It has been four months since Nov. 15, 2011. That’s the day our world stopped spinning. Over time, it has resumed its rotation, sluggishly at first, then slightly faster, and now at the same rate as for everyone else, although we are different people now than we were on Nov. 14.
On the 14th, we were a family of five: father, mother, three wonderful kids. The 14th was normal and uneventful. Little did we know that it would be the last normal day of our lives, and that we should have been packing our bags for a terrible voyage, although only one of us knew it at the time. It was on the 15th that the rest of us woke up and discovered that the man of our house, my husband of 22 years and my children’s father, had taken his own life in the night.
For the first couple of days, we huddled on the couch in our surreal new world, shell-shocked and traumatized, utterly self-absorbed. Major news stories we neither heard nor cared about. We stared, dazed, at the faces that came and went, some familiar, some not – family, friends, clergy, police officers, coroner, victims’ services – while trying to make at least some of the hundreds of decisions that had to be made. Faced with trauma that was unparalleled in our experience, we ate, breathed and slept the word “suicide.”
After a few days, I ventured out for the first time “since.” Everything in our lives – then, now and probably forever – will be thought of and classified as being either pre- or post-Nov. 15, 2011. Literally everything. Naturally this includes milestones like “first Christmas since,” “first eldest kid’s birthday since” and we are all dreading “first Father’s Day since,” but it also applies to small, ridiculous, insignificant things. “Oh! Look at this jar of pasta sauce at the back of the cupboard. I had forgotten it was here. I must have bought that before Nov. 15.”
Anyway, the funeral home wanted signatures on dotted lines, so outside I went. I gulped in the fresh air as I set foot on the driveway for the first time in days, the wind feeling alive in my hair. I welcomed the grey skies and lashing rain. The forces of nature suited the occasion and mood as much for me that day in Coquitlam as they would have for characters in a Thomas Hardy novel. As my parents and I drove to the funeral home, I looked around in wonder at the cars everywhere, the pedestrians, the people going about their lives. It struck me that the world had obviously not changed for everyone. Only us.
Since this tragedy, I feel a new kinship with anyone who has experienced sudden trauma. This is the group no one wants to join. People who have lost teenagers to car wrecks, family members to industrial accidents, spouses to suicide – I am with you now. In contrast, if you know that someone is terminally ill, that is trauma of a different sort: It’s no less awful, but at least you have time to prepare your mind for them passing away. The suddenness is what makes it feel like you’ve been kicked hard in the gut by someone in steel-toed boots.
It’s also different when it happens to you as opposed to a close friend. When it’s a soulmate who’s suffering, you feel as terrible about it as they do, but you are not the quivering mass on the couch that they are; when you are in your bed at night, you are not them. As the friend, you are still able to eat, for example. But when it’s you, it’s another story altogether. You are thankful for the casseroles sent by all those kind people from your church, not because you can eat any yourself; you wonder if you’ll ever enjoy food again. But you are aware this food is nourishing your family and your support team, and for that you are exceedingly grateful.
I had no appetite for weeks (to the point where I asked my doctor if she thought I might have ovarian cancer. She said, “We could check that out, but my hunch is that your having no appetite probably has a lot more to do with the sudden loss of your husband than it does with ovarian cancer.”)
No alcohol could pass my lips, and normally I enjoy a social glass of wine. Friends kept showing up with bottles of wine to share, but my throat would close. Drinking wine was something that went hand in hand with savouring good food, with having fun, with lightness of spirit. None of this applied, therefore I could only sit and watch others indulge.
When I finally did start eating again, there were several days where I ate only Kit Kat chocolate bars. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, I had a Kit Kat. It went down. It gave me a bit of energy. The chocolate wafers offered comfort, if little nutritional value. They were what my body wanted though.
When you go through a traumatic experience, it is like going on a journey to a dark, horrid place, a place you would never choose to go. And even though at the time it seems unimaginable that you’ll ever break through to the surface of the water and feel the sun on your face again, the march of time makes that happen.
One day you realize you are you again. You are a changed you; you are different. But you are back. You are no longer eating only Kit Kats, although those tasted good to you at the time. You are cooking dinner for your children again, which is the thing you love to do most. You are drinking wine again, you are smiling and telling people you are doing fine, because it’s the truth. Cheers.
Jacquelyn Black lives in Coquitlam, B.C.