A New Family Dynamic

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The days are long and the years are short. That’s what they say about children and parenting, right? The two little boys that I gave birth to years ago are now on the edge of becoming pre-teens. In fact, one is ten and completely in his pre-teenage days. Source: his attitude and rolling eyes.

They’re amazing little boys, full of laughter and wrestling moves. They fight with each other and pick on each other. They drive me crazy and then make me feel like wrapping them up in snuggles at the end of the day. They still ask for bedtime stories and they still ask for hugs. I still call them my babies and I still hold their hands when crossing the street at times. They’re both grown and little all at the same time.

It’s bittersweet.

They were four and two-years-old when their father died by suicide. They slept in late that day (thank goodness) and would eventually be escorted out of the house, blankets covering their heads so that they wouldn’t bear witness to the gruesome scene sitting in the car outside: their father.

I had found my husband early that dreadful day and while I called 9-1-1, I didn’t think to close the door to the house nor listen out for curious children. It’s amazing that they slept as late as they did and even more miraculous that they didn’t wander downstairs until after people had arrived and they could be tended to by friends while the police did what they needed to do.

Either way, time has passed since that day. It has left the boys aching for a father and their father. My eight-year-old was more concerned about having a dad, period. He doesn’t actually remember his father, but did yearn for a father-figure. He was jealous of the children at school who could speak highly of their own dads. My ten-year-old has a few concrete memories of his father. He both missed having a father-figure and misses having his own dad next to him. He has the more complicated issues regarding grief out of the two of them.

Enter my current fiancee. He’s the one in the photo between the boys. He’s teaching them about his love of hiking and biking. He takes my oldest to mile long bike rides with him. He encourages both of them to push past their fears at the amusement park.

The boys love him.

Even so, they miss their father and I know that one day the words, “You’re not my dad!” will be spat out venomously when my fiancee tries to discipline them.

What complicates this further is the birth of their half-sister. She came in a whirlwind of a labor and delivery. She was caught in the hands of her father in the comfort of our bed. A midwife sat next to us, watching carefully. It was lovely.

The boys were ecstatic. They were smitten. Our family had grown again, this time in a way that joined us by blood. She is the ruling princess in this house.

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Her laugh and smiles are coveted. Both boys proclaim to be the better brother.

Still, there’s a bit of jealousy that I knew would exist. My oldest was the first to put it into words.

“She’s always going to know her dad. He’s never going to leave her.”

And that is where the problem lies. Suicide seems to be an act of abandonment. I have explained that suicide is an irrational choice made by a broken mind most of the time. Their father was depressed and did not take his own life because of us. Trying to attach a rational explanation to an irrational action is what leads so many down frustrating roads.

I try to explain mental health, mental illness, suicide, and everything that is related to my children, but these are tough topics and my boys are young. They can only understand so much and they wrestle with the topics.

I did explain, however, that their sister most likely will love hearing about their own father. They are looking forward to the day that they can share what their father meant to them.

“I can’t wait to show her pictures and tell her all our stories!”

And I’m very curious to see if this addition to our blog 3family, while causing new growth, new reflection, and new issues, will also be another step towards healing. After a loss, especially one by suicide, it’s hard to think that love will ever enter the picture again. It’s hard to picture a new normal. It’s hard to imagine moving past the grief. But it happens. Love seeps in; love grows. And suddenly your heart, while scarred, is fuller.

Six Years Later

Soon I’ll have had my husband longer as a memory than real life. I think if it weren’t for the photos, his face would eventually fade from memory. I’m not sure. I can’t quite recall his voice. I repeat the memories I have of him to myself and my sons often; partly for us and partly because I’m terrified I’ll lose them forever.

The pain of his loss has dulled. I no longer walk into a room and feel surprised he isn’t there. He has slipped into a past life. He is in a “before” category, lumped next to my childhood.

I don’t feel his loss as pain anymore, but I feel his absence acutely. I miss him. Truly and deeply. I want another picture, a video, another memory. I wish more than anything that I had thought to video moments we had together. That is probably one of my deepest regrets.

I wish I had more people to talk about him to. Maybe I’d settle for one. I want to have a conversation about my husband. It’d be a bonus if it were with someone who knew him.


“Do you remember his laugh? Yes? Loud and deep and booming.”

“Did you know he was actually sort of embarrassed about it.”

“Why? Oh, because it was loud and someone had mentioned that he was over the top with it. Well, I guess embarrassed is the wrong way to describe it….self-conscious. Yes, that’s a better term.”

