“In early 2014, I was in my second semester as a full-time Instructor of Accounting and Taxation at the College of Charleston. I had a great group of students and my CPA practice on the side was thriving. Best of all, I had found love with the most amazing woman, my Carolyn. She was a beautiful blonde from the Sandhills of North Carolina. She was smart, funny, and went out of her way to do little things just to make me happy.
Carolyn’s mental illness had robbed her of what had been a very successful career in film, stage, television, radio, and standup comedy. After years of treatment, she moved back to Charleston. We met soon after, and we were inseparable from that point forward.
But one day, Carolyn’s mental illness came back with a vengeance. She suffered from Persecutory Delusional Disorder, which made her believe that people were tracking her and spying on her, through her phone and computer. I hated to see her suffer, but I wanted to be there for her no matter what. I’d take her to her doctor’s appointments, get her favorite foods for her for dinner, take her out to her favorite places to cheer her up, and sometimes, I’d just be there, listening. Mental illnesses make otherwise rational people believe totally irrational things and it controls every aspect of their lives. But I would be there for her no matter what, next to her, holding her, listening as she talked things through.
After a couple of months, I thought Carolyn was making some serious progress. She was starting to be back to her usual self. We took her dad out for dinner to our favorite restaurant one night, and she was holding my hand under the table, as she told her dad that I was the guy she wanted to be married to someday. I told her that I shared the same sentiment, but she told me she wanted to get better first. I was okay with that, I just wanted her to be happy, and I was going to do whatever I could to help.
One night, Carolyn told me that she knew I had a lot going on the next day, and against my protests, she told me to spend the night at my place. It was nothing new, she used to tell me to do that if I had an early morning class or client appointment. I’ll never forget, she walked me to my car, held me close, kissed me passionately, and told me that she loved me. Those were the last words she spoke to me…
The next day, I had a few appointments with people I hadn’t seen in a while, and they all got to hear me talk about Carolyn. I got through all of my appointments, and that night, I couldn’t wait to go see Carolyn. I just wanted to crawl in bed next to her, with her head resting on my shoulder, and tell her about my day.
What happened next is something I hope nobody ever has to experience. Carolyn didn’t call out to me when I walked through the door like she usually did. I found her in bed, and I called her name, no response. I put my hand on her shoulder, she didn’t wake up, she was unresponsive. I turned her over, and cannot describe what I saw. I called 911, and they walked me through trying to revive her, basically giving me something to do while the EMS and law enforcement were on the way.
In retrospect, it was obvious she was gone, but I didn’t want to believe it. And I didn’t believe it until the authorities came and told me she was gone. And that’s when I turned into a miserable wreck. A little while later, as the chaplain from Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy comforted me, the coroner told me that Carolyn had taken all of her medication all at once. Carolyn had left me a note, asking forgiveness. In her clouded and twisted mental state, she saw it as a way out, but also as a way to protect me and her family from those who she perceived were out to get her. Mental illness is truly an illness. It’s powerful, it lies, and it’s full of empty promises.
Losing someone to suicide is very different than losing someone to causes which are more natural or common. Most don’t understand what it’s like be to what we call a ‘survivor of suicide’ unless you’ve experienced it yourself. In the immediate aftermath, especially when people stop caring about 2 weeks after it happened, nobody truly understands the loss that you’re experiencing unless they, too, have experienced it.
At the same time, you don’t want anyone to experience it. Those who say ‘loss is loss’ are very wrong. I’ve lost friends to accidents. I’ve lost family members, including a parent, to medical problems and natural causes. Losing someone to suicide is very different. Losing your significant other is also very different. But there are no words in the English language to describe losing your significant other to suicide.
The next few months were an absolute blur. You lose your short-term memory. You lose all patience, especially with people who complain and make a big fuss about first world problems. If anyone says that they had to do something so difficult that it wanted to make them kill themselves, and you overhear them, your wrath is absolutely biblical. And all you want to do is talk about the person you lost.
Yes, you lost them to suicide, which carries a public stigma. But you don’t care. You pretty much turn into Debbie Downer, but again, you don’t care. Some avoid you. Some are uncomfortable talking to you. Some even say that you are inappropriate, and even go so far as to talk about you behind your back. You privately chastise them for their ignorance, but you don’t want them to understand.
Interestingly enough, the people that you think will be there for you are not there. But those who you don’t expect will be there are there for you more than anyone else. I was lucky enough to have some of my friends and family, as well as her friends and family, there for me, sometimes at odd hours of the night. And the support group for survivors of suicide was indispensable.
As I have said often, normal is a relative term. But there’s a normal before this and a new normal after. If I’m honest, the new normal sucks. You don’t ‘get over’ such a loss, you learn to live with it. You know that they wouldn’t want you to be miserable, but at the same time, you always remember them.
Yes, I forgave Carolyn a long time ago. But at the same time, I still miss her every day. I miss how she’d sit there while I got ready in the morning, told me that I looked nice, walked me to my car, kissed me goodbye, and would be waiting for me at the end of the day. The anniversaries of the dates of her death as well as her birthday are especially difficult. And I still can’t watch any of her movies without turning on the waterworks.
Which leads me to this recommendation: If you are ever contemplating suicide, please get help. And next time you watch Forrest Gump, keep an eye out for that famous scene with Jenny running into the Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC. That wasn’t Robin Wright running through the water, that was my Carolyn. Think of her, and think of me. Suicide is never a correct answer, not for you, or for those left behind.”