I really try to not dwell in the past, but someone asked a question this week that reminded me of the unique circumstances around surviving the suicide of someone you love.
My husband took his own life four years ago. It was not his first attempt, although I had been told after the first attempt to expect he would succeed someday. He and I had been divorced for five years, brought about by his undisclosed (to me) and undiagnosed mental illness. He had a laundry list of possible problems, although schizophrenia was the most clearly presenting affliction (he admitted to me later that he had always heard voices but never told anyone). He also had symptoms of bi-polar, severe anxiety and Asperger's. One social worker told me that he also presented as a person who had been sexually abused as a child, although he never confirmed that. All I knew was this was the most intelligent, educated, loving, amazing man I had ever met, except, well, when he wasn't. Much of the time he was fine, but then he would hit a depressive cycle that would last 18-24 hours, and we had to tiptoe around him, careful not to get wrapped up in his funk. He had these odd rules he would enforce as well, and because we loved and respected him, we would follow them, even though they made no sense to us at all. You just don't naturally think the worst about someone you love, and I found that we were all being secretly bundled up in his insanity.
What ended our marriage wasn't any of the above, but rather his openly declared need to find sexual partners outside the marriage, both male and female. Now understand that we had a very active sex life -- sex daily was common throughout our marriage, so it wasn't that he had unfulfilled needs. But I couldn't take the outside partners, the ones who he would bring home to meet the children, the ones whose house he was beginning to prefer over our own. Something in me just turned off at that point -- where I had been accommodating and understanding, well, that all just came to a crashing halt. I asked him to choose, and he did not choose me and the kids.
So he moved out.
Within months his life had completely fallen apart. He had no job, and the people he had left the marriage for had abandoned him. He started cycling through psychotic episodes, getting in trouble with the police and getting evicted from his apartment. He wrote me hundreds of scathing emails. He threatened my life. He threatened to kill the children. He drove his car into the house. I felt I had no choice but to get a restraining order.
He cycled downward so fast, he finally had nowhere else to go but the mental hospital. Three days after admission, he made his first suicide attempt. Since even his entire family had abandoned him, I found him (I tricked a clerk into telling me that he was a patient) and went to see him. Then I felt like if I took the kids to see him, maybe that would help him realize he had a reason to live.
We did supervised visitation for years, once a week for four-six hours. He always tried to pull it together for the kids, and we reestablished a measured but cautious friendship for their sakes. He finally moved into a rent subsidy apartment and was on full disability. He was on his meds. He was making friends again.
And then, quite without any real warning that I can recall or discern, he took his own life. He hung himself in his apartment on Easter Sunday, 2005. He left a note, blaming me.
Which gets me back to why I even started writing this. The question was something like -- if a parent takes his own life leaving young children behind, is he still a good parent? I hemmed and hawed and wrote something really apologetic to the asker, but later that night it dawned on me -- it's no different than if a parent dies from cancer leaving small children behind! It's an illness, not a rational choice, that drives people to violate their survival instincts. Of course he was a good parent -- to the extent he was able. He was a good husband, too. Except when he wasn't -- except when his brain chemistry wouldn't allow it.
So forgive me for remembering the good qualities of my husband, before it all got terribly strange. But I do, because I need to believe that despite his illness, his love for me and the kids was one of the most tangible things in my life. I still feel it. And I'm sorry if I encourage my children to remember their father with fondness. But he did earn that fondness, and he did not choose to have the illness that he had.