The Shock That Comes Before the Grief When You Lose Someone to Suicide


Shock.

This is the suspended state you are in when you get a knock at your door that your husband has killed himself.

What does shock feel like?

It feels like a buzzing in your entire body. It feels like your soul leaves your body to cope with the emotional pain and your body walks around on autopilot. It feels like no sleep. It feels like sitting staring at a wall with not a thought in your head, or so many thoughts buzzing you want your head to just spontaneously combust.

Shock.

I look back at the days after my husband died and recall the people who showed up at my house and the way they would look at me. It makes me still sick to my stomach. It makes me cringe to write these words, but I know it can help guide others so I do it anyway. In return my writing always helps me.

Those people showed up with tears in their eyes, hugging me — and I just stood there. I paced around swearing to myself and my husband. I went in the basement to do laundry when they sat at my kitchen table drinking coffee. I cried in front of not one person. Not one person who hugged me did I fall into their arms and break down. Except for my children. They are my safe place. No one else felt safe. No one. It felt like being in a dream and everyone is lying to you. First they tell you your husband is dead and you think… what are they going to tell me next? I went through the motions. The endless phone calls to mortuary, church, insurance companies, my husbands employer, eye and tissue donation banks. And my children. I still had to and wanted to fully care for my children. I knew I didn’t want to lay on the couch or lock myself in my  bedroom and let anyone, anyone else care for my children. I wanted to protect them and keep them close to me and I am so glad I did. Why? Because it showed them I’m not going anywhere. It showed them their mother’s world can disintegrate in front of her eyes and she will still read them stories, and bathe them, and sing them songs, and hug them all while smiling genuinely from her heart.

The shock.

People showed up at my house and I comforted them. Oh my gosh, I comforted them. I pulled out extra chairs and made coffee and told them what happened. They just stared at me. I know what they were thinking. They were thinking they were so thankful this was my life and not theirs. I don’t blame them. The shock lasted for weeks and when I thought it had ended it hadn’t. It slowly fades away as you realize you might as well donate his pile of jeans. When you throw away his toothbrush. When your would have been 10-year wedding anniversary comes and goes and you get no card from him, no flowers, no love letter. You wash the last of his dirty laundry and the phone calls end. The visits stop. The friends go on with their lives and leave you to your grief. They have not seen your pain, but only maybe read about it. You really trust no one. Why? Because one day your truest friend, the one you thought would never leave — that friend went into your basement, unlocked his gun cabinet, got out the pistol he bought from your aunt when your uncle died, drove to your family’s land and took his own life. Oh my, you do not understand the way that shatters your self-confidence, your trust, your belief in all the people you know.

Yes, the gun cabinet is now gone from my home and it will never return. I packed it all up and all the things that go with it for my husband’s hunting and sent it away. This is a home of love and light and children’s laughter and I want nothing to do with guns. You see? Don’t you see? I know that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But do you really know that someone isn’t going to get the key and go into that cabinet? Do you really know that? No. You don’t. You don’t know that. You can fool yourself into thinking that, but my husband was the most responsible person I ever met. You never know what is going on inside someone’s mind. You just don’t. People hide things.

We all hide things.

The shock.

The shock has worn off. I fully know he is never coming home. I no longer listen for his keys in the door. That buzzing fear is gone. Yes, I still cry, like when writing this, but no, I still do not share my tears with anyone but my children. I am guarded. I am protecting my heart. I would now be more in shock if he walked up the driveway.

Shock is what you feel when you suddenly lose someone who lives in your home. When the shock begins to fade is when you will actually walk into your grief. The grief does not come first. The shock does. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s how I planned a burial, a funeral, figured out finances and took care of my children all by myself in the days after my husband never came back home. The shock got me through it. If it weren’t for the shock when I got that knock on the door that fateful day, I would have screamed. I would have told that family to go the hell home and I would have loaded my kids in my car and gone looking for my husband. I would have driven myself to the autopsy place to see him with my own eyes. To hold his hand one last time. Just like in the movies. I would have told all those people to get out of the room and leave me alone with my husband. Tears are streaming down my face as I write this. I regret not doing that. I regret no one told me I could do that. I regret I sat around wasting precious time replaying the morning to my parents and his instead of running to my husband. It’s a hurt that will never go away. It runs deep. I’m so sorry my Bird Man. I should have run to you. The shock held me back. It kept me suspended in time. Forgive me. Forgive me because I now know there are parts deep inside the darkest holes of my soul that have not truly forgiven myself, which turns into me not forgiving others. Like everyone I know was talking about us but no one had the courage or guts or kindness to speak up. I gotta let it go. It’s just so hard. But I know I can’t push it down. I need to acknowledge it, name it, feel it and then it will leave.

So if you’re out there, if your spouse died due to suicide or other causes, I’m so sorry. The shock will carry you through and when you enter the room of grief, hang on through the waves. There are better days ahead. You will learn to love life again. I have. You will.

Follow this journey on Nik Tebbe‘s blog. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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