I’ve had to learn how to be comfortable in a room full of couples. I’ve had to become comfortable in a room full of widows. I’ve had to become comfortable crying in front of both those groups of people.

It has been a difficult experience, losing a spouse. I’ve had to face major decisions for myself and the children alone. At times this has been very stressful, especially when I’ve had to make decisions which impact my children’s health or our financial stability. It has been so difficult not having anyone to bounce ideas off of. Friends will always tell you they are there to help you and listen, but it’s still not the same. I miss my friend who shared everything with me.

But I have learned from my experience, and developed a stronger decision-making process. As a result, I have been able to become more confident in the decisions I make. Another way my life is different is that I simply cannot do the things I want to do. I cannot run to the store at 10 p.m., there is no one to watch the children. I cannot sleep in on a Saturday if it’s been a tough week of being up in the night with sick children. Even something so simple as taking a vacation has become a major undertaking. Not only is there no one to help me with the children, but there’s no one for me to share the experience with. Even if we as a family are on vacation and the children are enjoying themselves, who did I get to tell about my experience?

Life is lonely. I don’t have anyone to share even the small moments with. There is no spouse who laughs with you or remembers with you. There is also no one who touches you. Yes, the kids hug and climb all over me, but it’s different than the simple loving touch of a husband.

Life has been different and even difficult, for sure. But I also see it as an opportunity to grow. Although my life will never be what I had dreamed it would be, I am discovering there is a new life that I can make. It unfortunately doesn’t include my husband, but it does include my children and we take Cameron’s memory with us wherever we go. And we are learning that we can still live a life that is full of meaning and adventure, even if it wasn’t the life we originally chose. And I do feel like I have a choice. We live in a society that is very focused on couples. This is not the life that I chose, to be single at forty-two years old, but I also feel like I’m presented with a choice on how to react. I can sit and wallow in self-pity and despair over broken dreams, or I can get up and start life over again.

I will always, always remember my husband. I will always grieve his loss. I will still cry over his loss. But I will choose to keep on living and to help my children find their life as well.

Written by Julie Mjelve. Julie’s 42-year-old husband Cameron died by suicide in 2011 Read her full story in Surviving Loss of a Spouse.

Grief Diaries

Guilt begins at 0.08%

Grief Diaries DUI

“It will get easier.” Now, eleven years later, I can say that yes, in some ways it has. My Dad’s death is no longer one of the first things I remind myself of when I wake up, nor is it the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. But it has been 4,019 days, and I still miss him. April 22 is a constant reminder. I still have days and weeks when it’s just as painful as it was eleven years ago, and I still have moments that make my head spin, today will always be one of those days.

Grief DiariesThere are several things in particular that almost always trigger one of these moments and force me to quite literally say hello to my grief. There have been countless occasions when I’m watching a movie, TV show, or listening to a song and something hits me. A line or situation sticks out, reminding me of my dad in some way. Suddenly something’s different; there’s a pang of sadness, a feeling of nostalgia, or a flood of bittersweet sentiment. Sometimes this moment is brief and I bounce back immediately. Other times, I feel the tears rushing to my eyes.

There’s something incredibly bittersweet about accomplishments, knowing that my dad’s not here to enjoy them with me. Hands down, one of the hardest things that has come with losing Dad is the occasional realization of how much time has passed and here we are eleven years later. Birthdays, holidays, and other milestones are all reminders. There are days when I feel like it was just yesterday that he was taken from me, other times, I feel as if it has been a lifetime.

Many people who have not lost someone to homicide mistakenly believe that it’s something you will get over, or that you’ll have some sort of closure. However, the truth is, I still hurt eleven years later. It’s not a constant, overwhelming, consuming grief, but the little things within which grief hides hit me when I least expect it.

Take a good look at the photo and for the love of life please give no less than 100% of your attention when driving.

Life can change in an INSTANT. There are no second chances. Drive safely and responsibly. The presumption of guilt starts at 0.08%. Responsibility starts at 0.00%.

Written by Carl Harms. Read Carl’s full story in Victim Impact Statement, and Surviving Loss by Impaired Driving.

Feeling guilt after loss

Grief Diaries guilt

How do I describe my mom? She was a bundle of contradictions, especially toward the end of her life. My mother was born to a very poor farming family in upstate New York. She was the kid who literally got one pair of shoes a year and put cardboard in the bottom when the soles wore out. This led her to be determined that her children would never be without the desires of their hearts. She was generous with those she loved to a fault. I used to say that I had to watch her finances because she would be the little old lady eating cat food while she paid for her children to dine on filet mignon.

