Trigger warning: I am sharing about my inner conflict around my husband’s self-death. It may be upsetting for sensitive readers. Do feel free to skip this blog.
My Beloved, you were uncomfortable when I started blogging about our journey with depression. You felt vulnerable. So intensely aware of the stigma of an illness from the neck up. We talked about it. If we, as counsellors in the helping professions, could not risk transparent wisdom about the pain and valuable insights we gained, how could we expect others to break the stigma of depression as an illness? Now we are facing a worse stigma than depression. There is so much judgement and condemnation about self-death.
The other day I listened to a radio interview we did together. You share your wrestling with thoughts of self-death and how easy it is to believe the lie of depression that you are useless and that it would be better for us if you are not around anymore. You often used the metaphor of hanging by your nails from a cliff. Together we built a ledge on which you could stand. This ledge consisted out of daily quiet times with God, medication, counselling with your psychiatrist, psychologist, pastor and disciplined exercise in the gym three times a week. I “fetched” you and supported you. We talked about life and death. You played your guitar. You read about the stars in the galaxy and the pixels of the milky way. On Sunday’s you would drive an hour to attend a church that held a quietude service that brought peace to the storm inside you. One day, in a moment, that ledge crumbled and broke. There was nothing I could do to prevent that from happening. I could not choose life for you.
Part of the pain of self-death is that it steals from your legacy. We doubted your values. Suddenly you felt like a stranger. Why did you not think about us and the price we will have to pay, living without you? I will never know what went through your mind in those two hours that I was not home. What you thought and felt. What triggered you. I realise now that there was no calculation or logical thinking about what played out. In that space of utter despair there was nothing to grasp onto anymore. The ledge broke and you fell. It was a moment of madness, birthed by the dark night of your soul. Your despair invites dishonour. It is not the exit strategy of a hero. It is viewed as an act of a coward. You’ve given up. You quitted the race. No medal for you. No standing ovation at your curtain call. Wisdom is to choose to remember you by your life, not define you by your last moment on earth. To shine a spotlight of loving clarity on your qualities and your achievements, without turning you into a saint. To remember our shining moments. The beauty of your laughter. To preserve our message of hope that depression can be managed so well that quality of life is possible. Self-death so often becomes a prison of guilt and anger for the remaining family members. Guilt would centre on soul searching questions like: Why did I not see it coming? What more could I have done to prevent it? Part of being human is not having the answers to all my questions.
A darkroom is the room a photographer uses to develop photographs. Mr Google says: “It is a room that can be made completely dark to allow the processing of the light-sensitive photographic materials.” Papa God, I confess that I sometimes wish for shortcuts through the journey of grief. If I take a shortcut, it will be like opening the darkroom door and I will ruin the picture you are busy developing in me. I commit to stay and grow as You develop me in the darkroom of grief. My Beloved, I feel sad that I was robbed of the opportunity to grow further with you. I am disappointed that you could not learn the new insights that I am gaining from emotional logic. Our friend Christo van der Westhuizen sent me a valuable signpost that he got from you thirty years ago. It is a quote from the book “Letters to a young poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke. “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you, because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.” Philippians 1:20 “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not at all be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death.” My Beloved, I forgive you. I do not judge or condemn you. You lived bravely and you died bravely too.