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Cathleen Hulbert

Cathleen Hulbert
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
April 23
Cosmic Pelican, LLC
Cathleen Hulbert, LCSW, is a clinical social worker and a free-lance journalist with a background in newspaper reporting. She is the author of "The First Lamp -- A Story of Cosmic Illumination," a time-travel tale of redemption and forgiveness. For more information about the author and the book, go to


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OCTOBER 20, 2009 1:33PM

After My Husband's Suicide...

Rate: 38 Flag


Unfortunately, depression is not always this obvious.


I feel compelled to share this story today. Perhaps Spirit is using me as a means of prevention.  

My husband, Dan, committed suicide on September 11, 2000, exactly one year before terrorists hijacked jets for a suicide mission in New York City, destroying many lives with their own sickness.

That first Christmas after his death, I still was numb with shock. I put up a Christmas tree to let the neighbors and myself know that I was going to be okay. The next Christmas actually was more difficult, with no cushion of shock to protect me. No Christmas tree that year. Sometimes I found myself walking in a daze down the aisles of stores, wondering why I was there. I cried more that holiday season. I got in touch with my anger as well as deep sadness. But I got through it and I am a better, stronger, more compassionate woman today because of my journey along that rocky path.  

Dan, a journalist with degrees from Columbia University and Yale, was highly intelligent and articulate. He adored his 10-year-old son from a previous marriage. He was an active church elder. He also was in the middle of planning his annual get-away with his best friend, Roger, a fun man who always made him laugh. We were trying to have a child and in the meantime planning a trip to France. In short, he seemed so alive, so happy. And he gave no clues. I can't even look back and say there were clues. He had an almost child-like joy about the simplest things, such as walking hand-in-hand down a neighborhood street walking our dog on a gorgeous fall day. We loved traveling together, particularly to a beach on the Florida panhandle that always brought out the playful kids in us.

A neurologist has since suggested that he might have had an undiagnosed brain tumor that created a sudden psychotic break. A deeply spiritual acquaintance sensed he was taken out by dark forces. A puzzling note he had left at home said that he had "a crisis that needed to be solved" and that he would be back. He wrote at the bottom, "I will always adore you." Another note found with his body in a wooded state park said that "bad people deserve to die."

No one was telling him he was bad. In fact, it was quite the opposite. But who can compete with demons or a brain tumor? Not even an intuitive, loving and devoted wife, apparently, or a best friend who has known him since college. 

In the end, I am here and he is gone, at least in physical form. I know that I am not alone. Determined to defy the taboos about discussing suicide, I spoke openly about my experience from the get-go. The number of people around me who began to share their own losses from suicide was mind-boggling. Why don't we talk about this more?

This is the season in which there is a strong emphasis on planning for family holiday gatherings. It can be incredibly tough if you are depressed or if you have lost someone to depression. It also is the season of Halloween in the United States, a season for wearing masks. I have since discovered that many, many depressed people are wearing masks, as are many survivors of suicide who want an equal right to talk about their grief.

Because depression is so common, and usually highly treatable, I wanted to take a moment to share the national suicide prevention hotline site with its toll-free number:

You can also call your telephone operator and tell him or her that you feel suicidal. They are trained to connect you with a hotline. Or drive yourself to a hospital emergency room and talk about the thoughts you are having. Doctors and nurses will know how to keep you safe. 

I also wanted to say that no matter how dark things might seem, there always is a sacred light of Spirit waiting to break through. Somehow I have evolved since Dan's death into a profoundly happy, productive and creative woman. I never turned away from God during those dark and confusing days. I always felt deeply loved by family, friends and my Maker. I still do today. For that I am grateful.

And if I have helped even one person with this column, I am more grateful still.



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That was really moving, I'm sorry for your loss. I admire the tough topic, I think more taboos should be discussed in an open forum. Nice work!
Cathleen, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I thank you for the courage to write about it here, and I too hope you have helped someone. Blessings.
Thank you for this. My heart goes out to you. I personally find the topic fascinating, and I know it must be very hard for you to write about here.
Thank you for sharing something so personal and so painful in order to help others. That is the most compassionate thing one can do.
Thank you for your compassionate responses. It isn't always easy to talk about Dan's death, but somehow I feel driven to share this story today. Peace, Cathleen.
A tough but necessary post. Well written, too.
Thank you for this. Suicide should be talked about openly, and truthfully. My brother also died this way, and hid his depression, and lost his true good identity in a self-created identity-of-failure, which led him to self-destruct. He gave himself no way out. He offered himself no alternative to death. That is what needs a lot more talking our culture, in schools --and not just psychology classes.
You have helped one person.