My father worked for the United States Government. We, my parents and four siblings, traveled the world and got to experience things that many dream of. I watched my mom entertain ambassadors and foreign dignitaries with an ease that would have put the finest event planner to shame. She always reminded me of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. She dressed like her, had amazing poise and seemed to be flawless in her ability to make everything look easy. Memories of fine china and white linen are as ingrained in my childhood recollections as Barbies and Match Box cars. Mom was simply magnificent when she was in her element.

My father died in 2001 from pharyngeal cancer. It was slow and ugly. My oldest sister and I made a pact during that time. Our motto was “no regrets.” Looking back, I have none. I was there constantly for my dad; my world stopped that year. When it was time to say goodbye, I was holding his hand and there was no doubt in my mind or in his how deep our love for the other was. In retrospect, I was afforded that luxury because Mom was once again doing her Jackie Onassis impression and keeping everything running flawlessly. We supported her and dad, but she was definitely the backbone. I hated what happened that year, but I have no regrets. I wish I could say the same for my mom’s passing.

People loved mom, but she never fully trusted their loyalty. She was always sure that she was not up to the standards of others. Her self-confidence was frighteningly low. She masked it well most of her life, but toward the end, as her filters began to fade, I saw how the fear of what she perceived others’ opinions to be had removed much of the joy from her life. It was a shame because it was all self-induced. As I said, people loved her; she just did not allow herself to be vulnerable enough to be fully loved. In June 2014, I received a call from my oldest sister saying she thought mom had had a stroke. I threw some clothes into a suitcase and immediately began the twelve-hour drive to my mom’s house, while my sister began her nine-hour drive. It was the beginning of the longest seven months of my life. Mom had indeed had a stroke and would require extended hospital and post-hospital therapy to recover. Again, my sister and I made a pact, no regrets.

I can honestly say that from that point on, Mom was not alone for one single day until she died on January 21, 2015. We battled through stroke recovery, which is a story unto itself. One must experience it firsthand to even begin to understand the trials that accompany stroke recovery. We were two weeks away from Mom being able to live independently when she took a small fall. Due to the blood thinners she was on, we went to the hospital for a precautionary check-up. They found lung cancer.

After consulting with specialists, looking at Mom’s overall health and mental state, we decided to go with an intense five-day radiation plan known as CyberKnife. Mom did fantastic. Although we would not be sure of the results for six months, we felt very confident and went into the holiday season with high hopes for the future.

Thanksgiving and Christmas went by with no glitches. We were happy and had a house full of children and grandchildren. It was a happy time. My sister came to my home to stay with Mom so I could go on my annual family vacation between the week of Christmas and New Year’s. We wanted Mom to go with us, but she was just not prepared for the amount of “go time” we experienced. Our family squeezes a lot into that week. When I got home from vacation, Mom came down with a cold which turned into pneumonia. It was time to go back to the hospital. Mom was in the hospital for about ten days. She was released to a rehab hospital to regain strength and walking ability. I was confident she would overcome this as she had every other battle. I was wrong.

Monday, January 20, 2015. I was heading to the rehab after school. I was staying there so I could be close to Mom. I got a call saying she was being combative and disoriented. I got there and found her bed had been lowered to the floor so she would not be able to fall out of it or to climb out as easily. My guts screamed to get Mom to the ER, but the nurses assured me it was just digestive and they were taking care of it. After a half hour of watching her hurt, I looked her in the eyes and asked if she wanted to go to the hospital. She nodded yes. The nurses argued with me, and I ended up telling them that they could call the ambulance or I would.

Mom arrived at the hospital around 11 p.m. I remember thinking I should call my husband, my kids, someone. But I knew I needed to be alone through this. I didn’t want to have to console anyone else. Although the doctors kept telling me that my mom was going to be fine, there was one nurse who was brutally honest. I looked at him and asked if I should call my siblings. He said it wouldn’t be a bad idea. One of my brothers and one of my sisters made it in time. The other two did not. I hold guilt that I should have called sooner.

That night has some of the worst nightmares of my life. I can’t tell anyone about them because I don’t want them to have the same images in their mind that I hold in mine. It was not a peaceful passing. I hate myself for some of the things I did. I excuse it by saying that I thought I was saving my mom’s life and doing what the doctors said, but it does not change the fact that I participated in the pain and fear my mom felt before she died.

