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: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
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.