Be grateful.
Thank you for your courage, I admire you and think your writing so really good too,,,Take care
Suicide is a taboo topic. I wish it were not; perhaps, then, fewer people would be driven to it. Consider what you have done today a service to others. Thank you.
Difficult issue, heartfelt experience, well-written . . . thank you for putting the information out there - and blessings as you continue to heal.
Hope you have happy holidays this year. Be well.
Cathleen, i am sorry for your loss. My father commited suicide 30 years ago this nov. I was was been very heavy on my mind lately...
Indie Girl and Duaneart, my thoughts are with you. To all of you, thanks so much for checking in with a comment.
Sharing your story, and your husband's, will help more than one person to know they are not alone. Your strength and faith shine through your words.

Also, I would like to urge parents to be aware of their children's mental health and look for the same signs we might look for in an adult. Teen suicide is all too common.
Thank you for sharing this. And so sorry for your loss.
Thank you. I wish I could hug you.
I am so sorry. I think people are afraid to talk about death or suicide in fear that they will hurt you or make it worse. They don't realize you need to talk about it. You need people to know about their life and how important they were to you. I hope in some small way this helped you and the public know about such things. Very thoughtful post.
Thanks for sharing your story about this somewhat mysterious disorder. I wish you continued peace and happiness.
Judging from the amount of views, ( it was over 1,000 when I posted this comment) I'm sure you have helped many. So, so sorry for your loss and Praise to God for giving you strength for growing despite such a painful and mysterious death. My condolences and prayers go out to you and your family!
Thank you for this post. I agree 100% with what you are saying here. My best friend committed suicide in May of 2000. We were 14. Since then, I have made it my mission to get people to talk about the issues of suicide in particular, and mental health more generally. I am now in grad school, and hope to (eventually) write my dissertation on the ways in which people use religion to handle the issues surrounding suicide (trauma, depression, loss, etc). However, my own family doesn't actually know that this is my project (although lots of my friends do). Thank you for your poignancy in discussing this topic.
I am so glad that you are doing ok
I have also read that autopsies of depressed people show brain derangement--they literally went beserk and did something that they normally would not do
All of these comments make me feel so supported. Thank you, everyone, for caring. And for those with similar losses, my heart goes out to you, too.
Very touching. Thank you for sharing your story.
A heartwrenching story. Your writing was compelling and engaging, despite the difficult nature of your subject. I am also so sorry for the profound loss of your husband. And I have all the respect for you for finding treasure in such a difficult life event. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you, Cathleen, for writing this. I admire you. You are courageous. I am grateful.
This takes courage. I know and I applaud you for it while offering sincere condolences on your loss. I lost my father to it when I was a young teen. Separately and together, my mother and my sisters and I each though it was our fault.

Years later the husband of one of my sisters suffered from clinical depression, admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital and emerged apparently healthy. He spoke of how glad he was to be over the depression and described many future plans.

A few days later he hung himself in his home office. We know now he was experiencing "decision euphoria." He'd subconsciously made the decision to end his life and the relief was so great he felt calm and happy and able to cope.

The guilt of those left behind can never be minimized. No matter how much we know that suicide is a unique, singular decision having nothing to do with anyone but the person committing it, we still believe in "if only." I hope you don't. You could not have stopped him. I'm glad you've found peace and are helping others.
This could not have been easy to write. I, too, admire you for taking on such a tough topic, but I do believe someone will read it and be helped by it. I am terribly sorry for your loss. May loving light shine in your direction.
We need more people like you. rated
This topic is spot on for me lately. Thank you for the post.

Sally Swift mentioned "decision euphoria" .

This is the hallmark of a "true" suicide. As opposed to those who make a "suicidal gesture" (poorly planned suicide attempt as a cry for help).

Decision euphoria is experienced by people who feel so relieved to have made the decision & finished their plan that they look forward to the end of the pain and that brings them peace. Impossible to understand this deeply disturbed thinking unless you've been to this point.

People who make a 'suicidal gesture' don't experience this feeling. I'm not minimizing any suicide attempt. A cry for help should be answered.

Two suicides in my family. Both played out in this classic scenario. Right down to the smiley face he drew on the calendar.

