‘This year marks 10 years since my ex suicided. Here’s what it was like to be left behind.’

Content warning: This article discusses suicide. If you or a loved one is struggled, support is available at Lifeline on 13 11 14.

This past weekend, as people across the globe prepared to watch the royal wedding, large crowds gathered in the renowned Hollywood Forever Cemetery for a different kind of celebration.

Friday May 18th 2018 marked the one-year anniversary of rocker Chris Cornell’s death by suicide. His widow Vicky invited family, friends and fans to a public vigil not only to honour her late husband, but to help his community deal with the process of grieving.

There is still very much a stigma and taboo surrounding the topic of suicide. And yet, according to Mindframe, Suicide is a prominent public health concern in Australia. Over a five year period from 2012 to 2016, the average number of suicide deaths per year was 2,795.

To put that in perspective, that’s almost eight people every single day.

And, I should know. This year marks 10 years since my ex died by suicide.

We were together for nine years.

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It has been 14 years since suicide took my beloved cousin from us. Not long after my cousin, a co-worker. Then, another six friends died by suicide in the proceeding years. The most recent was just this last month.

To me, suicide feels like an epidemic. And it is. It is well documented that there is a contagion effect among people who are suffering with suicidal thoughts.

We all know the names of the celebrities who have shockingly died by suicide, but so many of us have been touched by more personal losses.

Mindframe states that the number of suicide deaths has been consistently three times higher in males than females in Australia over the past 10 years. “In 2016, 75.1% of people who died by suicide were male”.

While many strides have been made in acknowledging and treating depression in men since my ex died 10 years ago, there is still so much more work to be done.

In the aftermath of my ex’s death, I raged. Why weren’t we talking about this? Why was I expressly forbidden from discussing mental illness and depression in his eulogy?

Why did it feel like his depression was a dirty little secret to be hidden away, instead of a full-blown health crisis that needed proper intervention and treatment?

I told anyone and everyone who would listen what happened to him. What happened to me.

And a curious thing happened. People started opening up to me. It seemed like everyone had a story to tell. In the months after my ex died, I discovered that many people I knew had experienced a profound loss due to a suicide death.

So, I listened. Despite my own pain, I recognised the need for these people to unburden themselves. The mental load we carry in the wake of such a shocking and painful experience is more than we can bear on our own.

What is it like to live with someone who is suicidal?

Exhausting. Terrifying.

For the last five years of my relationship, I would come home every single day from my corporate job not knowing what I would find when I opened the front door.

I spent many years in therapy, unloading the emotions and fears I could not share with my partner or our friends and family. I was desperately trying to find ways to reach him, to convince him that his life was worth something.

My ex would tell me that he was stupid. That he had no friends (his funeral was standing room only with over 300 people in attendance). That I didn’t really love him. That I was too good for him. That I would be better off without him.

Watching someone you love unravel is brutal. You feel helpless. Scared. You wait for this unknown point in the future when you receive the dreaded phone call. You spend your life walking on eggshells.

Not long after my ex died, I ended my therapy sessions. Surprisingly, I found that my grieving process was much simpler than I had expected. The truth was, I had been mourning the loss of his life, his potential, for years before he died. I had already cried endless tears over the pains and trespasses of his childhood that inflicted such damage that he felt he couldn’t get past it.

I had ached with the burden of loving him in a way that he could not love himself. I had felt lonelier in my relationship than I did on my own. There were chasms between us that he could not cross.

In the final months of his life, I’d check in every morning to see what sort of day it was for him on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being complete despair and 10 being the best day ever. He never got past a three.

Once I finally received the phone call I had been waiting on for four years, there was nothing left to fear. I was free to truly grieve for him. For those who don’t get to see it coming, the healing process is that much harder.

The wounds caused when someone dies by suicide may eventually scar over, but the damage for the loved ones left behind remains buried deep inside us, ready to be picked open at any time. Often, when we least expect it.

When I spoke to some loved ones about their own experiences with suicide, this is what they told me…

There is something about being in a group as you start to mourn and grieve, trying to make sense and comprehend why, which you don’t and/or can’t really understand why. There was comfort in being together but basically we were all distraught, bereft, shattered, confused, exhausted, hungry/not hungry, sad/happy, strong/weak, angry/calm, loving/hating and every other emotion all at once. – Julie H.

 

My grandmother on my mum’s side died by suicide in the late 40s/early 50s. She had postpartum depression and had been forced to receive electroshock therapy to treat it. She left behind five kids, and I can tell you my mother never got over it. – Barry H.

It was a choice…their choice, an awful final choice for them and everyone else. How do you accept, that for the rest of your life, you will never see them again? So that you can hold them and say, “this pain will pass, I promise you it will and all you have to do is live to make that happen. Just live and it will happen!” This is the utter tragedy of suicide. The ones left behind never get to say those words. – Sonya G.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help and contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. 

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