I was at a neighborhood BBQ with our children. While the hamburgers were grilling, John was loading the gun. As my son opened his soda, John was laying himself on the bed. As my daughter ate her ice cream, John texted’ I love you’ to each of us. And as the band began to play, he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Like an earthquake, powerful enough to roll concrete, the gunshot echoed through the hot sticky air, and fell onto us, deep within, where the heart beats, and breaks, and aches, changing our lives, forever.
Through the exit wound of his beautiful head, splattered not only a 6’4 man with electric blue eyes and a smile that would light up a room, but the annihilation of my life and the lives of our two children obliterated in a split second. The coroner said John felt no pain. The pain he did not feel, was sprayed all over me and our children. Everything I knew about myself and my life, my children and family, my marriage, the future, the past, were vaporized instantly. With the pull of a trigger, my world was blackened never again to be the same.
John was liquid in my hands. I tried to hold onto him but he slipped through my fingers. I tried to pull him back from the blackness that was taking over his life. Right in front of my eyes, his light dimmed until finally he looked dark and hallow. At times, I could have sworn I could see straight through him.
The children slept in my room on my floor for months after Johns death. I would listen to them breathe in and out and wonder how I would I ever make sense of this. Once they were asleep I would sneak out of the room and would sit straight up on the couch in silence staring at the family photos that hung on the wall. Each picture documenting a picture-perfect time in our family’s life and they were mounted perfectly in frames, like a fucking pottery barn catalog. I would rock back and forth begging for daylight. The nights were a thousand hours long. The silence of the house was screaming at me and I could not escape the looping memories of John that raced across my mind. Like a movie stuck on play… over and over again.
In the light of day, I could not escape the truth of my life. I would be standing in line for a bagel and a kind friend, or colleague or another school family would offer their condolences and I would fell as if I was drowning, standing still, in the middle of the shop. My feet going numb as the blood began to run cold, creeping up my body, freezing my torso, squeezing the air from my lungs, and finally immersing my whole body in grief. Breathless, fighting for air, no one able to help me as I drown in plain sight.
I picked up Johns ashes from the morgue. He was in a cardboard box placed in a large paper bag, that was very heavy. And, as if I was leaving Safeway with groceries, I walked down the steps of the funeral home, with the father of my children in a shopping bag. In that card board box not only held the body and bones of a 6 foot 4 man, but the ashes of 12 years of marriage, two children, two dogs, years of laughter, love, struggles and a short lifetime of together. It was stunning how a whole life could fit in a small box in a large shopping bag.
The road from despair and anger to healing, at times, felt impossible and unbearable. In the beginning, I wanted to die and I burned with anger that I had to live a life I never asked for. I stood on the barren landscape of my life, and as far as my eyes could see there was no hope or light on the horizon. With my two children at my side, looking to me for direction and reassurance, I felt incompetent to guide and heal them. It was like they were burning alive, engulfed in the raging fire sparked by the back fire of his hand gun and I could nothing but watch in horror.
My choice became clear. I had to exist of expand. I chose expansion. With John’s blood dripping from my hands, I had to figure out a way to collect my children in my shaking arms and move forward. Inch by inch.
I was thrown into the journey of grief, even though I did not choose to embark on this path. I have come to learn that grief is not a feeling but a state of being, ever changing. It is a new universe in which I find myself living. The journey has been encased in despair and the darkest sadness, I have ever known. The kind that buckles me at the knees and paralyzes my body, helplessly lying motionless on the floor. I have learned how to get up, for the children, even though everything ounce of me wanted to disappear. I have felt a helplessness that has left me breathless; sitting by my sweet children hearing their agony, as they nearly spilt in two, with a pain no child should ever feel. I have learned that the grief journey also includes a joy and sweetness to life that is only offered to those who have faced the wrath of tragedy and healed.
We have figured out how to be three instead of four. I have learned to accept Johns death even though I don’t agree with it. I have found my husband dead, the most beautiful parts of him, his humor, kindness, loyalty and his dedication to his family and the complete and perfect love for his children, splattered against a wall. Digging desperately through the ashes of his suicide I have come to discover a wisdom blessed upon us, that allows us to be more sensitive, insightful and better armed to face the world and all of its bittersweet wonders.
As for me, I remember him and smile. Sometimes I still long to hear his voice. I long to sit with him and simply talk about the children. I have never known a pain so big and vast it actually steals my breath making it hard to stand. Only held up by the love of family and friends, have I emerged through the dark, still standing. I have come to accept and love this life and his choice to go home, far sooner than I ever imagined.
I realize that John never belonged to me, or even our children. He was always in the care of something far greater than us. His journey, although brief, was meaningful and his impact on the world, timeless, as our children are a living testament to his life’s purpose. I know he is still with us; watching, loving and guiding. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when the house is still, If I close my eyes and listen hard, I can hear his voice, bringing tears to my eyes and a tender smile across my lips.