No amount of self-talk takes away the pictures that are on a constant loop when I close my eyes.

Written by Sophia Blowers. Sophia’s 79-year-old mother died of internal bleeding in 2015. Read her full story in Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss of a Parent.

Grief Diaries

 

Pushing through the darkness of male grief

Grief Diaries men

When I started this, I promised myself I would be open and honest. My mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years ago. We received the call one night at 2 a.m. that she had passed, and was asked to come to her apartment. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t think this through. When my wife Gloria and I walked into the apartment, there was my mom passed away on a hospital bed. I don’t know why I didn’t realize that was the way it would be, but I didn’t.

Grief Diaries menDuring my mom’s funeral home setting, I don’t recall seeing her in the casket. All I remember is seeing her as I entered her apartment. I talked to Gloria about it and said, “Please, I never want to be put in that situation again.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly how I found my wife Gloria—passed away in our bed. I cannot get that out of my head. The person I loved more than anything passed away. This sticks with me to this day.

One night when I was drinking by myself at home, I opened a bottle of liquor to go along with my beer. After finishing the bottle, I went in to our bedroom, sat on the bed, and thought about how I would never get that sight out of my head, and tried to think how I could. I came to the decision that the only way to get it out of my head was to commit suicide.

I grabbed the gun and the bullets, and then loaded the gun. I decided I didn’t have to write a note, because I would be found on the bed where my wife died and it would be self-explanatory. I thought all my kids are big enough, they all have kids, and they don’t need me anymore. Then I thought of who would find me. The one person who checks on me is my stepdaughter Alecia, and she has a key. So Alecia and Heather would be the ones who find me.

I realize that drunks aren’t smart but I was thinking, Chuck, you can’t handle finding Gloria passed away, and here you’re going to run from your problem and pass it on to the two girls.

Needless to say, I don’t really drink anymore. Alecia asked me to get the gun out of the house, and I did. I will just deal with this the best I can.

Written by Chuck Andreas. Chuck’s wife Gloria died unexpectedly from heart disease in 2014. Read his full story in Grief Diaries: Through the Eyes of Men.

Grief Diaries men

 

How loss by suicide changed me

Grief Diaries suicide

There is a certain type of person who, when he or she walks into a room, the atmosphere changes. It suddenly becomes more vibrant and exciting. It’s the type of person you know you can count on—the type of person who makes you feel deeply loved, and the type of person whose energy and laugh are contagious. That was Hannah.

Grief Diaries suicideShe was one of my best friends and also my roommate. We met each other in south Florida and quickly connected, so moving into an apartment together was the perfect fit. Everyone’s initial response to seeing a picture of Hannah was how beautiful she was. She was incredibly beautiful, yes, but the most beautiful thing about her was her heart. She lived passionately, loved deeply, and had a lively spirit. We always had fun together, and I have precious memories of our many spontaneous adventures.

The deep authenticity in our friendship was what meant the most to me. We did life together. Neither of us had family in Florida, so we were each other’s family. Hannah was a truly loyal and supportive friend and made me feel so important and loved. She embodied confidence and joy.

What most people didn’t know, however, was how much Hannah struggled with insecurity over her potential, her personality, her worth, her relationships and her future. I never understood why she felt so self-conscious; she was such a lovable, smart, fun and valuable girl. I’ll never be able to understand exactly how it felt to be in her head but from talks we had, I knew Hannah was struggling to feel hopeful about her ability to overcome the internal battles in her mind and to succeed at all the dreams she had for her life. Hannah had been going through a particularly rough patch when she took her life. Her insecurities were affecting her relationships, she doubted her potential in pursuing a career in nursing, and she felt stressed out handling the responsibilities of life on top of her emotional battles.

A few days before her death, Hannah came home crying and told me she had been fired from the job she loved. Other events that weekend had been extremely tough as well. On the evening of May 5, I was sitting at a restaurant when I got a call from her mother, who lives out of state. She was concerned about Hannah’s well-being and asked if I had talked to Hannah that day. I hadn’t been home and hadn’t talked to her, so when I got off the phone with her mom, I called her. Hannah was crying and obviously in distress when she answered, so I told her I would meet up with her and help her figure out how to get through whatever was going on. I needed to close my check at the restaurant, so I told Hannah I would call her right back to figure out where we should meet. But when I called back shortly after, she didn’t answer. You know that bad gut feeling you sometimes get in a certain situation? I felt that, so I went looking for her. I drove around for hours, looking everywhere I could think of where Hannah might be, but had no luck. When it got late and I ran out of ideas, I finally had to return to our apartment for the night. I hoped maybe Hannah had fallen asleep at a coworker’s house or somewhere similar.

