3 Years – A letter to Jay

IMG_D7A529081F56-1Three years ago at this very time, I couldn’t have imagined the unfathomable pain, heartbreak, and destruction that would be presented to my family just a few short hours later.  I had heard my husband’s voice for the very last time, I had slept beside him for the very last time, I had kissed his lips for the very last time.  Jay’s three boys had seen their Dad for the very last time.  It was over. And we had absolutely no say-so in the situation.  This post started as just a blog post – but I have so much I want to say to Jay, I thought writing him this letter would be better.

To my love, my Jay –

You have missed so much over the last 3 years.  You missed Demitri’s law school graduation, you missed his beautiful wedding and your missing getting to have our sweet Sarah as your daughter-in-law.    You missed every minute of our young son’s lives for the past three years. Christian playing football, growing into a young man, getting his license, getting a truck that you would not approve of buying him.  Jacob starting high school, taking his permit test in a couple of weeks, everything that goes along with having teenage boys – you’ve missed.  It’s not fair – it’s not fair to them, it’s not fair to me. Why did you get to decide that our lives would forever be changed?

As I’m sitting here at 3705 – where they found you – I keep asking myself how you got here?  Physically and mentally.  Just driving around?  Trying to clear your head – remembered you’d bought a gun 3 days before and decided to stop the mental pain?  Did you buy the gun with the intention of killing yourself?  Did you think of us that morning? So many questions left unanswered – that we will never know the answers.  Why did you get to decide the fate of mine and your children’s future?

I can’t hear your voice anymore. I can remember your funny and corny jokes – but I can’t hear your voice in my head anymore.  Why?  I can remember every single thing about you but I can’t hear your voice.  I can see your hands, I can hear that weird sound you made to scratch your throat, but I can’t hear your voice anymore.  I wonder if your boys can still hear your voice?

Three years you’ve been gone and the gut punch is still very real. Three years later and sometimes during the day, I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach when my breath is stolen by the fact that you’re never coming back.  As real and as raw as it was 3 years ago – it still feels the same today several times during the day, each and every day.  You left a big mark on this world, Jay, you are missed more than you could even imagine.  Your colleagues still talk about you and how much you are missed, your parents still have your portrait by the fireplace and your Mom still looks at it every day and tells you “Hi”.  Do you even know how profound your absence is here?

Did you know that for the past 3 years – Poppy has been letting his “beard” grow during March to honor you? I still think he’s a little jealous that you could grow a beard in 2 days and it takes him a month for stubble.  Did you know that he still talks about you all the time and what a wonderful son-in-law you were to him?  Do you know?

Although your earthly presence is missing from this impossible world – your spirit is all around. I see you in Christian’s face and in his sense of humor and in his hands. Christian stands just like you for pictures and I wonder if you taught him that or it’s just what he does. I don’t see much of you physically in Jacob because he is all me but he still has your top lip and definitely your warped sense of humor.  Do you know that he refuses to wear his insulin POD or GCM?  Do you know how hard raising teenagers alone is, much less one with Jacob’s medical issues?  I see you in Demitri each and every time I see him but especially when he’s dressed business attire.  And guess what, the older he gets, the more he has your “Mike Brady-isms”.  Your spirit and your memory live on and your worldly presence is sorely missed each and every day.

I wore your wedding ring today to honor you.  Looking at it just now – I realized you had your wedding ring on your left hand at the moment you pulled the trigger – with your left hand.  In pictures of you – I look at your left hand and think about that being the hand that would take your life. I can still see the inscription on the inside of your band “to my sweetest gift” – you were the sweetest gift I ever received.  Did you remember what a sweet gift you were when you pulled the trigger?

Do I get pissed at you for leaving? Absolutely.  Did it take me a long time to admit that? Definitely.  We’ve gone through some things, especially lately (that I will not discuss here) that have made me say out loud “What kind of man leaves a wife and 3 sons?  What kind of man leaves knowing the destruction that can be left behind?  What kind of man leaves just before his two youngest sons become teenagers when they need him most?  Who does that?

I know through my 3 years of therapy that you didn’t think of or remember any of these things.  I know more about a suicidal mind than I ever thought possible.  I grew up thinking that people who completed suicides were the most selfish people.  I know now that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Although I cannot physically and mentally completely understand how bad your psychache was – I have read numerous times from people who were suicidal and didn’t complete their act of how much they hurt, some have compared it to your mind feeling like black tar, all have said that they cannot think of anything else other than what a burden they are to their families and how to make the pain stop.  The suicidal mind makes you believe that your loved ones will be better off without you here, they don’t have to deal with your emotions, that your death would be a burden lifted.  Ufnortaunltey – you don’t know what you don’t know.  You didn’t think it could get better, your inadequate doctor did a shitty job and never made the referral to a mental health professional.  You didn’t know that it could get better.  Your mental illness robbed you from those that love you the most.  Those who would have understood and gotten you the help you so desperately needed and deserved.  Unfortunately – I didn’t know then what I know now, but I can promise you this my precious husband – until the last breath I take I will advocate for you, I will advocate for mental health awareness, I will advocate for doctors to do better and make the referral, I will advocate for men to speak up.  I will advocate and be the voice that you couldn’t be.   I will NEVER allow your death to not have a purpose.  If our story can save one life (and it has) – it won’t make the pain of your loss any easier – but it will make it more bearable.

I love you, my sweet husband, I can promise you that your memory will be Eternal.  Kiss the angels for me today and send me a sign to let me know you’re looking down on us at the Cemetary at 2pm – that you know we are there with Fr. Michael and The Bishop celebrating the time we had with you and mourning your death at the same time.