“My son has his laugh. It’s a childish version, of course. But yes….yes, my oldest. That’s who laughs like him. I love it.”

“Do I think I’ll hear him again when my boys grow up? Maybe. They’ll have a note of their dad within their voices, most likely.”

“Oh, yes, I do remember his cook outs. He was quite the grill master wasn’t he?…Okay, not with fish. But with red meats he was: ribs, lamb, steak, burgers, you name it….Yeah, that was a really great time. ….And some beer. You’re right. He was happy grilling with a Budweiser, a cigarette, and some music playing.”


I remember telling him I was pregnant. All three times. I remember telling him when I miscarried. I remember him crying. I remember the first time he held his two boys. I remember him playing with them. I remember walking into his work, watching him do what he loved: being a mech in the Navy. I remember nagging at him to stop smoking. I remember our arguments.

I remember that we forgot to turn on our electricity before moving into our apartment. In February. We had to wait four days for them to turn it on, so we bundled ourselves into a shared cocoon on our air mattress. After we paid the first month’s rent plus deposit, we had $4,000. I remember thinking it was so much money and immediately finding out it wasn’t when you were starting from scratch.

I remember when he proposed to me. I remember the court house. I remember him tearing up when we said our vows. I remember arguments over the phone. I remember arguments over email, because we were far apart way too often. The military lifestyle was hard; especially when we were alternating being on sea duty.

I never want to forget these things. Good times, bad times, big moments, little moments. All of it. I want to remember all of it always.

I had him to myself for about six and a half years. I try my hardest not to wonder what if or wish about anything. It’s so hard not to. Even so, I try to replay what we had. We may not have a future, but we had time together and that has to be enough for me. I’m glad we had the time we did.

A Quick Note

Usually this state gives us bitter, cold February days. Instead, we’ve been gifted a few warm days followed (or preceded) by frigid temperatures. Today, the wind is blowing loudly, the trees are rustling, and the sky isn’t quite gray. Still, it doesn’t project a sunny face, either.

My boys, almost finished with their schoolwork, decided to take a walk. The baby is half-asleep and I have a cup of lukewarm coffee; it’s my signature drink on sleepy days when I’ve homework to complete.

I miss him right now. I wonder what he’d be doing. Probably working, probably still in the Navy. The Navy has down-sized and is always trying to save money in weird ways, so I doubt they’d have moved our family far away. But who knows.

I remember he wanted to go IA (Individual Assignment) to Bahrain or elsewhere. He thought it would look good on his evaluation. He wanted to make master chief one day. He wanted to stay in the Navy for as long as the Navy would keep him.

He loved his job. He was an AD (Aviation Machinist’s Mate). He loved getting his hands dirty, he loved the ins and outs of working on jet engines. He wanted to be promoted, but hated the idea of only doing paperwork while the his junior personnel were out working and having fun.

We used to talk about the future all the time. We disagreed on how it would look. He wanted me to stay in the Navy until retirement, but that was never my plan and it didn’t change after we married. I did allow an extra enlistment, but I wanted to be done after that. He was content with two children and I disliked the idea of never having another one.

This blog post is rambly, but that’s how my brain feels right now.

I miss him.

What I wonder about the most is how the relationship between him and his boys would have been. No man will ever love them or be as proud of them as him. I wish they would be able to have that.

And Life Didn’t Stop

I remember the day it happened like it was yesterday. I’ve learned to tuck it away, though, lest I break down every other day. It’s not a fun memory and sometimes it sneaks back into view, leaving me breathless. Most of the time, it’s a small hiccup, a small break in speech, a sharp inhale of breath, or a pause in step. Then, life goes forward.

I remember waking up next to my toddler. I had slept in their room and had curled myself into a ball on the toddler bed. I was still exhausted, but work was a few hours away and we both had to get up and go. I had children to get ready for daycare, he had his cigarette to smoke before his morning routine. We had fought the night before and I knew the morning would bring uncomfortable silence and hurt feelings. I didn’t know I was wrong yet.

I remember the police lights flashing in from the windows. I remember sitting on my couch wondering how someone could cry so much. I remember all of the extra people in my house. I remember my children finally carried out of the house, blankets draped over them so they wouldn’t see their father’s body all blooded in the car. I remember the police asking a few gentle questions.

I remember wondering how the sun was still rising. I remember realizing that people had had their morning coffee, kissed their kids good-bye, and left to work. I remember knowing that the sun would eventually set and the next day would come. My world had shattered and life didn’t stop. That seemed cruel.

