Suicide Shatters

Suicide shatters the lives of everyone around its victim.

I lost my husband Rob to suicide in December 2000, he was 47, I was 43, our son was 9 1/2. Never could have imagined this outcome after spending 29 years together. Rob was intelligent, mechanically gifted, industrious and passionate. For many years, we ran a business together, an independent BMW and Mercedes repair/sales shop, where he excelled and became well-known in BMW circles.

His love of all things mechanical began at a very early age, ever-curious to figure out how things worked, taking them apart and putting them back together again. Cars were a first love and resulted in a career first as a master mechanic, then I pushed him to start his own business.

There was never a dull moment in our years together, he was always searching for the next challenge or next acquisition. He was a collector of many things that piqued his interest and accumulated many prized possessions over the years. He always had huge mood swings—I described life with him often as walking on eggshells, never quite knowing what might set him off.

Talk about it, tell your story, tell your loved one’s story, say their name, who they were and not just that one final moment in time.

Described in a wonderful Toronto Life article as “cranky and mercurial”, customers accepted this because of his innate talent of being able to explain whatever was going wrong with their beloved vehicle. He was highly opinionated and driven, coming off as cocky and arrogant to some, but well respected for his gift.

Business was booming, customers were thrilled, referrals were the mainstay and life was good. Rob never could accept he’d “made it” and that the business was a success. I reminded and encouraged him. In September 1999 we had to relocate from our Toronto location and purchased an existing turnkey tire franchise located where we lived.

Rob never transitioned after walking away from 90% of our Toronto customers, hated the new clientele and approached the new business with that mindset. I felt we could turn it around, build it up and with time and good service could rebuild. Six months after purchasing the franchise, a huge tire recall took place which was devastating to not only tire sales, but the revenue overall.

Rob handled the downturn in business poorly and our marriage suffered for it. After having a huge argument on Valentine’s Day, 2000, we agreed to a temporary separation. We decided to continue working together, but to live separately. This is when all hell broke loose. Rob’s behaviour toward me, the business and everything that had meant so much to him went out the window.

He was absent much of the time always with excuses. Eventually I was told he was having an affair which took precedence over everything else. I was angry, humiliated, hurt and betrayed but knew I had to keep it together until I figured out a solution. Rob spiralled out of control at such an alarming rate that I barely recognized the man I’d known and loved for almost three decades.

Late in September, his new love terminated things because he was too intense and this is when Rob’s world truly began falling apart. Prior to that he had the confidence in his new relationship to sustain him, without it he couldn’t function. Rob begged me to reconcile, my heart and self-respect would not allow it but I assured him I would support him through this crisis.

On December 6th, Rob attempted suicide for the first time by firearm. Following an eight-hour police stand-off, he finally surrendered and was held in a mental health institution for 72 hours. This was also when he was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. I was unfamiliar with bipolar until the psychiatrist explained the symptoms, most of which Rob had often displayed. Life together made a whole lot more sense once getting this diagnosis.

Several more attempts occurred, Rob telling me in great graphic detail about each one of them. What it felt like, the thoughts raging in his mind uncontrollably and the fear present. I couldn’t believe my ears most of the time but listened and learned so I could help him get treatment. Rob was a very proud man, not one to ask for help, but finally admitted he needed it and was willing to see my doctor.

We talked more in the last six months of our relationship than we had in our entire 29 years together. No stone was left unturned, discussions were intense and highly emotional. This man I’d known for so long, who rarely showed emotion, was nothing but emotion and clearly not capable of making life-saving decisions. There was much self-loathing and he’d lost hope. His self-confidence was gone, and he was insecure, desperately frightened and fighting for his life.

Unfortunately over Christmas 2000, Rob lost the battle in his mind and took his life, inner pain and turmoil having overwhelmed his ability to cope. Almost 90% of all suicides involve some form of mental illness, generally treatable. Those who are suicidal are often filled with self-hatred and have lost hope of things ever improving. They feel they are truly a burden, and that everyone would be better off without them. It is not true of course, but their depressed minds prevent them from seeing reality.

Suicide turns your world upside-down. Nothing can prepare you for it, even though in my case I knew it would likely happen. It causes you to question life in new ways, catapulting you onto the most emotional roller coaster of your life. The path to recovery is difficult, but it is possible to heal and recover from such a loss. It’s most definitely the most difficult experience I’ve ever had to learn to recover from, but recover I did and it’s important to know you can, too.

Almost one million worldwide die by suicide each year. For every fatal suicide there are 20 non-fatal attempts. The accepted statistic is that every death by suicide leaves behind 6-10 loss survivors stunned and unable to figure out why their loved one took their life. If you do the math, it is nothing short of astounding how many millions are impacted by suicide each year.