Always your wife,

Wendy (Onward)

 

Grief during the Holidays

“Holidays are time spent with loved ones” has been drilled into our brains from a young age. The holidays mark the passage of time in our lives. They are part of the milestones we share with each other and they generally represent time spent with family.  They bring meaning to certain days and we bring much meaning back to them. But since holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one has died?  This is one of the hardest parts of my grief journey now – missing Jay even more than usual. How can we celebrate togetherness when he’s not here?  Loosing him feels like my world has lost some of its celebratory qualities. The holidays only magnify his loss. The sadness feels sadder and the loneliness goes deeper.  I will not pretend I don’t hurt or it’s not a harder time of the year – it’s just not the truth.  But – rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, I’m choosing to lean into them. It’s not the grief I want to avoid, its the pain. Grief is a privilege, its a result of giving and receiving great love.

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Love does not end with death – I still love Jay as much today as I did the day I married him.  The holidays are so hard – his birthday is coming up on Christmas Eve – he would have been 58 this year.  Christian asked me last week what we are going to do for his Dad’s birthday this year.  I told him we would do the same as the last 2 years and go to his grave, release 58 garnet and black balloons and say a prayer.  Jay always complained that his birthday was on Christmas Eve – he would always say that he could never celebrate on his birthday with friends growing up because everyone was busy with their families, traveling, etc.  A problem with being a Christmas baby.  That makes me chuckle now still – our closest friends from Charleston usually can’t make his celebration at the cemetery for the same reasons.  It may seem a little morbid that it makes me chuckle – but it’s soo our relationship and Jay’s sense of humor.  Goodness, I miss his sense of humor.  I can still see him laughing to himself before he could even get his joke out.  If you knew him, you know exactly what I’m talking about – and I didn’t realize it until about a year ago – but his Dad does the same thing.  (that paragraph was a little all over the place – but so I am so….)

I can see my boys struggling with the Holiday season.  Not overwhelming sadness – but the light they shine seems a little dimmer.  We talk about Jay all the time.  Jay and I started an Advent calendar for the boys when they were young.  It’s tiny so Jay would always write silly riddles and hide their little “treasure” of the day somewhere according to the riddle.  I didn’t pull out the calendar the 2 years since he passed – but I decided to this year.  I saw the magic of Christmas in their precious teenage eyes when I started back the riddles yesterday.  It did my heart good and I pray that it’s good for them too.  We laughed again tonight at their Dad’s silliness in his riddles – mine aren’t as good as his – but I try.  🙂

My wish for this Holiday season is for everyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one to find a special memory of your person and hold on to it tight.  Look for the signs from them – they are all around.  Believe in the magic of the Season.  I have been dreaming of Jay most nights lately and although it hurts all over again when I wake up – I go to bed every night hoping that I will dream of him again – because I truly believe it’s a visit from him and for the few moments that I’m dreaming – it feels so real and that is magical.  So please – if you see me or my children – say Jay’s name – let us talk about him – it doesn’t make us sadder – it makes us remember that his memory will forever be eternal – because after all – true love never dies.

Here’s our Christmas card this year – his physical presence is missing in this picture -but I know his spirit is all around us.

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Onward, Wendy

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” ~Luke 2:14

 

Make the Referral

For the past probably six months I have mentioned to my therapist that I didn’t feel like my Lexapro was working for me anymore.  For lack of better words, I felt like “my get up and go must’ve got up and went”. (A little Aerosmith thrown into a blog about such a serious subject can never be wrong).  So – my fabulous, amazing therapist referred me to a Psychiatrist so we could address my concerns.  Let me repeat that – loud and clear for you all the hear – MY THERAPIST REFERRED ME TO A PSYCHIATRIST who could address my medication concerns.  If you don’t already know what a good thing this is – I will address the importance of those 7 words a little later in this post.

Two weeks ago I met my psychiatrist – she talked to me for a long time, she took a very detailed medical history, she asked me so many questions about how I was feeling, how I was sleeping, how my nutrition was, whether or not I worked out – SO MANY QUESTIONS.  Let me take a step back – changing my mind altering meds scared me – I will always believe that part of why Jay take his life was his medicine and lack of understanding of its side effects.  After meeting with the psychiatrist for at least an hour – we decided to increase my Lexapro by 5mgs, change to taking it at night (as it can make you tired – something I never knew and I’ve taken this med for 12 years), more importantly, rather than just throwing a new med at me this amazing doctor ordered a slew of labs to check my Vitamin D level, my B12 level, my thyroid, etc.  She also ordered a sleep study – just to make sure that I’m not having any issues while sleeping that could be causing my extreme tiredness and general lack of euphoric feelings.

Some of you may be thinking – ok – so what’s your point.  Here it is and let me be clear – Jay was never given the opportunity of being referred to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. In the 8 months leading up to his death – I went with him to our general practitioner at least 3 times, maybe 4.  Each and every visit we talked about his stress level, his lack of sleep, his loss of euphoric feelings – we went to our GP because we thought that’s what we should be doing.  Our trust was in this person to provide the best care for both of us.  I have since found out because I requested Jay’s medical records – that he went to this same doctor 7 times in the year prior to his death.  SEVEN TIMES – complaining of the same thing – STRESS, INABILITY TO SLEEP, NO DESIRE TO WORKOUT ANYMORE, HIGHER THAN NORMAL BLOOD PRESSURE, DECREASED INTEREST IN MANY THINGS (my Mom will read this, so I’ll leave that right there).  NEVER – not one time did this GP mention or refer Jay to a psychologist or a psychiatrist – instead, he was thrown medicine, usually something different each and every time.  It’s easy, in hindsight for me to write this and think, oh my goodness, how could we NOT have known that he needed to talk to someone more qualified – but the truth is, we didn’t.  We thought we were doing everything right, we were going to the doctor, talking about our concerns, surely he would help us.

