Heads up, there are some graphic descriptions ahead.
Yesterday I visited James’ grave for the first time since the day we buried him there last fall, three days before my birthday.
Maybe that makes me seem like a bad wife, or a bad widow, or even a bad person. Maybe you think I should have been out there every weekend, laying over the patchy grass, sobbing, asking God “why.”
My experience with loss is so vastly different than most, so the feelings after that loss are about ten thousand times more complicated and different. Losing someone to suicide is a mind-f*ck, even in the “best” circumstances. Months of talking with other widows, and specifically suicide widows, (there’s a Facebook group for everything) has taught me that not all suicides are the same. Some are planned, notes are left, warnings given, “don’t go into the garage, just call 911.” Many are done as the “last word” in an argument. Some are unexpected and the family truly had no idea their person was in so much pain. And a shocking number had threatened their partners with suicide for years, should they ever try to leave.
The grief that accompanies suicide is wide ranging and different for every person and circumstance, it cannot be pigeon-holed.
There’s a show on Netflix called Dead to Me, in which the main character loses her husband suddenly, after he was hit by a car while walking. In the very first episode, a neighbor brings over a casserole says something to the effect of “we can’t even imagine what you’re going through.”
Clearly having heard this countless times already, she replies without missing a beat, “Just imagine that your husband was hit by a car and died suddenly, and violently. Its like that.”
Every time someone says this exact phrase to me, which is every time I meet someone new, I think of this scene and imagine myself answering with brutal honestly like she does.
“Just imagine that your husband found out you wanted to leave, walked to another room and killed himself, and left you to call 911, attempt to save his life, and usher approximately 200 first responders past your sleeping children so they could get to him.”
That night, even with all the therapy in the world, will never bring me warm, loving or happy memories about James.
I held a pair of my leggings against the gaping wounds on his head with one hand and called 911 with the other. The same leggings I wore home from the hospital when I had my third baby. That will never not be in my memories.
In the last few moments we were alone, while listening for approaching sirens in the distance, I sobbed. I called his name and tried to get him to open his eyes. I prayed my kids would stay asleep. I held back vomit when I realized the white, spongy pieces scattered in the pool of blood in front of me were pieces of his brain. I seared with sadness and anger and fear and pain. That will never not be in my memories.
I realized how strong the smell of blood was. Blood and gunfire together are a smell I will never forget, like metal and smoke swirled together. That will never not be in my memories.
Maybe someday, that scene will not be the first picture in my mind when I think about him, I hope it wont be, but I can tell you that seven months later, it still is.
There was so much more to him, I wish the good moments stuck around more than this moment, but they just don’t. It was too big, too painful, and too traumatic to be glossed over by sweeter memories of days gone by.
Another person who had a different relationship with him, and wasn’t there to live through that night, certainly has different memories than I do, and that is a good thing. James deserves to be remembered for all the good, too.
Remembering the good doesn’t mean discounting the pain and reality of the living, and acknowledging the pain and reality of the living doesn’t discount the good.
I am mostly at peace. I’ve been raising my kids on my own for the better part of a year. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, fighting, bedtime, lying, obsessions with new Disney characters, consequences, family dance parties, chores, doctors appointments and unbelievable love, all on my own. It’s hard and absolutely draining and also makes me wonder what else I can accomplish. I’ve lived through most people’s worst nightmare, maybe I can run a marathon, too (coming October 2020, tentatively).
Our days almost always end with little preschooler prayers which break my heart and make me angry at him all over again for the hurt these kids still live with. “God, give Daddy a hug for me” or “Dad, I got a stuffed Batman and I wish you could see it,” or “Dad, can you come visit me in my dreams?” And I hope he does, they deserve at least that much.
I will visit his grave again when I am ready, when I’m a little further down the road of forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t a momentary decision made once and for all, but more of a winding road. Sometimes its smooth and easy and sometimes it doubles back on itself and then asks you to climb steep hills one day and lets you coast down the other side the next. He’s not in that grave anyway, he’s moved on, completely at peace.
But he we are, in this fallen and beautiful world, where death and pain exist alongside joy and peace. Embracing all of them means to live in the tension, to be an active participant in being human, to feel it all.
And right now, seven months away from that night, I’m still not ready to visit him again. Maybe in a week or a month or a year, or however long it takes me to get to the “feeling-ok-about-visiting-the-grave” road marker on Forgiveness Ave. But it can’t be hurried or rushed, and there’s not use in faking it to my own detriment. So I’ll be here. Writing, telling the truth, raising my kids, discovering my new meaning and direction and love, and when its time, I will visit him again.
10 thoughts on “Returning”
Only you will know when you are ready to take another step.
To have the energy to pick up one leg at a time right now may take more energy than you have.
Love God, your babies and love yourself. That is so important right now. Do not be hard on yourself.
Sending you hugs and prayers.
Your brave and gut wrenching honesty Emalyn give so much credence to your admissions. Thank you for not sugar coating the realities of life ❤️ Love you and the babes💕💕💕💕
Echoing what Alison said. Couldn’t say it any clearer. You champion the path to healing; stepping forward as only you know how.
Wow. Amazing writing. Amazing honesty and resiliency. I came here through a story that I was reading at the Washington Post site about the platoon and the tragedy that follows it. It’s all so enraging and frustrating. I will be back just because I am pulled in by your experiences and they way you are able to articulate them so beautifully even though they are rooted in pain and tragedy. I wish you nothing but the best.
Emalyn, your blog touched me deeply. I came here after reading the Washington Post article. I am so sorry for your loss and your suffering.
Emalyn, first off I am so sorry for you and your beautiful children. Secondly, I am in awe of you, your writing is so mature and powerful it belies your age.
I hope and I believe that you will find the inner peace you seek and deserve.
You are on your way, carry on.
May you trust in the power of your witness through time. It matters.
May you learn of the people you have helped by sharing just some of your pain.
They will be many.
May you feel the comfort of caring, unknown people who send hope and strength to you.
May you seize joy like the precious gift it is. You deserve that, truly.
I came here after reading the Washington Post article. Your writing is honest and beautiful. Thank you for sharing your journey
Emalyn, I am heartbroken as a former solder in another time seeing how these men were treated. It seems that you probably have PDSD yourself because of your feeling. Keep writing. It’s a really good thing for you to let these experiences and thoughts out.i hope you can move forward and have a rewarding life going forward. It might take awhile, but you deserve to be happy and fulfilled.
Emmalyn, thanks for your searing honesty. I also came here after clicking on the link to your blog that was in the Washington Post article. Your writing is raw, frank, uplifting and heartwarming. You also do not sugarcoat your life since James left this world, and for that, I greatly appreciate it. I hope you had a good Fourth of July.