Is there still hope? Life after the suicide of a loved one, pt 2
This is the second of a four part series about correctional suicide
Editor's Note: This piece is continued from last week's part 1; if you haven't read it, please check it out here.
On a hunch, she decided to check their home. When she came to the front door she noticed the contractor’s lock, to which Phillip had a key, was unlocked, and the door was opened a little. As she called for him, with his mother in tow, she began to look through the home. After searching their room and the bathrooms, Jennifer opened the door to the guest room, the room where her niece and nephew had spent many summer days. Jennifer was relieved for a second to see Phillip lying on the bed, apparently asleep. As she moved closer to wake him, she noticed the trauma to his head and screamed. Phillip’s body lay motionless on the bed, with his gun beside him. Blood covered the sheets and walls. Jennifer desperately called 911 and begged for help. It was too late.
When police arrived, they too were shocked. This was their partner, their brother, dead on the bed. One of the officers, and a friend of the family, removed Phillips badge from his wallet and kept it with him for the funeral. Lives had been changed forever in an instant.
I spent the next week balancing work, the kids, and helping make the arrangements for the funeral. I remember one specific moment that brought the seriousness of the manner of death to light. Phillip’s mother asked if Phillip could be buried, and if the casket could be opened so she could hug her son one more time. I delicately explained that this was not possible, and it may be a better option to cremate if there were no religious reasons against it. It was agreed to cremate Phillip, and split his ashes between Jennifer and his mother.
I was very angry with Phillip for some time. I had endured much more pain in the last few months, and had not considered this option; how dare he leave us like this? My mother said it best when she explained that it was not the easy way out for him at the time, but the only way out in his mind.
This caused me pause. Most mistakes we make, we learn from. There are some mistakes that cannot be repaired, and this was certainly one of them. I often wondered if he had just called me, or anyone, if none of this would have happened.
The funeral was with full honors. I had the honor of presenting the widow with the flag during the ceremony, and being able to read a poem at the service. A detail of officers escorted the mother and widow that day, making sure they were safe. I spent that day with Jennifer as her escort, and later as a friend.
That night we celebrated Phillip’s life, grieved for his loss, and stuck together as friends and family. Several of Phillip’s friends stayed at my house rather than get a hotel room, so we eventually made it back to my home. We stayed up well into the night telling stories, drinking, laughing and crying.
Over the next few weeks I stayed in contact with Jennifer and Phillip’s mother. I helped Jennifer move into her new apartment, and her friends cleaned and moved the stuff from the old home. As weeks turned into months, we found solace in each other. More than that, we fell in love. We fell in love quickly, and were married soon after.
I had to accept that this was a three person relationship. She loved Phillip, and I knew she always would. I also knew she was in love with me and my boys, and we could be a normal family as time healed the wounds.
For the first year, we spent a lot of time working on her lingering emotions over Phillip’s death. For months she woke up crying at night, images of his death in her dreams. Over time, this dissipated, and the only question left was why he would do what he did. Jennifer was never satisfied with the evidence, and what it showed happened. Jennifer was convinced that she was not a good enough person to keep him alive. After some therapy, and much healing, Jennifer’s confidence returned. She started a new career in an insurance office, and took pride in life again. She reminded me daily how much she loved me, and loved the family she always wanted.
Jennifer had also been a binge drinker for much of her adult life, and health problems began to plague her. After a particularly bad binge, Jennifer ended up in the ICU for four days. While she was sedated I cared for her. I refused to let the nurses bathe or comfort her. I bathed her, changed her bedding, and comforted her as much as I could. What I did not know, would come back to comfort me later.
After the trip to the hospital, Jennifer quit drinking. Through support and a love for our family, she was able to live without alcohol and began to plan for the future. We planned to travel the country by RV, and take long walks in the park. We made plans for our immediate future too, and were full of hope and anticipation. Jennifer had transitioned into our family well. Although the boys still behaved like typical teenagers, they loved and cared for Jennifer, and considered her a mother.
May 2012 seemed like it was going to be great and tough at the same time. It was my birthday, and Jennifer had planned a great party for me. It was also the anniversary of Phillip’s death, and I had made plans for that day to honor him, and try to make it easier on Jennifer.
The party went off without a hitch. It was the best birthday ever. Over the next few weeks, there was a change in Jennifer’s behavior that I did not associate as being bad until much later. Jennifer became much more insistent in having “date nights” every week, and that I buy some items I had needed for a long time, but put off so the kids would not do without anything. For mother’s day I surprised Jennifer with a new car and a spa day. Jennifer was so excited she posted about it on Facebook. Here is what she wrote:
“I don't normally brag but I think now might be the day to do it...On Friday while I was working, My wonderful hubby traded in my ‘mom car’ for a sporty little Mercedes, then took me to get my nails done and a pedicure yesterday, bought me new shoes and took me out to an awesome dinner at Ohollaran's in Brookings with two very well behaved boys (I am sure he must have threatened them lol). And, totop it all off he is mowing the lawn and taking care of the laundry and the kids while I take my sweet time getting ready this morning to go off to the movies all by myself and I don't have to share my popcorn with anyone!!! lol. Life is good. Thank You Barry Evert for giving me the best Mother's Day Weekend of all time! I love You!!"
This was written eight days before her death.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. They can provide anonymous support.