Now – I can’t say, with 100% certainty that my Jay would still be here had a referral been made, BUT I do know with every single ounce of my soul – that he certainly should have been referred to a mental health specialist.  When we go to the GP with a complaint, if tests are ordered and cancer is found – we’re referred to an Oncologist.  If we are diagnosed by our GP with Diabetes – we’re referred to an Endocrinologist.  If we suffer a sports injury or a broken bone – were usually referred to an Orthopedic – the list goes on and on….For the love of God – why was Jay NEVER referred to a mental health professional????

The old saying “hindsight is a bitch” – is so very true.  I cannot change what we didn’t know back then, but I can share with all of you what I do know now.  PLEASE – if you are feeling mentally exhausted, stressed out to the max, not sleeping well, just not yourself – ask for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.  There are doctors WAY more qualified to prescribe mind-altering medications than your General Practitioner.  I am in NO WAY downing GPs – I have great friends that are GPs.   BUT – never, ever, ever should it EVER happen again that a patient goes to the same doctor – 9 or 10 times in a 12 month period complaining of the SAME STRESS, and never is a referral even mentioned to a mental health professional.  It would seem like common sense (again, hindsight for me) that you cannot just keep throwing medications at someone who for 12 months has been in your office many, many times – complaining of the same ailments.  I cannot help but imagine that had Jay been complaining of headaches, constantly for 12 months – he probably would have been referred to a neurologist, had he been complaining of bone pain – tests ordered a referral, man problems – a urologist – I could go on and on – but you get my point.

This is part of the stigma of mental health and people NOT talking.  IT IS OK NOT TO BE OK – it is ok to need to talk to someone who specializes in mental health.  It’s ok to be a 55-year-old man and need to see a psychiatrist.  Whatever it takes to live, it’s ok.  If you are a doctor and you are reading this – please read and reread again, please take the time and make the referral.  My husband is missing the best parts of life – because we didn’t know it was ok not to be ok, medication alone isn’t always the answer.  Learning stress-reducing techniques, sleep studies, getting hormone levels, talking, letting them know its ok to not be ok- so much more to the full picture of mental health than just throwing an anti-depressant, Xanax and Ambien at someone and sending them on their way.  My children are missing out on growing up with their amazing Dad because of what we didn’t know.  Demitri’s Dad couldn’t attend his Law School graduation or wedding, because of what we didn’t know.

I share this because we have to bring awareness, people have to know that just because someone has MD behind their name – it doesn’t mean they are the best MD for your ailment.  Mental health is JUST as important as any other ailment.  People die from mental health illness (suicide) every day, just like people die from cancer, diabetes complications, kidney failure, etc.  It is not ok to not treat mental health as any other medical condition – when a referral needs to be made to a specialist – do not exclude mental health from the list of specialists, as a provider or a consumer.  Speak up – use what I didn’t know then, and try to save yourself or your loved one by asking for the referral if you don’t feel you’re getting any better.

I pray each and every day – that by sharing what I know in bitter hindsight, that another life can be saved.  Please feel free to share.

Onward – Wendy

 

My Hiatus From Writing

For some reason, sometime over the last many months, I have lost my voice. I have written several posts only to be discouraged by my own words, thus not allowing myself to share my thoughts. I could provide several reasons for this. Sometimes, life simply beats you down, sometimes life as a single Mom is all you can do, sometimes it feels better not to talk about it than to put it into words.  It is time for things to turn and for me to continue my blog.  I know from too many of you that my honesty has been helpful during some very dark times.  So, here I am, back at writing and honestly it feels good.

I think what brought me here tonight was going to the cemetery today.  I sat by Jay’s grave for a while and told him about Christian’s football season, Jacob’s basketball tryouts tomorrow, his Dad’s health and Sullivan’s rapid aging (he was very much Jay’s dog after all).  I told him about Demitri and Sarah and how things are going in Charleston, I told him about the crazy world we’re living in right now and how the violence and hatred are just so sad. I just sat on his bench and talked to him for a while.  I know he’s not there and honestly I feel closer to him at the vacant lot where they found him that godawful morning, but I wanted to check on his flowers and make sure his marker and bench were clean – so that’s where we talked today.  As I mentioned to you last year, this was Jay’s most favorite time of year.  He had this stupid hat that was orange and black and said “Gimme some treats” – I ALWAYS rolled my eyes when he brought that thing out every Halloween – I would love to be able to roll my eyes at him wearing it just one more time.

I miss his humor.

He’s been gone for 2 -1/2 years already and some days I still can’t believe he isn’t coming home.  Goodness, these boys have grown up so much in a very short 2-1/2 years – Christian is very much a young man now – he’s taller than me and has the absolutely sweetest girlfriend in the world.  I often think of how much Jay would have loved her and, I long to know their interaction.  Jacob started high school in August and we celebrated his 12-year post-transplant anniversary on September 5th.  All of those long days Jay and I stayed in hospital rooms with that little fella when we didn’t know if we would ever bring our baby home again – we made the absolute best team, seriously we did.  Demitri and Sarah celebrated their one year wedding anniversary in May – lordy some days it seems like I was just meeting Demitri, he was 5 and the absolute cutest little boy I had ever met.  Jay was an incredible Father to him and his interaction with Demitri was part of what made me fall hard for him.

I miss his “Mike Brady-isms”

I have been taking a little more time to focus on me and my health these past couple months.  I have lost 40lbs and have another 40 to go.  I am feeling so much better about myself and I know that Jay would be so very proud.  Grief has a funny way of making you feel like you aren’t valuable enough to put yourself first – but the truth is, I am valuable and I want and need to be the absolute best version of myself – for me and for my precious boys – I am all they have.  They need me at my best and they need to know that you can suffer the absolute worst possible loss imaginable and still get up every day, make yourself a priority and do life.

