After his death, I spent months in a fog. I took one day off work, then returned to work. This was a mistake, but I thought that getting back to work would help me.
I remember, my first day back, talking with one of my patients who had recurrence of cancer, now spread to the brain, and discussing the poor prognosis. I walked out of that room and wasn’t sure I could walk into the next one; my sadness was a weight around my neck. It took everything I had to not collapse in the hallway that day.
During residency, you learn how to “deal” with this. I had many experiences where I rushed to a patient’s room in the hospital, attempted heroic measures to save a life, then walked out and immediately had to move on, to care for someone else who was still living. I “turned on” that part of myself again and kept going.
Unfortunately, when you do this, it doesn’t take away the emotional toll of what you had to do — it just delays it until you find another time to deal with it.
At work, I spent many hours sitting at my desk in my office staring at nothing. At home, I picked up a complex woodworking project and spent countless hours in the garage by myself, not realizing that by doing so I was leaving Natalie to manage the home and the kids an inordinate amount of the time. This was my coping mechanism, but only later did I realize how unfair it was to Natalie.
Months passed while I waited for myself to feel okay. Finally, I sought help, and after some counseling sessions realized it was okay for me to not be okay. It was okay for me to be hurting. It was okay for me to not want to do anything. It was okay for me to not be who I was before Kevin’s death.
This didn’t take my pain away, but it did help me accept some parts of who I had become and allow me to start to take steps forward. It took me about one year until my ability to be productive really returned.
Each of my kids dealt with it differently. The younger ones didn’t really understand, but the oldest three struggled in different ways. I’m sure they still suffer and hurt inside.
When you lose someone you love to suicide, there are so many questions. Questions about what you could have done differently, how you could have prevented it.
I’ve wondered so many times about whether I could have done better for him when he lived with us. I’ve wondered if we failed him by not reaching out as often as we should have after he and his mom moved several hours away. I’ve wondered if something I did contributed to how he felt. I’ve sat at his gravesite and asked a thousand questions. There are no answers to these questions. That is part of the pain of a loss like this.