One year ago today, my aunt, my best friend, the one person who truly got me, understood me, and was my life, committed suicide. She was MY person. She took me with her that day. This is my story- the other side of suicide- the ones left behind and the road to recovery.
I’m not even sure I can write this. There’s so many reasons why: the pain is still that raw inside of me, I’m not sure I can get the words right, the wording, the grasp of the situation. Will I be able to write this so that it conveys the right message? Do I really want the world to know my personal life/side of the story? I don’t know, but I’ll surely try to tell my story because this side needs to be heard.
The side of being left behind after someone close to you commits suicide.
There, I said it.
I hate that word. Every time I hear it it’s like a slap in the face and I’m left dealing with these raw emotions that are just to hard to deal with sometimes. So much so, that I had to save myself from the ‘other’ side of suicide.
I remember it like it was yesterday, but it was a year ago today. August 3, 2016. A day that changed my life forever in more ways than one, which we will get to. But first, let me explain who my aunt Mel was to me. She wasn’t just my aunt. She was my best friend. The one who picked me up when I was down. The one who I told anything and everything to. My confidant. My teacher. My best friend. We were only 13 years apart and were always very close. We liked to refer to ourselves as the ‘black sheep’ of the family. Ha! At least that still makes me laugh, even through the tears.
Aunt Mel and I always had a connection, a connection that no one else in our family had. I cherish that. Always will, but that connection was broken the night she decided to take her own life. The night before my 35th birthday. A night that replays in my head more times than I’d like to admit. It’s still raw. It’s still there and I don’t know if it will ever go away.
The Days Before and Summer
Aunt Mel was LOVING her summer. She was a teacher and was off for the summer so she had been enjoying her summer with friends, her children, her boyfriend Peter, and with me! We went to places that were fun in the sun (Florida baby!) and had drinks, food, and listened to music. We did this a lot.
That pretty much summed up that summer for her and I both. We were having fun. Enjoying life. It’s what we did together. Always.
The Day Of, What She was Suffering From, and Our Very Last Texts
It was a normal day for me. Well, almost normal. It was the day before my 35th birthday, so I was getting excited about going to celebrate with my group of girlfriends, like we do every year. I text Aunt Mel on August 2nd and asked her what her plans were and if she wanted to join for my birthday. She never responded, which was unlike her.
I text her again on August 3rd. Looking back now I can clearly see she was depressed. We all knew that though, because her oldest child (son), my cousin Cameron, committed suicide 1.5 years before Aunt Mel took her own life. He was 22. She was still grieving from that. Who wouldn’t be? But she lived for her other two living children Bryson and Nikki. Nikki was going into her senior year of high school when Aunt Mel committed suicide.
I never said I love you that day and I usually did. That will haunt me forever. Forever. We always ended our conversations with ‘I love you’. But not that day. Her tone was serious in the text messages. They never were before. I should’ve known. I just should’ve known. She became withdrawn from everyone around her the days prior to her committing suicide. She was sleeping a lot, but she said it was because she was sick. But, she was allowed to sleep. She was a teacher, and after all, she was on summer break. She had plans for that evening and the next day though, so this makes me think that her suicide was a splint second decision. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Most people say that when traumatic events happen that everything following seems to be a blur. That is NOT the case for me. I remember everything. Down to the clothes I was wearing, where I was sitting, and what I was doing when I received the phone call from my sister Mary.
It was around 11pm on August 3rd when I got the phone call that will forever haunt me. My oldest sister was calling me, and that was late for her to be calling me, so I answered right away. I thought something was wrong with my niece, but what I heard on the other line shook me to my core. My sister had to repeat herself. And I lost it. She knew I would. She knew Aunt Mel’s and my special bond. I know she didn’t want to make that phone call and that it was the hardest phone call she ever had to make to me. She simply told me to sit down and proceeded to tell me that Aunt Mel hung herself. I screamed. I screamed and cussed and just lost it. This wasn’t true. This was NOT happening. My husband picked me up off of the floor.
I gathered myself together as much as I could and called one of my besties, Catie, and she was over at Monique’s house. They immediately came over. When they walked in they walked over to me and I fell to the ground sobbing, screaming, crying. They knew my special bond with her too. After that, the night was a blur for me, but I do remember waking up the next morning and thinking this was all a dream, but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t.
From this moment on is when my life started to fall apart. I started to fall apart. I unraveled. I became a person and I didn’t know who that person was.
The Days After
The days after were a blur. I numbed myself with alcohol because it’s the only thing that (I thought at the time) would help me deal with these open and raw emotions.
I do remember everyone coming to my house to make the final funeral arrangements. I do remember drinking… A LOT in the following days. It made me feel better. It made me numb. Sometimes my breakfast at 11am was a shot of whiskey.