I miss him wearing his bike shorts while running-you’re welcome for that visual.

So – I am back here, talking about life after loss.  I don’t know what the future holds for me or my children – but I do know that we are all only given one day at the time and we need to live it.  Stay tuned for more my friends.  I love you all.

Onward – Wendy

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2 years

I can’t believe it’s been 2 years.  Jay’s absence is even more profound today.  It’s crazy how time doesn’t stop because your life is turned upside down.  I keep playing our last phone conversation in my head, wondering if I missed a cry for help – but I didn’t.  He was Jay.  Did something happen after we talked to make him turn right instead of left that morning?  Did he leave our home knowing that he would never return?  Why did he fill his car up with gas at 8:20 that morning?  Why did he have new tires put on his car just 3 days before?  2 years and still so so many unanswered questions.  Questions that I will never know the answers to.

Here are a few things I do know – without a doubt.  Jay loved me and our children and he was not selfish by taking his life.  I can remember talking about other’s who committed suicide throughout my life and people would say, “well she obviously didn’t love her parents enough to stay” or “how could he/she commit suicide – that’s the most selfish thing a person can do.”  I am here to tell you – that is wrong.  People who are suicidal and complete suicide are not selfish – they are sick.  Their brain cannot process anything at that moment other than making the excruciating pain they are experiencing stop.  Think of people with terminal cancer who choose to end their life with the help of medicine – they don’t want to suffer anymore, they don’t want their loved ones to suffer anymore.  The brain of a suicidal person is no different.  It’s a mental illness that they feel there is no escape from.  They feel that their loved ones will be better off without them here.  They just want the torment to end.

Its heartbreaking to know that someone you built your life with, the father of your children, the man you wanted to grow old with was in such a horrible place.  There are a million “what if’s” that play in my head daily (still).  Were there ALOT of signs I missed?  Absolutely.  However, I don’t blame myself because I would have never, ever in a million years imagine that my Jay would take his own life.  Until you’ve been on the other side – living with the grief of loosing someone to suicide can you understand what the signs are – UNLESS the people who are living with the absence of someone to suicide speak out.  That’s why I share my story – if one life can be saved because I put difficult words in a blog – then my Jay’s death has a purpose.  It doesn’t make it easier or make sense – but it does make it a little more bearable.

So – here we are – 2 years since I last saw his face, heard his voice or kissed his lips. Time doesn’t make the loss easier – there are still days that I feel like I’ve been stabbed from inside when I picture him sitting in his car that morning.  (And yes I have very vivid images of what he must have been thinking or doing).  So many milestones with our boys have passed since he left.  Demitri graduated law school, got married to my sweet Sarah and took the bar.  Jacob became a teenager, Christian is driving and has a car…..so many things he’s missed.  But there are days that I can feel his presence and I know he’s here.  I hope my boys still feel him too.

Onward, Wendy

Anniversaries

I can’t make these words any better so I’m sharing them again. Happy Anniversary my sweet husband. I love you.

Missing My Husband

Tomorrow is our 16 year wedding anniversary. At this time last year – I knew Jay was extremely stressed out but clearly had no idea that he was silently battling something much bigger than I could ever imagine. I sent him a text on our anniversary last year that said “Happy Anniversary Honey – I hope we make it another year!” totally as a joke….that text haunts me each and every day.

fullsizeoutput_cTo be honest – February is a terrible month – not because of Valentines day – I strongly disagree that you need a date on the calendar to tell someone and show someone how much you love them – you should be doing that each and every day.  No – February is hard because it’s the month we met – 20 years ago on 2/15 and it’s our wedding anniversary 2/9. He would be so proud that I actually…

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Grief Waves

images-2Some days I miss Jay so much it feels like I’m being stabbed from the inside out.  Today was one of those days.  I have been told the analogy many times since Jay’s death of grief coming like waves and it’s the best description I have found.  In the beginning – the pain was like wave after wave crashing continuously, violent and relentless.  A few months went by and the waves didn’t become calmer, but there were breaks in between.  I think I’ve kind of been in that mode for the past year.

EVERY SINGLE DAY I think about Jay.  EVERY SINGLE DAY.  The thoughts aren’t always sad.  A lot of the time sadness has been replaced by happy memories, we had so many!  As I’m going about my day to day – I can hear a funny thing he would say in my head or his infamous “HON-EY”.  I can hear him saying “Hey babe” to me and I hope that I can hear his voice in my head forever.  What is gut-wrenching is that Jacob was only 12 when his Daddy died and I wonder if he will remember his Daddy’s voice when he’s 20?  It’s hard knowing that Christian completed his first high school season of football without his Dad there, he would have been so proud to see him playing JV as a freshman.  It’s hard thinking that Demitri finished Law School and got married without his Dad by his side.  I pray that Demitri knows the kind of husband and father his Dad was and that even though he’s not here now to give him advice – he always remembers what an incredible role model his Dad was.

Today has been a kick in the gut with missing him.  Giant wave after giant wave crashing today.  I hit a huge milestone in my business yesterday and I want so badly to share it with him.  I need him here, helping me raise our boys – the teenage years are NO JOKE.  I miss his face, his hands, his laughter, his corny jokes – I miss everything about him.  Halloween was one of his favorite holidays – he always wore this stupid hat Halloween night that said “Give me some treats” – I used to give him such a hard time about that ridiculous hat – the boys and I talked about it last night over dinner and Jacob didn’t even remember it – that hurt.  I wish I could bottle up every single memory I have of him with the boys so I can pull it out anytime and show them.  One of my greatest fears is forgetting the little things.