Men in general don’t like to reach out for help. They’ve been raised to think it’s not “manly” to express their emotions—we need to change that! We need to teach the males in our lives that it’s imperative to express, connect, reach out and that it’s okay to ask for help. We need to talk about mental health and suicide without shame, without stigma and turn these tragic numbers and losses around.

Talk about it, tell your story, tell your loved one’s story, say their name, who they were and not just that one final moment in time. Learn about suicide and mental illness, educate, advocate, learn the signs to look for. Reach out to those you notice are struggling. Don’t be afraid to ask directly if they’re suicidal or considering it.

Dispel the myths and know who to contact for support. In Canada and the U.S. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Know this number, memorize it and be prepared to give it to anyone struggling. Don’t be afraid to use it yourself. It can and does save lives.

Intervention can save lives, letting someone know they matter and that you care can sometimes make the difference between life and death. Suicide in most cases can be prevented and knowing how to get help is critical. Men and boys comprise nearly 80% of all fatal suicides, yet little is done to research this high statistic. That needs to change!

I am a passionate advocate for suicide prevention and mental illness. I created a Facebook page “Suicide Shatters” to help others heal. Get involved, get educated and informed and raise awareness. Make a difference—YOU can save a life!

 

Read more on Suicide.

Bullet hole in glass image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing. Very powerful story. My condolences.

  2. Rebecca Saunders says:

    Thank you Barb for an open account of what happens when someone close to you commits suicide. My brother, Julian, was sent home from a psych ward where he had been admitted after 3 attempts in one day…the doctors said there was nothing wrong with him. Of course I knew differently, but despite my attempts to explain, I was not heard. A week later, Julian made another attempt and succeeded.

    It did take many years to find my way through the maze of emotional and mental turmoil that comes when dealing with a loss like this. There is still so much taboo surrounding suicide. And like you, I have worked in situations helping people find other ways to deal with their pain, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

    I love to speak of Julian now – he is not how he died – he was the wonderful, compassionate, creative, loving, hilarious man who I was fortunate to have in my life for 29 years!

    Thank you for your work. Please keep speaking out!

  3. Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks very much for your kind comment and I’m so sorry to hear you have also lost Julian to suicide. So often there are multiple attempts and unfortunately depending on the mental health care system where you reside, the stigma is present even within the treatment facilities. They often release people they truly have no business releasing. It really is a vicious cycle for those suffering with depression or other mental health issues and when you combine suicidal thoughts, it creates the perfect storm and we often lose them.

    I think many who have suicide impact them do, once they’re healed enough to give back and help, get involved in suicide prevention. It helps me honour Rob so that his life has meaning even in his death and I know it’s probably the same for you as well. There is still far too much taboo and stigma both around suicide and mental illness, but each person speaking out and talking openly about it helps to dispel that. I look forward to the day that there is no longer any stigma and that those who need and deserve help can easily get it.

    I agree with you that our loved ones were much more than that very dark moment in time and it’s so important to remember and honour that and to allow those good times in too. I will continue to speak out every opportunity I get and my FB page allows me to do that daily.

    Take care, Barb

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    • Hello getexbacksoon,

      Appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment, not everyone does and it’s always so lovely for the opportunity to connect. Glad you found the insight useful. It’s so important to share our stories so others can get educated and hopefully it gives others the courage to come forward and share theirs as well. I feel it’s so important to put the message out that although tragic and difficult to recover from – recovery is most definitely possible and that gives hope for those not quite there yet.

      Take care, Barb

  5. Suicides and thoughts of it can happen to people that are mentally, emotionally abused also. Society has a disease called “Bullying.” It is not always a mental disorder in that person. God did not create
    mankind to be abused by family, spouse, at work, …..yet Narcissistic people decide they need to be above others, so they degrade them constantly. Sometimes there’s no way out for that person, except suicide.

    • Hi Austin,

      I’m quite active in advocating against bullying as well on my FB page. There are many factors that contribute to suicide, bullying can often be one of those factors that serve as a trigger, but in and of itself, does not cause or lead to suicide necessarily. In most cases even with bullying, there is often depression involved and that complicates always. There are so many forms of abuse out there and all of them can wear a person down to the point they feel they want the pain and turmoil to end and have lost all hope of whatever is hurting to stop or change. Suicide is never a way out to be considered, there are always other options, but the person struggling must reach out and ask for help.

