1 in 600 widowers, and 1 in 2300 widows commit suicide within the first year after their spouse dies. I found it shocking these suicide rates are higher than the rate among the youth in America -14.6 per 100,000. Nobody talks about suicide rate among surviving spouses. At least I’ve never heard even a whisper. When I tell people of these statistics, most respond with open-gaped mouths and a “I didn’t know this”. None of us did. It’s an unspoken, unacknowledged byproduct of living without your person.
Before I go on, let me make clear, I am not demeaning youth suicide. I’m not even doing trying to prove one is worse over the other. I believe a necessary and an important light needs to be shone on youth suicide. In fact, I hope this light becomes florescent and blinding because to lose a young life to suicide is just too painful to comprehend. It’s not the way the world is suppose to work, ought to work, and we, as a society have a duty to protect our young. Period. End of story. My point with the bringing up the statistics regarding widow(er) suicide rate is to emphasize the depth of pain most of us don’t even know about…until we do.
I have talked openly about my own suicide thoughts right after Peter died that were not so fleeting. My mother instincts for my kids and the example of my own mother gave me the strength to carry on and know I could not follow through. Plus, three days after Peter died, I was in a therapist office seeking help to pull me out of these thoughts. It helped tremendously that I had a support system I still am in awe of to this day. And all of this helped. While the thoughts still came up from time to time, they did not stay nor did I ever have a plan.
Still, I do get it. I understand the desperation, the pain, the not-wanting-to-go-on, the longing for your person, the paralyzing despair clouding your reasoning, your indifference to life and any rational thoughts. I understand because I felt the immediate agony from the loss of half of me, part of me, with all of me. I did. I do. So why do we, as in collective society we, not even shine a candle on the suicide rate of widows and widowers? I think the answers are complicated.
We (again, society) look at widowhood as a “natural” end to a marriage. This thought was developed throughout history. Women’s husbands died in battle, fighting off others for land or property, hunting accidents, and/or illnesses. Men always have died earlier than women, especially once childbirth wasn’t as threatening. So, through the years, a husband’s death was expected. And when the reverse was true, when wives died, men were expected to marry again due to child rearing and homemaking. Loosing a wife was never talked about among men. It’s still not. Men notoriously do not have the same type of support system and are less likely to seek out help. Widowhood was the way of the world. Thus, it was widow(er)s were allowed to grieve for a bit, then shrug it off and move on. I think there is still a little bit of this trickle down effect from years past.
I don’t know if people who have experienced a death of a spouse truly understand the pain. It’s like breaking a leg. You don’t know the feel of it until it happens to you. And while there is a compassion and a sympathy given by most, especially early on, there is also an underlining “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”. After a certain point, people move on with their lives, but the widow(er) doesn’t. The spouse-less person is still living without their person. I heard this interview with was a country singer (gasp, country), about his son who died three years earlier. The singer said a friend of his said, “wow, I can’t believe it’s been three years”. The singer’s response was “it’s every day for me”.
And that’s what people don’t understand, not really. The pain of a spouse’s death stays with you every day. You feel it in the couple ahead of you in a movie line holding hands. You think about it with the financial decisions. You hear it in the phone calls asking for you dead spouse, or see it a piece of mail addressed to him. It stays with you through the holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. You experience it in the memories of the streets you walked down together, the houses you drove past. Loss, longing, grief are in every part of the survivor’s life, but not in the part of the person observing. It’s hard to continually pour out empathy without experience, or with the fading of time.
Finally, there are the masks we widows and widower put on and the roles we play. We don’t like being miserable all the time. We hate it as much as society seems to hate it. We remember how effortless it was to be happy. We want to get there again. We don’t want to know our lives will never be the same, that we’ll never feel the same. So we fake it. In the process, we fool some, maybe most. They believe we have moved on, so with a sigh of relief, they feel they can as well. What’s not understood is we try to fake it to we make it, yet we never make it, there or anywhere. And we fake it so much, it’s exhausting. And at the end of the day, when it’s only you because the other part of you is gone, and you sit in the reality of your feelings, of your reality, the pain comes. Sometimes, it comes like little needles puncturing parts of your heart. Sometimes it comes in an avalanche of spears piercing all of you. Either way, it comes. It doesn’t know there is a deadline, a timeline, a stopping point.
I am so much better today than I was twenty-seven weeks ago. I laugh more. My humor, my sarcastic, odd humor is coming back. I am writing romance, even with my muse gone. Memories of Peter are welcomed in now, even encouraged. I am learning and growing and moving. I have held onto those who stayed with me, are staying with me, and am slowly releasing my expectations of other who disappointed me. I am trying to forgive. I am learning to live without him, like other widows have told me I would. Most importantly, suicidal thoughts are not crowding me; they do not even come. Oh, I still hurt. I still feel the pain of his loss. I still miss him, every day, God I miss him. Yet, I don’t see myself as part of the statistics, the statistics we just don’t talk about because we’ve never known about them. The statistics I wanted to shine my own widowed light on.