Getting dressed this morning I heard an old Trisha Yearwood song, “I Would’ve Loved You Anyway” – these words hit home.  Every single word is true.  As sad as I am today – I wouldn’t trade my pain now for never knowing Jay.  NEVER.

If I would have known the way that this would end
If I would have read the last page first
If I would have had the strength to walk away
If I would have known how this would hurt

I would’ve loved you anyway
I’d do it all the same
Not a second I would change
Not a touch that I would trade
Had I known my heart would break
I would have loved you anyway

It’s bittersweet to look back now
Memories withered on the vine
But just to hold you close to me
For a moment in time

I would’ve loved you anyway
I’d do it all the same
Not a second I would change
Not a touch that I would trade
Had I known my heart would break
I would’ve loved you anyway

And even if I’d seen it coming
You would’ve still seen me running
Straight into your arms

I would have loved you anyway

Onward- Wendy

 

Was Jay’s Death His Choice?

I heard myself screaming the day I walked into the funeral home to see Jay for the first time.  The funeral director was a high school friend of Jay’s and he promised me that if Jay didn’t look “good” enough for an open casket, he would let me know.  How can you prepare to see your 55-year-old husband laying in a casket, cold?  You can’t.  This was the first time I was able to see him since I kissed his lips as he was leaving the house 2 days earlier.

It was a scream unlike any other I’ve experienced. It sounded cavernous inside me. As if my body and flesh had muffled the anguish and anger and allowed nothing more than broken sobs and a pathetic, tinny whining. But inside, I screamed so loudly I could have sworn my insides could have combusted into a bloody visceral mess. How dare he lie there, his handsome face frozen forever in an expression that would have been peaceful had it not been marred by the bullet exit wound on his right temple and his missing ear on the left side.  Before I even got close enough to the casket, as soon as I walked in the room, I fell to the floor and screamed and wept.  How could the man that I took as my life partner 15 short years earlier be laying in a casket, his life taken by his own hands?

But the screams immediately turned to despair and disbelief, and then to a search for understanding. I got up off the ground, my fist unclenched with helplessness and I reached to hold his lifeless hand as if I needed to feel the marble coldness to convince me of reality.  And reality begs the question: Did he really have a choice? Is it not unreal for any human to court his mortality when what is natural is to fight for self-preservation? If so, then what would push someone to “choose” to defy nature?

It is an aberration, to be sure. And yet I wonder, what kind of unfathomable mental illness denies us of the freedom of choice? Is a rogue synapse in the deepest part of his brain to blame? Was he somewhat like an epileptic or an autistic child who have no control over the movements of their bodies? What physiological process can weed out love and everything positive and leave and magnify only the thoughts and feelings that cause the loss of hope?

I burn. I burn with anger. I burn with the need to know. I burn with a quest for knowledge of this intangible disease if disease indeed it is.  While I am still in the process of finding my peace, I came across something that gives me temporary comfort. I share it below:

Suicide is Not a Choice: People Who Die by Suicide Do Not Choose to Die

by Kevin Caruso

People do not choose to have clinical depression.

People do not choose to have bipolar disorder.

People do not choose to have schizophrenia.

People do not choose to have cancer.

People do not choose to have post-traumatic stress disorder

People do not choose to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People do not choose to have tourette’s syndrome.

People do not choose to be autistic.

People do not choose to have seasonal affective disorder.

People do not choose to have heart disease.

People do not choose to have dysthymia.

People do not choose to have narcolepsy.

People do not choose to have muscular dystrophy.

People do not choose to have Alzheimer’s disease.

People do not choose to have dementia.

People do not choose to have anxiety attacks.

People do not choose to have delusions.

People do not choose to have psychosis.

People do not choose to have phobias.

People do not choose to be paralyzed.

People do not choose to have migraine headaches.

People do not choose to be victims of crime.

Children do not choose to be bullied.

Children do not choose to be sexually molested.

Children do not choose to be abused.

Women do not choose to be brutally beaten by their husbands.

Women do not choose to have postpartum depression.

Women do not choose to be raped.

People do not choose to be discriminated against.

People do not choose to be mistreated.

So why do some people think that people choose to die by suicide?

Answer: ignorance.

Many people (including some who are supposed to be “professionals” in the area of suicide, psychology, and religion) maintain the misguided, ignorant, outdated — and idiotic — belief that people “choose” suicide.  Over 90 percent of the people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. And the vast majority of those mental illnesses are untreated, under-treated, or not properly treated.  People who die by suicide are not thinking clearly — and they cannot possibly think clearly — because their brain is not functioning properly at the time they pass away from suicide.  Their brain is giving them overwhelming signals to die.  They have a chemical imbalance in their brain, are in extreme emotional pain, and their mind is saying “you must die by suicide to end this.”

My husband did not “choose” do die — his mental illness caused him to die — just like some people die from heart disease, cancer, or other things that are out of their control.  Every time an ignorant person makes the statement that “people choose to die by suicide” the stigma of suicide is perpetuated.

Let me draw an analogy between suicide and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD have recurrent, overwhelming, obsessive thoughts that compel them to act in ways that others do not understand. For instance, a person with OCD may believe that his or her house is contaminated — even though it is immaculately clean — and thus compulsively washes his or her hands to get rid of the “germs.”

So do people who are otherwise very intelligent simply “choose” to wash their hands 500 times a day?  No.  They have a disorder and need treatment.  Now, someone with severe depression — and untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide — has a similar signal that their brain is sending to them, and that signal is this: you must die by suicide.  That “signal” is incessant and overwhelming.