      The more we all learn about mental illness and emotional well being, the more coping skills we can master to help us deal with the many challenges in life. When it comes to bullying, the message needs to be driven home that there is help, that it is never right or acceptable and that suicide is not the answer. Many consider bullying to happen only to youth, it happens with adults as well. For those being bullied – tell someone and get help, for those witnessing bullying – get involved, take a stand and don’t be a bystander. For those doing the bullying, there is often underlying reasons they do what they do and in many cases, they themselves have been or are being bullied. They need to come forward and ask for help in learning new ways of coping and not lashing out to harm others. There are so many wonderful organizations out there now to address this issue and although it takes time, change is happening but it takes everyone getting involved.

      Take care, Barb

      • I DO NOT know if i am doing this correctly,i am not very computer savy, but i just want to say thankyou Barb for what you have been doing, and that i am very glad to have found this site!

  6. Thanks Barbara for sharing your story in detail. I lost my spouse in Feb 2011 to suicide. He was very successful and intelligent and tried all forms of treatment that didn’t seem to work in his mind, and gave up his battle. He felt everyone would be better off without him, which is never true. I wish I would of helped him more, but I know in my mind I was there for him and tried everything possible. It took me awhile to accept that I did everything I could and that it wasn’t my fault. I just wish I could of done more for him. I never thought I would recover from his death, but I have and I have moved on. I now focus primarily on helping others recover from the loss of loved ones and giving them hope to happiness and helping them find it.

    • Hello Linda,

      Thanks for your comment and sharing a bit of your story as well. I’m so sorry to hear that you too lost your husband to suicide and quite recently. Those with mental illness have such struggles to contend with, first with proper diagnosis, then trying to find treatment whether it be medications or therapies that work for them. When you’re already facing these challenges and battling illness as well, it can be very daunting and discouraging. I’m sorry your husband was not able to find a balance that would have helped him remain alive, but as you’ve mentioned, many are in such a dark place that they really and truly do feel everyone is better off without them. That’s the part that is so hard to comprehend when we ourselves are not coming from their perspective and depressed state of mind.

      I think most loss survivors wish they could have helped more, but I’m so glad to hear you say you know you were there for him and tried all that you could. The most unfortunate fallout from suicide for loss survivors is accepting the suicide itself and also the horrible guilt and blame that can come with this type of loss. You have arrived to that place of acceptance far more quickly than many do and I’m grateful for you that you were able to do that for yourself.

      I was able to immediately decide, and it is a decision, that I would not blame myself or feel guilty. This allowed me not to experience the very painful and damaging part of grieving and recovery. It’s not easy to do, but if we can separate our hearts from our minds and look at things realistically, we can come to this decision much sooner and avoid a very painful portion of the greiving process.

      I see far too many who are not recovering and in fact, continuously tell themselves they will not ever recover and get that same message from many other loss surivors as well. To cement this powerful message in our minds is very detrimental and stops all hope of healing and recovery. Forgiveness is what allowed me to begin to heal, not of Rob as I never was angry with him, but of circumstances and the aftermath. I’m so glad you arrived at the place of acceptance and being able to heal and move forward with your life. The loss is with us a lifetime, but the pain and extreme sadness can actually be a learning period of incredible growth unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. As so many loss survivors do, we take our personal losses and feel compelled to help others in similar situations. That too has been very rewarding for me personally and a gift that resulted from Rob’s suicide. Continued healing and helping!

      Take care, Barb

  7. Men in general don’t like to reach out for help. They’ve been raised to think it’s not “manly” to express their emotions—we need to change that! We need to teach the males in our lives that it’s imperative to express, connect, reach out and that it’s okay to ask for help. We need to talk about mental health and suicide without shame, without stigma and turn these tragic numbers and losses around.
    Yes. A very big part of the reason we don’t tell our stories is that we have been raised with the idea that asking for help is wrong. Asking for help or taking the proper time and work to take care of ourselves means that that is time and work that is not being used put towards being useful to other people. Not to sound cold but we are taught to be androids (a specific subset of robot that resembles a human but not quite) that don’t stop for self maintenance.

    • Hi Danny,

      Society on a whole needs to wake up and realize that what we’re doing is not working. I have one son and I made a point from very early on to teach him the words of emotions he was feeling so he himself could use that vocabulary to put his emotions into context. I never chastised him for crying, I always encouraged him to share how he was feeling and I really believe we all do males a grave disservice by contining this damaging myth and concept that it’s not “manly” to express your emotions.

      We need to teach males that it is not weak, selfish, or unmanly to ask for help. In fact, I believe it takes great strength for any gender to have the insight and self awareness to know when you’ve exceeded your own ability to cope and reach out for help. The days of the man being responsible for everyone else’s wellbeing need to be gone forever. It serves no one well and the suicide statistics prove that.