I was in charge of writing the obituary. I’m not sure why or how I became in charge of that but it made sense. She was MY person. MY person.
I wrote the obituary. Drank. Perfected the obituary. Drank. Contacted Mel’s bestie Jodie to help me with the obituary. Drank. Didn’t eat. Drank some more.
I remember having to go to the school she taught at to collect all of her personal belongings. That was difficult.
The days after I couldn’t eat. I lived off of bread and water and most of the time it took everything in me just to be able to swallow a small piece of bread. It felt hard, like a big metal ball with spikes on it, trying to slide down my throat. And it was a piece of bread. Freaking bread. But it was that hard to eat.
The Months After, My Decline, and What’s Wrong with Our Healthcare System When It Comes to Mental Health
I was still barely eating and had lost 30 pounds. I lived off of bread, beer, and water. Sometimes whiskey. Whatever was easily available. I just felt better. I felt numb. A numbness that I can never explain. Nothing mattered anymore. And I mean nothing. I remember saying to myself, if this is what life is why is it worth living? I didn’t enjoy anything anymore. I removed myself from all social media. I never went or wanted to go anywhere. I was mean inside. Angry. Full of hate for the entire world. Things I once loved became a chore I didn’t want to complete. Life became a chore. And I kept everything inside. Even from my husband because I hated him too at this time. I hated everyone. Especially happy people.
I think when my husband Beau finally noticed that something was extremely wrong when cooking became just a chore for me. I no longer enjoyed it because I didn’t want to eat, and that’s highly absurd for me, like the people that know me know, I’ve always loved to cook and eat. Always. It’s why I started this blog. But I gave it up. I gave up Thanksgiving last year (I usually cook and host) because what fun would it be without Aunt Mel? It wouldn’t be.
I gave up a lot during this time- more than I’d like to admit but will eventually as the healing process continues for me.
All in all, I gave my life up for about four-six months. I was functioning just enough to get by. And that functioning was barely functioning. I would hide my sadness behind a smile and a soft ‘I’m doing okay’ when people asked me how I was doing. I couldn’t lie but I couldn’t tell anyone the truth either. I simply said okay because no one ever asked any more questions after that soft response. But people SHOULD continue asking questions. Dig deep. It could’ve helped me but no on ever asked anymore than “How are you doing?” and I really really wanted them to. Kind of. At this point I wanted to get it out. I wanted to tell someone, but it seemed pointless. So, I drank more.
Yes, I would be lying if I said that in this time I didn’t think about suicide myself.
However, I still had some mental clarity during this time because when I thought about suicide, I realized that I couldn’t do it because I’d be leaving my children and husband in the same situation I was in, and I couldn’t do that to them. However, it was at this moment I also realized I was in a crisis not many knew about. I was in my own battle to save my own life. But I was alone. I felt alone. Really alone.
I didn’t even know I was in a crisis until the day I thought about suicide. At this point I begged my husband, Beau, to help me. To find me help. Anything. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t keep living that way and I surely never wanted another suicidal thought to cross my mind. I needed help. Desperately.
My life was out of control in way I could have never imagined. It was this time that I frantically called one of my best friends, Valerie, who is a therapist and she helped me find resources. She called resources for me. She did everything she could do in her power except making appointments herself. For that, I may owe her my life. She has no idea how her just taking the time out of her day to help me gave me hope. A hope I hadn’t seen in a very long time.
But that hope was short-lived. Lost. All of those resources were not accepting new patients or took months to get in. How is that helping someone suffering right now? My only other option was admitting myself to a hospital which wasn’t going to happen. The logistics just weren’t possible- not with Beau’s job and the kid’s school, etc etc. I felt lost and alone. Every dr that I called wasn’t available somehow. So, Beau called my primary dr.
They proceeded to tell him they could only get me in if I was sick. That was a huge slap in the face. He told them that he thinks I’m depressed and needed medication desperately and their response was it will take a month to get in (even though I’m an established patient) unless I was sick with a cough, cold, flu. I started bawling. They were telling me that I wasn’t sick, but I WAS sick and needed help desperately.
We were back to square one. None of the 14 psychiatrists I called were able to help me right then, when I needed it. Either they weren’t taking new patients or it literally took 1-6 months to get in. That’s insane- especially in the field of psychiatry when help needed is sometimes immediate. We also went and filled out paperwork at a place called New Horizons of the Treasure Coast, and they promised to call in 48 hours to schedule an appointment. No one ever called.
Back to square one again. Now I was starting to feel that no one could or wanted to help me. I was desperately calling every single person on my insurance plan no matter how far away they were. Nothing. All the same thing- not accepting new patients or not available anytime soon. Yes, please tell another depressed person with possible suicide thoughts that they cannot get an appointment for 1-6 months. Helpful. This put me into even further despair, but something in me just didn’t want to give up.