People do not choose suicide; their mental illness causes the suicide.  People who die by suicide are strong, intelligent, loving, caring people — who happen to have a mental illness.  There should be no stigma whatsoever associated with that mental illness — regardless of what it is — as well as no stigma associated with suicide.

Don’t be part of the problem. Share your understanding about suicide with others, and help combat this ignorance.  And be as supportive, helpful, and understanding as possible to suicide survivors. They deserve our unconditional love.

Always remember this: People who die by suicide do not choose to die, they have a mental illness — and it is the mental illness that causes them to pass away.

World Suicide Prevention Day

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Today, September 10, 2017 is World Suicide Prevention Day.  Who knew this was a “day”?  I didn’t and I honestly never would have believed that my life would personally be touched by suicide.  Much less the man that I wanted to spend the rest of my life, the father to my children.  If there is anything I can take away from this season in my life – it is the ability to let everyone know that mental illness is real and IT’S OKAY to talk about.  You don’t have to die.  When someone decides to take their own life – the “problems” don’t just go away – they are just passed on to those who love you the most.  Suicide leaves the people who love you the most with SO MANY unanswered questions.  Although I still do not know first hand how your brain feels to want to complete suicide – I do know – without a doubt that help is available.  There are people that love you and will get you help!  Suicide truly is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not downplaying mental illness.  I have suffered from anxiety and depression since my youngest son was sick.  I take the very same medication daily that I believe contributed to my husband killing himself.  What I do know through my own anxiety and the small glimpse I have into what must have been going on in my precious husband’s mind – is that mental illness, anxiety, and depression are very real but they are also 100% treatable with medication and therapy.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE – if you are reading this and suicide has ever even crossed your mind – please get help!  The number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.  Reach out to your family or friends (I PROMISE YOU THEY WON’T THINK ANY LESS OF YOU).  Reach out to me through private message on Facebook (Wendy Sharpe Rickman).  DO ANYTHING BUT DON’T TAKE YOUR LIFE.  I promise you there is someone here on this earth that wants you to stay, I PROMISE.

I write this post from my whole heart and I hope that through my story – I can reach one person who is so completely desperate that they think there is no other way.  THERE IS.  THINGS CAN GET BETTER.  JUST GIVE IT A CHANCE.

Here are some startling statistics:

  • Suicide is the 10 th leading cause of death in the US
  • Each year 44,193 Americans die by suicide
  • For every suicide 25 attempt
  • The annual age-adjusted suicide rate is 13.26 per 100,000 individuals.
  • Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.
  • On average, there are 121 suicides per day.
  • White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.
  • Firearms account for almost 50% of all suicides.
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular.
This is of epidemic proportion but where is all the outrage?  It’s a hush-hush subject in the media.  WE have to be the people to bring attention to suicide and its devastation.  US.  I feel like had I known a little more about suicide, had my Jay known it was okay to talk about his feelings – he would still be here.  My children would still have their Daddy. Suicide is completely unnecessary and totally preventable but we have to speak up and speak out.  We have to let people know that there is help available and that it doesn’t make them stupid or weak to feel the way they do.
I beg each and every one of you to share this post.  You may help save someone’s life.
Onward,
Wendy

Hindsight

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It’s been a long time since my last post.  I have started many, but none that I felt worthy of sharing at the moment.  A lot has happened since my last post.  Demitri graduated law school in May and married sweet Sarah the following weekend.  I bought a new home in April and did a complete renovation – we moved in June.  The little boys finished 8th and 7th grades – I cannot believe my first born with be in high school next year.  It’s been really busy around the Rickman household and that is a good thing, but Mama is tired.  One day soon I’ll post my blog’s I’ve created about all of these events. However, this blog has been tugging at my heart lately.

Since starting this blog last year, I have prayed to God to help me write about the details leading up to Jay’s death.  I have talked myself in and out of this post many many times before.  Those of you who know me personally, know most of the details I’m about the share.  To those who don’t – you’re the reason I have hesitated.  Hindsight is a bitch my friends, no way to sugar coat.  I have considered that putting this in writing would cause some people to think “Oh my God, how could she have missed all of these signs?”  But you know what, I did miss all of these signs and people who love their spouse like I loved Jay miss these signs every single day.  No one ever expects the love of their life to be in such a dark place that they can see no way out but taking their own life.  Unless you have first hand experience with depression, anxiety, side effects of medication and suicidal tendencies – you CAN’T KNOW.  So – I’m not afraid of being judged for missing the signs anymore and this is our story.  My prayer is that by sharing what I now know through hindsight will save just one family from going through the devastation of suicide.

First of all – a little insight to the person Jay was.  I knew the night I met him that I wanted to marry him – not even exaggerating.  Jay was first and foremost a father.  When he spoke of Demitri (he was 5 when I met him) he beamed.  Demitri was his entire world.  I remember watching him playing with Demitri and thinking to myself, he is the perfect Daddy.  I was only 24, but I knew that he was the man I wanted to have babies with.  Jay was handsome, oh so handsome.  He was always well dressed (well except when he was working in the yard – inside joke).  He was kind, one of the most kind, caring and compassionate men I have ever met.  Jay loved me like a man should love a woman – he treated me like a princess and I loved every single second of it. He was a gentleman – opened car doors for me, held the door, pulled out my chair, stood up when I excused myself from the table.  He loved to hold my hand – just driving in the car – we were always holding hands.  He was a businessman – and he was extremely respected in his company and his industry.  He was a leader in his field and amongst his peers.  He was a true friend.  He was FUNNY – oh my was he funny!  He always had a joke to tell or something inappropriate to say – he had the best sense of humor…ever (thank goodness I see that in all 3 of his boys).  He loved his Mama – he was the best son – hands down.  He would have moved mountains to take care of his Mom.  He honored his Father – he had an incredible love and respect for his Dad.  He was an amazing son in law to my Daddy.  They had an incredible relationship that I am forever thankful for.  He was everything I could have ever imagined in a husband and father.