With one bullet, my husband had changed my entire life and the life of our children. He had broken the hearts of everyone who loved him. It’s like a rock thrown into a body of water. The impact is violent. And even when the event is over, the ripples continue to stretch and grow.

I am almost six years out after his death. Life didn’t stop for me. It crushed me and it was hard, very hard sometimes, but it didn’t stop.

Our children are seven–almost eight!–and ten years old. It’s amazing how quickly they went from helpless newborns to big kids. I wish their father was here to see their transition. That’s probably the source of most of my anger or regret or guilt related to the suicide.

Still, almost six years later and I can say that life didn’t stop for me. Life doesn’t stop. And it’ll continue for you as well. That is not to say that you’ll forget or ever stop missing them. Nor does it mean that there will be no hard days. However, there are a lot of great days coming. I am now engaged to a wonderful man. I have a four-month-old daughter who is the apple of everyone’s eye. My sons cannot wait until she grows up enough so they can share with her the stories of their own father. I am in college and opening a new chapter of my life. As always, there are ups and downs, fights and excitement, progress and set backs in everything. But life goes on.

There is hope and good things in the future for me and for all of you reading. I get emails and comments every now and again about recent suicides. The pain will subside, I promise. There is no more normal, there will only ever be a new normal. There will now always be a divider in your life: before and after. Milestones will sometimes be marked on the anniversary of the suicide: one year after, first Christmas, second birthday, third anniversary, and so on.

Life goes on. At first that seems like such a cruel thing to bear, but eventually, it sounds like a promise.

 

Are You Afraid of Dying

Having one’s husband completely change his and everyone’s future has a way of messing with one’s mind. In the instant that it takes to pull a trigger, his life had ended, the future I thought we had was over, his children were now fatherless, and nothing would ever be the same. The flood of emotions that comes with suicide would reverberate through the people that knew and loved him. Questions would come that would never be answered. I would still be here. His children would still grow up. Everything would be uncertain for a long period of time.

I’m afraid of dying. I’m slightly aware that one day my life will end. In that sort of way, I have the vague thought of life simply slipping from my grasp. I will give my last breath to the universe and in return, I will start my journey in becoming something else entirely. It’s strange to think of myself as ceasing to exist.

In the other sense, I’m terrified. I’m so afraid that I will leave my children motherless. I promised them, hoping that if there is a god out there, that he would hear me and make my promise come true, that I would stay here. I may have even uttered forever, because small children don’t understand time. Forever to them just means for a long, long while. I promised I would not just mysteriously vanish, I would not get sick. I promised them that I would be beyond human and stay until they didn’t need me.

“I’ll need you forever, mama,” they said.

Forever I’ll stay, then.

I have a daughter now. She is four months old and growing rapidly. She’s a delight and the apple of everyone’s eye. The boys find her playful and beautiful. Yet, there’s something that separates them. She has a father who can dote on her. They do not. If something happened to me, she has her father. They, on the other hand, would be true orphans. And while I know that losing their father was a blow, at this age, I feel that losing me would be even worse.

I feel that I’m more anxious, post-suicide, than I ever was before. Sometimes this rabbit hole is opened and I fall down it, tumbling faster and faster as I think about life after mother (me). I imagine the days and months after my death. I imagine their tears and hurt. I try really hard not to go down this path, but sometimes it grasps hold of me.

I’m acutely aware of this and sometimes when I’m far from them (they are 7 and 10 years old, so every now and again they are at a friend’s house or being baby-sat while I go on a date with their stepfather), I begin worrying that we’ll meet our ends in a car crash or something similar. What then?

I wonder if I should keep these fears internalized or utter them out loud every now and again. I’m not really sure what to do with these feelings. I know they’re irrational. I know that death is inevitable for everyone. I know that I can only be as safe as I can be, aside from that, we’re all at the mercy of our circumstances.

Still, it haunts me.

I Wish I Had His Voice with Me

I saw a video on Facebook showing two young girls getting a build-a-bear with their grandfather’s voice recorded on it. The girls were delighted with the stuffed animal. Then, at a relative’s prompting, they squeezed the paw and their grandfather spoke. The big deal was that their grandfather had passed away the year before.

Cue tears.

It hit home for me, though, because I wished I could do something like that for my boys. I wish I had videos of their father. Recordings of his voice. I wish I had hours upon hours of him talking and laughing and playing with them. I wish I had more pictures. If I could be granted the tiniest wish, aside from them still having their father, of course, it would be having recorded memories.