I called Valerie again.
With Valerie’s help I found a therapist and I started seeing her. I also had a scheduled dr appointment with my primary for a medication refill two weeks after we called to get in, so when I went for the refill, Beau came with me and we discussed the depression issues with my dr. She started me on medications but said that she would have to read a psychiatrist’s report to keep giving them to me, which was fine, except I couldn’t get in. However, she said she would refill my meds until I could get in. Relief.
At this point I saw hope for the first time in months.
I finally was officially diagnosed, and now I know that I was (and still am) suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety, all stemming from Aunt Mel’s suicide. And let me tell you that combo is a lethal combination if you don’t seek help. And I did. Some people aren’t so lucky though and I feel their pain. You’re already in a dark place, trying to find help, and nothing is available except to put yourself into a hospital where everything you know is taken away from you for at least 2 days- even your cell phone. Why are these our only options in the United States for mental health care? Why are the options that are available so limited in a time of need?
Something needs to be done. Period.
Recovery and Where I’m at Now
Things were extremely difficult between August-January 2016 and then again March-June 2017, not just for myself but for my marriage. I blamed him. For everything. So many things were going on and we had another untimely death in the family of my step-dad, Lindsey, who died in a car accident in January 2017. This left my little brother and sister without parents because our mom died at the age of 50 (from cancer) in 2012. Sometimes I feel like death is rampant in my family, and I’m scared it will never stop.
I am proud to say that I have not touched a beer or any kind of alcohol since June, and wouldn’t you know that that is when I began to heal. June. As in a month and a half ago. I’m far from being healed and not sure I ever will be but at least I have allowed the healing process to begin- even if it is almost a year later.
There’s much more to my story then I even mention here in this post, but I’m just not ready to share everything. Maybe I will one day. Maybe not.
Now, whenever I get sad and cry (still happens daily), I try to think of all the good times Aunt Mel and I shared from going out and having fun, to vacations to NYC (where I used my first fake ID! ha!), to things we have done that I would never tell anyone about, because they were our fun times, or maybe they were illegal, or maybe they weren’t. ;). But some of those are just my memories. MY MEMORIES. No one else’s, and that’s one thing that no one can ever take away from me, and that brings me some sort of peace. Sometimes.
But I hear her in my ear all the time saying “I Love You Jen” the way she always did and has and remember the way she used to hug me.
Some days are harder than others, but all in all I’m good. I’m happy. I love life. But, I still wish she was here and I still get angry sometimes and ask why over and over again, something I’m sure I will always do.
I keep in close touch with my uncle Jeff, Aunt Mel’s brother. He is a saving grace. An amazing soul and I am so thankful to have him in my life because he is so non-judgmental and checks up on me all the time.
I Owe It All to My Husband
Beau is an amazing man. He can obviously handle a lot.
Things were extremely difficult between August-January and then again March-June for us.
He was the one taking the kids to school a lot of days. He did a lot of the cooking. He did a lot for the kids. I was to angry to do anything. I was mean. I was hurt. I was sad. I hated everyone and everything. But, he stood by me through it all. He helped me. It had to be difficult for him. Many men would’ve just walked out when their wife completely gave up on life, work (the blog) and family, but he didn’t. He stood next to me. He made the phone calls. He went to every appointment with me. And for that I will forever be grateful.
We are in a good place now and I couldn’t be any more happy than I am right now, unless I won the lottery. Ha! :).
All in All
Suicide is NEVER the answer, and I can speak from experience, because I had to save myself from a mental health system that wouldn’t help me. I had to save myself from suicide. I had to save myself from the other side of suicide, from being one that was left behind.
There is hope. Always. Just talk to someone. Anyone. Don’t give up. You’re fighting for your life, and that’s a pretty big deal, because just like me, you matter to someone. Always.
Last Picture We Ever Took Together
Local Resources for the Treasure Coast of Florida
- Vivas Counseling, LLC- Valerie Richards, LMHC, CST, EdS- 772-932-8482
- Mobile Crisis Unit (New Horizons)- 772-468-3909
- Indian River Medical Center: Behavioral Health Center– 772-563-4666
- Lawnwood Medical Center- Behavioral Health– 772-466-1500
- Port St Lucie Hospital– 772-335-0400
- 2-1-1– Available 24 hours by calling 2-1-1
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline– Available 24 hours via phone (1-800-273-8255) or chat
- NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Health Illness– Helpline available 24 hours via phone 1-800-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741
- SAMHSA National Helpline: Available 24 hours 1-800-662-4357