We moved from Charleston, SC to Lexington, SC in December 2014.  Jay was running his family owned business after his parent’s retirement and he needed to be in the office more than 1 or 2 days a week.  Jay was excited to move – it meant a lot less time on the road for him.   Being President and CEO of a company with almost 200 employees is stressful enough, driving back and forth between Charleston and Columbia several times a week is added stress and completely unnecessary.  Plus the fact that my parents and Jay’s parents are in Columbia – it just made sense.  So we found a great neighborhood with lots of kids and amenities for the boys and moved.   Life was good…or so it seemed.

Fast forward to December 2015 – me, a couple of my friends who also own small businesses and Jay’s sister had a holiday shopping event at our home.   Jay and I always loved to entertain so we were in our element.  I was more concerned with making sure my guests were comfortable and  less concerned about the marketing of my business that day.  HINDSIGHT – Jay seemed nervous that day, he kept telling me that I needed to be promoting my business and let him take care of the guests, even thinking about his behavior that day now – I see how much he was NOT himself.   He just seemed on edge, fidgety, and not as happy as he would have usually been to host an event.  HINDSIGHT  -Christmas stressed him out that year too.  He seemed to worry about how much money we were spending on the boys AND that was the year of the Hoverboard craziness and he was so worried about buying them for the boys.  I assured him that as long as we didn’t let the boys leave them plugged in, our house wouldn’t burn down.  When I tell you he was worried – he was WORRIED.  I chalked it up to stress and kind of ignored him – I probably told him he was being ridiculous.  Shortly after Christmas I told Jay that I wanted to visit his doctor with him.  He was just not himself and was stressed out about work.  I really felt like he needed something to “take the edge off” so we made an appointment with his primary care doctor.  During the appointment in late December we talked about Jay’s stressors at the office and the daily stress of raising kids  and managing a household and decided (the 3 of us) that he should try Lexapro.

HINDSIGHT – January 2016 – I remember telling a girlfriend that I was beginning to wonder if mine and Jay’s age difference was beginning to catch up with us.  (He was 12 years older than me).  He seemed to be loosing interest in going out, playing basketball with the kids, and me in general –  I remember asking him if he was still happy in our marriage.  He looked at me like I had 7 heads and told me of course he was happy with our marriage.  He said there was a lot going on at the office and he was just stressed out.  I knew that when starting to take an antidepressant it could take 6-8 weeks for the full effect so I said to myself – “ok, he just started Lexapro – it’s going to help take the edge off soon.”

MANY MORE HINDSIGHTS came in February 2016.

2/7/2016 – Super Bowl…ugh how I wish I could go back to this night and the days following, knowing what I know now….We had friends over for Super Bowl festivities at our home.  He was annoyed that I made jello shooters in Panther Blue – he didn’t think it was “appropriate”, whatever that meant.  We actually argued over jello shooters.  Jay was always the life of the party and in previous years would have loved having jello shooters, he would have thought that was cute and fun!  He wasn’t in to preparing the smoked wings that he loved to make, as a matter of fact – I don’t remember him helping prepare anything for the evening.  When our guests arrived – he WAS NOT JAY.  He wasn’t his jovial, happy, endearing self.  I remember being almost embarrassed at how I thought he didn’t really make our guests feel welcome.  I don’t really know how else to describe that night – he just wasn’t Jay.  He was social – but not himself.  Friends noticed and have since agreed that he just wasn’t Jay that night.

Talking to Jay’s sister since his death, this was the time that he also started really changing at the office.  He got to to the point at the office that he really couldn’t make decisions.  I’m not sure that his personality changed at the office, but I do know that his sister noticed some changes in his ability to lead.  Jay was worried about everything at the office, everything.  I remember one day he called me at least 6 times because they were having phone problems (they are a call center) and kept asking me to call different numbers at the office to see what showed up on the caller ID.  I remember thinking to myself – “wow Honey, it’s going to be okay.  Take a chill pill!”  Without getting into detail – he thought the company was a sinking ship (it wasn’t) and he had everyone believing it was. I remember one day in March asking him about the “sinking ship” at the office and the news he received was the absolute best.  I can still see us standing near the pantry asking him and him telling me the outcome and my saying “that amazing, but why aren’t you jumping up and down with excitement”.  He had a reason for not being excited – he said something along the lines of “it could still sink.”  I thought to myself then – okay wow – he’s REALLY stressed out and we need to go back to the doctor.

So – we went back to the doctor the end of February.  Jay had lost about 10 lbs since our visit in December (he wasn’t trying to lose weight nor needed to loose weight).  I remember saying – ok this is a sign of depression.  His blood pressure was a bit elevated and he was having trouble sleeping.  I told the doctor about his inability to sleep and how he just didn’t seem like Jay.  The doctors response was to give the Lexapro a little longer to work and he added Ambien CR and Xanax – as needed.  This turned out to be a deadly combination for my sweet husband.

March ugh.  In March Jay started saying his name out loud.  “Jay Rickman, Jr.” – I would say “honey, do you know that you’re saying your name?”  Sometimes he would acknowledge and sometimes he had no idea.  We laughed about it.  I would say something funny like “yes honey,  your name is Jay Rickman, Jr” and he would laugh.  Mid March I also noticed that we would hit himself in the forehead.  I wish you could see me so I could show you what it was like – but I would compare it to when you have water in your ear and you kind of hit your ear several times to try to get the water out.   A puppy found his was to our backyard in March and Christian was outside playing basketball and came to the door to get us to come outside.  He wasn’t wearing a collar so I decided to keep him in the garage that night until I could figure out what do with him the next morning.  Jay was LIVID about this puppy.  He was so mad that it was there and kept telling me that we would not have another animal in the house.  I kept telling him I couldn’t believe how he was acting – I wasn’t going to leave the puppy roaming the street and I would figure out what to do the next morning.  This was a Jay I had never seen before – ever.  So NOT HIM.  I remember laying in bed and crying that night thinking what is the world is wrong with him.  Who was this person?

