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.
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!
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Bullet hole in glass image courtesy of Shutterstock