The next morning, her mother called me at 8 a.m. to tell me that Hannah had taken her life shortly after I’d spoken to her. She was at her boyfriend’s apartment and was found that night by his roommate. The police contacted Hannah’s parents shortly after. I’ll never forget that phone call from her mother. I’ll never forget the way my phone slipped out of my hand as I leaned on a chair for support, shaking and struggling to breathe. My thoughts were racing, yet the only thought that was clear was, “This isn’t real. This can’t be happening.” I remember laying on the floor at one point, because the solidity of the floor was the only sense of stability I could find in that moment. I remember the gut-wrenching sobs, sometimes so deep that there were moments no sound even came out of my mouth.

Losing someone to suicide forever alters your life and who you are. Hannah’s death has changed my perspective on life, my priorities, my relationships, my routine, and my heart. Some changes are good, while some have felt damaging. I have hope that the changes that currently feel negative will be redeemed and healed as my journey continues.  Because Hannah was part of my daily life and one of my best friends, I think I took too many moments with her for granted, because I assumed we had a lifetime of moments ahead of us. I didn’t realize just how deeply my life was intertwined with hers until she was ripped away from it, and I found myself left with the sharp, jagged edges around a crater where her presence once was.

I was forced to start a new chapter in life, even though I hadn’t finished writing the one before. I’ve stood on wobbly feet the past year, looking at a new chapter I wasn’t prepared for and didn’t want, trying to figure out exactly how it has changed me and how to find solid ground again. I’ve grappled with the concept of closure and wondered if it’s even possible.

Experiencing this level of grief itself has changed me forever. I’ve learned that grief isn’t a coat you put on and then take off once you feel warm again. In a way, you have to absorb grief. It’s been a process of acceptance and a process of change and adjustment for me. It has become a part of me, not in the sense that it is my identity, but in the sense that it has redefined the person I am.

I ask myself exactly how Hannah’s death has changed me, but I honestly don’t think I fully know yet. I know that time will reveal more, but for now there are a few things I do know. I know that since Hannah died, I have a deeper level of compassion, love, and concern over the well-being of others than I ever did before. I’ve become more sensitive and educated in how to support people in ways that will be most helpful to them. I’ve found a deep desire to make a difference, to stand up for those who suffer silently and could too easily slip under the radar. I’ve found a voice to advocate for those who suffer from mental illness. I want to be a light in the darkness. And although Hannah’s death itself will never be something I view as “good,” I do know that the qualities I’ve gained are good gifts, because they make me a stronger, more loving and more dependable person. And I am grateful for that.

Written by Emily Barnhardt. Emily’s best friend and roommate, Hannah, died in 2014 at age 20. Emily’s full story is available in Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss by Suicide

Grief Diaries suicide

What would you look like?

Grief…….you never know when the emotions and deep aching wounds will surface. They are always there, sometimes lingering just below, just far enough down that you are able to keep the tears from falling and your breath from catching in your throat. But it is there.

Tonight while coming home from work, I drove by the ponds where Brandon used to hang out, and I thought to myself, he is 22 now, he wouldn’t be hanging out there anymore. None of his friends hang out there anymore. They are all grown up, in love, making a different life for themselves with their mates, they all have full time jobs. And I  thought my Brandon didn’t get to get any older, he will forever be 17. He wasn’t able to build a different life. He won’t ever find his woman for life, or have kids….he never got to mature. I don’t even know what he would look like today at more than 22 years old.

Driving by the ponds caused these thoughts and emotions, and I am still crying more than 5 hours later. Brandon, how I wish you were 22 years old. How I wish you were with your lady for life, having that career you dreamed of, doing the things you planned. How I wish I knew what you would look like today. Would your voice be deeper, your laughter richer, your hugs tighter? Would you be a father? You always loved kids. And I think, can I do this without you Brandon? How can I live without you? How can I live, when you aren’t?

God, I miss you, Brandon.

Written by Kim Thomas. Her 17-year-old son Brandon was killed by a drunk driver outside Calgary, Canada, in December 2012. She shared her story in Grief Diaries: Victim Impact Statement.

Grief Diaries