The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by a reader. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
My husband Scott committed suicide on April 30 of this year. We had been separated for a year, and hadn’t spoken since New Year’s Eve, when we shared a painful conversation about all the failings that had led to the dissolution of our marriage.
We had been married for 12 years, many of them very happy, the last few increasingly difficult as we navigated a failed adoption, petty and not-so-petty grudges and an inability to work toward a future together.
I got the call on May 1 at 5:15 am. It is shocking to be awoken from a deep sleep by someone from the coroner’s office, and chilling how you immediately know the reason for the call. In that moment I went from a single woman anticipating divorce and a fresh start to a widow who, as next of kin, was tasked with writing an obituary, planning a funeral and taking care of Scott’s estate.
Shock and denial protected me from accepting the loss the first few days. I even texted him a few times, clinging to the hope that there had been a horrible mistake.
I was faced with numerous tasks. One of the first on the list was writing an obituary. Everyone had an opinion, but since the $1,500 bill was all mine, I decided I should get authorship rights.
How do you write an obituary for your ex-husband without offending the friends and family who (in your more paranoid thoughts) think of you as the villain in the fairy tale that was meant to end happily ever after?
My well-meaning mother leaped in with a draft that cast me in the role of daughter to the grieving in-laws. I understood the desire to ignore the ugliness of a failed marriage, but the obituary left the reader confused regarding the family tree.
I drafted the obituary in the end, leaving my relationship to Scott a blank, which didn’t feel right either, but I was stumped about how to explain our history and our love.
I talked to Scott’s therapists in Los Angeles. They were both shaken by the news of his death, and it was discouraging that neither seemed to know enough about him to have foreseen what happened.
To top off the most surreal week of my life, I had to euthanize Chopin, the dog we had had since two weeks after our wedding, the day before I flew to Los Angeles for the funeral. My friends said Chopin knew he was needed to comfort Scott in another dimension, but I was irked that the dog Scott had abandoned when he left town the year before would choose to take sides at such a moment.
Flying to Los Angeles was a blur. My friend Kerri and my brother Jonathan had been tasked to run interference with Scott’s friends and family as required, and to ensure that I kept putting one foot in front of the other when all I wanted to do was run home. Not that I had a home to run to any more: The home we had bought and fixed up together was full of memories and foreboding shadows, haunted by imaginings of Scott in his final hours of pain, alone and unable to reach out to me or anyone else.
We visited the funeral home, then collected the possessions left in the car that Scott had abandoned the afternoon of his death – a painful window into who he had become since our split. The dreamer who had promised me a life of travel and excitement in my 20s had never grown up and accepted realities, as evidenced by pictures of a tropical island and a silver sports car taped to the dashboard.
At the coroner’s office, we picked up Scott’s wallet, a cell phone and a note he had written to himself with affirmations telling him he deserved to find love and acceptance. I broke down at that item, angry at a universe that had provided him with an unstable childhood and frustrated with him for never being able to move past it.
We spent the night at a local Kinko’s compiling a photo collage for the funeral; pictures of Scott clowning around on beaches, and with his friends, looking happy.
The funeral itself was peaceful. The Catholic priest managed to avoid that religion’s judgment of suicide and reassured everyone that Scott had finally found the peace he sought. The hostility I had anticipated from Scott’s friends and family didn’t come. I was treated as the grieving widow. Scott’s best friend Pete even sought me out to assure me that Scott’s death was not my fault (or, as he put it: “Don’t flatter yourself, you’re not so special that any man would kill himself over you”).
I wanted to believe I hadn’t caused his death by asking for a divorce, but deep down I felt that if I had sacrificed my own mental health and kept on supporting him and his dreams, he would still be alive (if not any happier).
I thought I had encountered all the grief I could ever experience over Scott after we separated, but his death introduced me to a much more primal grieving.
But slowly, the ligature that seemed to tighten around my neck is starting to ease. I am coming to accept that Scott’s suicide wasn’t about me; it went much deeper. I struggle with feeling like this last, horrible act put a mark on everything that came before, invalidating the love and respect we shared for so long.
I hope one day the pain will fade into the background and I can remember Scott for those beautiful, innocent moments when his enthusiasm and excitement shone, and I can honour that alone.