It’s one thing to tell them stories of their father. It’s another to actually let them see how they were swung around, tossed up in the air, and smothered in kisses. It’s another to hear bedtime stories read by him. Even I don’t quite remember how he sounded like. I can almost hear it, like whispering that’s a little too low. Whenever I get close to realizing the sound, it’s scampers away into the recesses of my mind.

I know that if I were to hear his voice or laugh, I’d recognize it immediately…but as of right now, I cannot describe it.

Why didn’t I take more photos, record more videos, and store them more carefully? What ignorance, to think that we had the rest of our lives…

December 5th

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Today’s your birthday. You should be 33 years old. Would we be prepping for Christmas? Would you still be in the military? It seems so weird that you’ve been gone so long. Sometimes I feel like you’re going to walk in the front door. Or I’m going to bump into you accidentally when I’m out and about shopping.

Every now and again, a stranger will have your profile or chin or gait. He’ll remind me of you when you walked away, the way your shoulders moved subtly. Or maybe someone’s boisterous laugh will grab my attention.

You’re an old friend who moved far, far away.

Other times it feels like you and I were together in a past life. In our old life we were husband and wife. Maybe we stayed together until we got old and gray. We had our children and watched them grow up and make their own little babies. We shared sunsets and coffees. We argued and made up.

That’s an alternative life. Maybe in a world with parallel universes, one of those threads contains that reality.

You feel like a past life sometimes. Whisps of old memories shutter through my current ones. A flash of a different color in a movie scene.

You took your life when you were 27. Now here we are almost six years later.

Today weighs heavily on my heart. You shouldn’t be in the ground yet. You should be with your sons. Oh, how I wish you could see them. They’re beautiful. They’re growing into little men.

Instead, I wake up with a bitter taste in my mouth, a heavy stone on my chest. You didn’t even complete thirty rotations around the sun. With your own hand, you created this harsh reality. Today is your birthday, but there is no celebration. Only memories. Some smiles, but mostly tears.

We miss you. I wish you would have known that.

The Right Partner

Loving after loss is hard. It’s hard to let go again. It’s hard to forgive yourself enough to open up to another. It’s hard to think that if it weren’t for your loss…you wouldn’t be where you are today. What a trippy thought.

It’s hard, I’m sure, for your significant other as well. There will always be another person in your heart. There will always be triggers, moments of sadness, memories (both good and bad), and more. It’s a lot to handle.

People come with all sorts of baggage, but the loss this big is a doozy.

At first it feels like you’ll never love again. Do you deserve it? you’ll wonder. Do you need it? Is it worth it? Why should you care to fall for someone else? Or maybe it’s the opposite: you fall for someone very quickly. It’s up to you to decide when it’s right to enter a relationship, no one else.

A word of caution, though: some people are intimidated by ghosts.

Yes, your husband/wife/significant other is gone. In ugly terms: they’re dead and will always be that way. However, that doesn’t mean that they have been erased. Some people cannot handle that.

“When will you get over him (her)?”

“It just feels like you talk about him (her) too much.”

“Will there ever be a time you stop thinking/talking/crying about him (her)?”

Those are all wrong questions. Those are all huge red flags that you are with the wrong person.

The right person will be okay with the memory of another. There will be no competition, no jealousy, no envy. There will be no mention of “getting over” your loved one. There will be no feelings of hiding what you’re feeling. Crying in front of your new partner should be okay. Discussing your loved one should be okay.

Death is so taboo in this country. More so mental illness and/or suicide. After our loved one has died and the weeks following the chaos is over…people assume the dust has settled and you’ve made your peace with it all. No one realizes that it haunts you forever. Yes, the pain fades. Yes, the triggers lessen. But you will never forget him or her. You will never forget what happened. You are a different person than before that awful day. It is a not a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing that happens. How could you be the same after such a tragedy?

The truth is that the right partner will be able to accept you with all of your demons and all of your memories. And I do not mean that in the romanticized way that means you’ll never fight and he or she will be 100% understanding 100% of the time. It just means that he or she will never make you feel as if your loved one has died and needs to disappear from memory. If that’s the case, then know that there are people out there who aren’t intimidated by the memories.

Parenting After Suicide

I’d love to say that your children will always be your strength. In a way, this is true. You get out of bed in the morning those first few days, weeks, months…years…for them. You keep a stiff upper lip for them. You keep hope alive for them. Even so, sometimes they are what make the days hard.

Parenting is hard. Period. Much more when something this monumental happens. My children were younger when their father took his life. My middle child was 2 and my oldest 4. My oldest has a few concrete memories of his father. My second has a few made up memories. I don’t correct him.