I no longer see suicide as a selfish act. Who am I to judge the depths of someone's pain? or how much they can bare? It's selfish of me to expect them to live w/ unbearable pain just I we won't be sad. God knows they deserve to be w/o pain. I don't think it's giving up. More like letting go.
Suicide is often swept under the rug of shame and guilt by the survivors. Thank you for not doing this. You're right, people do need to speak of it, because the survivors are the ones left with the unanswered questions and feelings there was something more they could have done.

One of my brothers left us this way. I still don't understand, but I no longer think I could have done more to prevent it.
Cathleen, you have helped so many with this post. I, too, wrote about suicide, only it was me who wanted to check out. Depression is a beast if there ever was one, and I was lucky enough to not only survive my ordeal, but to subsequently work as a medical editor on depression studies. Here's a lot of what I learned:

So glad to hear that you've gone on to lead a happy and creative life. Beautiful work.
To those of you who have shared, you have given me the gift of seeing once again all of the compassionate and strong people who are sharing this planet with me. God bless you for taking that moment to reach out.
Dear Mary Ann,
I just read your incredible blog about your experience with depression. I hope it is okay with you that I share it with my fellow social workers. I am a healthcare social worker and I work with people who have bleeding disorders such as hemophilia and von Willebrand's disease, the latter impacting just as many women as men. So many deal with chronic pain and some fight addictions that are created as a result of being prescribed narcotics for chronic pain. There has to be a better way for when there is not, depression often follows. This part of your blog really jumped out at me in terms of its clarity: "Perhaps what's most misunderstood about clinical depression is that it's not just a state of malaise or of feeling blue; it's a medical disease that if left untreated will only worsen throughout one's lifetime. In the same way that Type II diabetics cannot absorb their own insulin, when clinical depression occurs, receptors in the brain close, and a person can no longer absorb their own serotonin." I was also very impacted by the description of the psychiatrist (of all people!) who seemed to feel that his child who died of cancer deserved to be properly mourned, while his child who died of depression was scorned for "selfishness." I have tried to convey to others that I have seen people with serious medical conditions fight for their lives, but that depression is a serious medical condition that dis-ables the will to fight. It truly is similar to cancer in that the mind turns on itself rather than the immune system turning on the body... so thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your journey and your wisdom and I wish you peace and relief. Your photo is so beautiful and I can tell that you are very beautiful inside, where it really counts.
Beautiful, poignant story told with love and generosity of spirit. Your husband was one lucky man. Another well deserved EP.
A friend of mine found your blog post and sent it to me. It's as if you'd written it for me and I wanted to thank you. My husband committed suicide this past September 11. He, too, seemed to be engaged in life and showed few signs of depression (in retrospect, I can see them, but didn't at the time). We, too, had been trying to have a child. He was to be the best man in his best friend's wedding in December. He left no note, except some messages in his own blood at the scene: "You deserve better, Deb. I love you." and, "I'm so sorry, Deb". Here is my blog, if you'd care to visit it.

I want to thank you for saying that your life had turned out okay. I needed to read that. The numbness is still paramount for me, but I'm beginning to get in touch with other emotions and sometimes things seem pretty bleak. Thank you for putting your post out there for my friend to find. I needed to know it's possible to go on and have a good life.
--Deb Young-Corbett
Dear Deb, I was so moved by your comment and I went straight to your blog. I have sent you a personal message. I'm here for you.
The sun will shine again. You are loved.
Bravely revealing, and beautifully written. Rated.
Cathleen, your column about your husband's suicide made me come to tears. I am so sorry for your loss. You are a very wise and brave to write about your grief. Writing and expressing your feelings I feel will help others. God bless you, you sound strong and determined to help others who have been through this terrible loss. I was married to a man that his father had commited suicide but he wouldn't talk about it and kept it all in which I am sure was harder on him than if he had opened up to some one. So many questions unanswered, and maybe never answered but hearing other people thoughts about it may have helped him as it has you. Thanks for sharing. Blessings to You.
This is a tough subject and pain beyond words...I have friends who have lost family this takes so much to heal...every one of them has become stronger, but what it has taken to get there is unbelieveable. You have my admiration.
I feel so deeply grateful to those of you who took the time to write something here. Thank you for being there and for making the world a kinder place.
I am sure you have helped and will help many. The talking itself will help us all reapproach this subject, so that no one, hopefully, will ever feel so alone that they don't know where to turn... Thank you!