      I always felt once I had my son that a great deal of responsibility falls on the Mom to raise her son to know it’s always okay to feel emotions, express them and ask for help. Little by little, the tide or belief systems surrounding this damaging and completely unattainable goal of being a rock never needing help is being shattered. Self care is critical and if you don’t do it for yourself, who is going to do it and of what use will you be to yourself or others. Thanks very much for your comment and hope you’ll be one of those to break this myth for yourself and others.

      Take care, Barb

  8. Deb Bruser says:

    dearest Barb…
    This is a great tribute to many, many things. …your relationship, your husband’s mental illness, your attempt to help in ANY way possible to help Rob get control of his life & have some sort of “balance” for his own sake and finally YOUR taking the tragedy of suicide and doing something positive to help others.
    YOU are such a strong woman and a role model for so many.
    I’m certain that this was difficult to write. I applaud you. Men are just wired differently and yes, asking for help is HUGE. I encourage anyone reading this to seek help IF they, too, are having problems and “see” themselves in Barb’s story regarding her husband, Rob.
    Love you to the moon & back, Barb. And thanks for all that you do in suicide prevention.

    • Hello Deb!

      Thank you so much for your beautiful, heartfelt and touching comment. I do my best to educate not only on the suicide and contributing circumstances that led to it, but to also share a bit about who Rob was as a person. I feel it’s so important to share our loved ones for who they were while alive and not focus on only their suicide. Although there were many negatives with Rob, he was my first love and there were many good qualities and times to be remembered fondly.

      People need to learn that suicide has many contributing factors, not usually just one and as a result, it’s a very complex type of loss with very high emotions and beliefs brought into play as well. The more we all learn, the better we can help one another and is my motivation.

      Men are wired differently, but I believe a lot of that has to do with environment and learned behaviours expected by society, and often forced upon them. It’s important to teach, encourage and change that so they learn not only it is okay to ask for help when needed, but actually to accept it as a strength, not a weakness.

      Love you too Deb, you’re one of the gifts I received from Rob’s suicide. So many amazing, resilient and lovely people have crossed my path that never would have had suicide not entered my life. I am grateful for each and every one of them. You do tremendous giving back too, I think the more of us doing this type of work the better. Every person can and does make a difference.

      Hugs to you! Barb

  9. Dear Barb,
    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s the first time I’ve actually read it. I hope you’re a little aware of my story and my work toward ending the stigma of mental health and suicide. Yes, it is so important to talk about it and to challenge the myths and misunderstandings. Hopefully we will both be successful in doing that.
    My memoir, Leaving the Hall Light: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide has just been released in a paperback edition, and it will soon be released in an eBook. I’m putting together a blog tour to coincide with that. Is there any way you would be able to participate? I’d love to connect with you and work with you in any way.
    Thanks so much for all your good work.
    I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband. Even after this long, I know you’re not and never will be over it.
    Madeline

    • Hi Madeline,

      Just saw your comment now. Yes I’m aware of your work and book and have shared it a few times on my FB page. Every person telling their story helps educate and dispel the stigma that is unfortunately still alive and well when it comes to suicide and mental illness. Little by little, we all make a difference.

      We can connect privately on FB about your tour, appreciate your comment and condolences. Suicide is not something that anyone really gets over, but we all have a choice with how we react to life’s challenges and had suicide not entered my life, I can guarantee you I would never have discovered my passion and purpose, so for that I am very thankful.

  10. My sister in law committed suicide. I could have done something to get her out of her crazy making situation. I didn’t. I did not realize how desperate she was. I was busy. I was not close to her.

    After her death, I thought I would recover, easily. it took weeks. I finally put one of the few pictures I had of her up by my thermostat which meant that I saw her picture twice every day, when I turned the heat down and when I turned it back up.

    I have since committed myself to getting into people’s faces whenever they talk about suicide. I am not reasonable or polite about it. I distract them enough that time passes and something else comes up. I do this in her honor.

    When I was tutoring, one of my students, a ten year old boy, told me about his suicidal feelings in our first five minutes of talking. I made sure he had the hotline phone number on speed dial and checked it the next time I saw him and the next. I made clear that he should not do it, that his situation with his divorced and remarried parents would get better. I looked up things to encourage him that ADD was not the curse he thought it was. He was my assistant tutor and much better at math than I was. He seemed happier when I last saw him.

    I wish I had done something for my sister in law. I can only do what I can now.

    Thank you for listening.

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