They miss their father. Or rather, my oldest misses his father, my second missed the concept of having a father. Now that I am with someone, “married” so-to-speak, he is content. If nothing else, he is curious about the man that is part of him. He asks questions about who his father was, what he looked like, talked like, what he liked. My oldest, since moving in with his stepdad, is the one who continues to cry about his father. My second has stopped. It’s interesting.

We cope as a family. I talk to my boys about their dad. They enjoy it. They know that their father took his own life. They know about depression. They know about mental illness. They know that suicide is a very real thing. They are now 7 and 9 years old.

7 and 9. Babies, basically. The experts say that children don’t have a real grasp of what death is until about 5 or 6 years old. Before that, it’s an abstract concept. I believe that. I have seen the stages of accepting their father’s death as a permanent thing.

I think the concept of suicide takes longer to internalize. The concept of mental health and mental illnesses even longer, maybe.

An example: My children were told to clean. At first, they are somewhat willing. As the work gets harder, they do what a lot of children do: whine. They complained and drug their feet. My patience grew thin, especially when the baby started crying and needed to nurse. This is my handicap. She is 6 weeks old and nursing around the clock. I cannot supervise like before.

“We’re done [with the bathroom],” reported my oldest. When I checked it I saw that they had dirty rags on the floor and a wad of toilet paper soaked in urine next to the toilet.

“Uh, no. Not even close,” I sighed.

“This is taking forever!” he cried. We had a bit of a fight and he storms off, “I wish I could just kill myself!”

This is a refrain that he likes to repeat. Along with: I want to die. I hate my life.

You get the idea.

Early on I melted every time. It brought me to tears. I know that my children have a higher risk of developing depression, etc. I know they’re at a higher risk of attempting and/or completing suicide. It terrifies me. And I would melt and cry.

However, the years have passed and I have come to realize that 1) I cannot let their father’s death act as a crutch in which they can escape any difficult thing in life and 2) I cannot live my life terrified that any wrong thing I do will up their desire to actually attempt suicide.

And so my oldest and I collided. You will NOT say those words in my house. You will NOT say those words in front of me. 

He was angry and upset. His face darkened and he stamped about the bathroom. But he cleaned the bathroom with the help of his brother. Later that day he would hug me and say he loved me. His earlier tantrum was over.

That’s how I have to think of those outbursts. Tantrums. He doesn’t know exactly what he’s saying. Just like five-year-old him didn’t know what he was asking for when he would plead for us all to die and go to heaven to visit his father. My guilt, my conscience, and my grief cannot undermine my ability to parent. It just can’t.

His suicide has impacted so many things in our lives. It’s not just that we miss him. It’s not just that it introduced grief and guilt into my life. It affects my parenting. Little by little, I’m learning that it shouldn’t be allowed to anymore.

There’s a Future not Just a Past

I haven’t been on blogging as much recently. Life is changing. Currently, I’m trying to type while nursing my one month old daughter.

I have a daughter now. How amazing.

Emotionally, this pregnancy was harder than my previous two. I know that guilt accompanied some of that. It was so easy to feel guilty about “moving on” or being happy. More than that, the strange realization that if it weren’t for my husband’s death, this little girl wouldn’t have been born. Though, those two things aren’t very much related. It’s all the same long path in life. I’m just walking down the road.

Either way, I wanted to write something down since the days are still so hectic. The postpartum period certainly isn’t a calm time. I have a lot of topics I want to discuss and a lot of things that were brought up during the pregnancy and postpartum for myself and my boys. I doubt they’ll be addressed soon, but I’ll try.

What I wanted to get out today was that I’m happy. I’m content with my life at the moment. My boys are watching a show on Netflix after a day of home school. My daughter is finally drifting off. My partner is fast asleep after a long shift at work and some work he had to do at home. It’s mostly quiet and I hear the sound of the crickets outside our bedroom window.

So often, I turn to this blog when I’m sad or distraught. I type furiously away as emotions roll through me. I receive a lot of feedback on how this blog has helped people feel less alone or helped them with an issue. You all have no idea how much you help me. I’ve felt much less alone when you all contact me via email or comments. This blog was a scary thing to put out to the public for me, but after a while it was my way of coping and decompressing.

I do feel sad still, guilty even, angry sometimes. Yet, there are so many more days that I’m filled with joy or hope or peace.

I have a past, but I’m not living in it anymore. I live for today and plan for tomorrow. I smile and laugh without guilt (usually). The pain is still there when I look at pictures or reminisce with my children, but it’s duller. I look back at the happy memories and smile more at the thought of them.

Life goes on. Happiness returns. And my husband’s memory will always be here with me.