One night in March, in his sleep, I heard him say “I should just kill myself”.  This scared me.  I remember the following conversation like it was yesterday.  I was sitting at the kitchen island and he was standing on the other side making coffee.  I said “honey do you know what you said in your sleep last night?”  He kind of smiled and said “Oh God, what?”.  I said “you said you should just kill yourself!”  He looked at me with complete shock.  I said “Honey – are you having those kinds of thoughts”.  He look me straight in the eyes and said “Absolutely not”. He answered in with such resolution – I didn’t for a second think he wasn’t being truthful.  Not even for a second.  I chalked it up to Ambien talking BUT tucked it away for when I returned from our trip and planned to take him back to the doctor.  March was bad.  March also brought spring break for the kids and we had planned a cruise with a friend and her boys.  When we first planned the trip several months previously – Jay said he couldn’t go.  With all of the stress going on with him – the week before we left I called the cruise line and booked him.  I remember calling him at work and saying – “Ok, I called the cruise line and you can go for $xxxx and I’m booking you”.  He went back and forth and back and forth with whether or not he should go (decision making became impossible for him – I have since found out he was the same at work).  We had to pay for a completely separate room but I didn’t care, he needed a getaway.  I felt like this was exactly what he needed.  Time away from the office and the daily stressors of home life with kids and perhaps we could reconnect as well.  I finally told him “you’re going,  you need this and deserve this and you’re going”.  He finally agreed.  That trip was exactly what he needed, except he didn’t go.  We were supposed to leave on Sunday from Miami.  On Friday – Jay’s top salesperson resigned.  It was Good Friday.  He knew he wouldn’t have the ability to reach clients on Friday afternoon so he decided to stay home.  I wasn’t happy with this decision – but I understood and accepted his decision.  This is one of my biggest regrets….

The last Saturday of March we drove down to Charleston for Demitri’s and Sarah’s engagement.  My girlfriend was meeting us there so we could drive on down to Miami after the party and Jay was going to drive her car back home.  I also noticed in March that he started doing this weird thing with his neck.  I cannot describe it, but it was almost like the right side of his neck would “shake”.  I actually took a video of him doing this on our way to Charleston.  I knew that as soon as I returned home from the cruise, I was going back to the doctor with him and tell him about his suicide talk in his sleep, him constantly repeating his name, hitting his head and this “shake”.  I still don’t think I was thinking that he needed to see a mental health professional and that sounds so absurd to me now that I know how this story would end!

The engagement party…Jay was definitely not himself.  Demitri’s Mom described him as a “lost puppy” and that’s exactly how he seemed.  He was extremely happy for Demitri and Sarah but he just didn’t seem like he was “there” that night.  He was very distant and just not himself.  We left long enough for him to drive me and the boys a few miles down the street to meet Angie and her boys so we could get on the road.  I remember holding on tightly to his hand in the car and silently praying for this “break” from me and the boys to help his mental state.  I must have told him a million times that evening how much I loved him and how much I wish he were going with us.  He kissed us all goodbye and he headed back to the engagement party.

Jay tracked us during our drive the next day.  He had a funny text or comment along the way and the trip down was good.  We boarded the ship and although I wished he was with us – I vowed to make it a good trip with the boys and to work on our relationship when we returned.  I spoke and texted with Jay several times during that week and he sounded SO GOOD.  I told him that he sounded like my “old Jay” and things must be going better at the office.  His response was that they were and for me to enjoy my trip.  I told him several times that I couldn’t wait to get back home to him and that I was happy to hear some relief in his voice.  I thought to myself, maybe this was exactly what he needed, a week to truly focus on the office (and not feel rushed to come home for dinner every night) and some time alone.  I was excited to get back home to my old husband.  We even joked in a text that week when I told him he sounded like my “old husband” – his response was “He’s pretty much back, but the old one had more hair”.

We came home Sunday and Jay had dinner ready for us.  Looking back – he was very weird that night, on many different levels.  I wish I could describe in more detail – but he was just distant.  I was hoping that I was coming home to the Jay that I had texted with and talked to during the week that we were gone – but I felt like maybe it was a front he was putting on so I would enjoy my trip.  I came home sick from the cruise and all day Monday I was in the bed.  Demitri was coming through to go back to school in Charlotte and spent the afternoon with his Dad.  I was pretty out of it that day so I’m not really sure his state of mind.  Jay did dinner and basketball practice with the boys that night and I was in bed by the time they got home.

The next day was Tuesday, April 5, 2016.  The absolute worst day of my life.

It has taken me 4 months to write this and finally decide to post it.  Putting all of this in writing is hard to read and think about.  Many times as I’ve written these words I have said to myself – “Oh my gosh, how could you have missed all of this Wendy?”  BUT I DID.  ME – THE PERSON WHO WOULD HAVE GONE TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH TO SAVE MY HUSBAND.  ME – I MISSED IT.  If by sharing this with you, our story can save one person – one family from having to endure similar tragedy – it will make our story a little more bearable.  I have asked God each and every night to use me as He sees fit and I have prayed about sharing this with you.  I do so in complete transparency in hopes that one life can be saved.  One family can notice the signs.

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” ~Saint Augustine

Onward, Wendy