Adele Raemer
Adele Raemer
Life on the Border with the Gaza Strip

Suicide Survival 13 Years On

I approach Novembers with trepidation. Checking the days, as they roll ever closer to today. The 13th. A date which will forever be seared onto my soul. Together with the other biggies: our wedding, the births of the kids. Happily, the joyous dates outweigh the mournful one, but November 13th casts its giant shadow. This year is 13*13. 

Today marks 13 years since Laurie committed suicide. Triggered by a 3rd bout with the manic-depressive rollercoaster of bipolarity, just on his way out of it – the most dangerous time. The time when one’s life is still encased by that grey veil of depression, yet clear-headed enough to be capable of acting, of doing.

The morning of Nov 13th, 2008 began like many others during that period. I managed to scrape Laurie out of bed, to make a plan for the day that would include more than just being swallowed up into the safety of the armchair in the living room (although that, too, had been considered an accomplishment just a few weeks earlier). We had concrete plans for the day – I was off to a meeting in Tel Aviv. He was going to go to the infirmary to have the dressing on his back changed, then go out to the fields with D, his son who was, following in his father’s footsteps at the time, making the desert bloom in the fields of Kibbutz Nirim.

At the time, Laurie was dealing with an additional diagnosis of skin cancer on his back and was waiting for an appointment the following week for a procedure that would determine how serious it was and what treatments would be needed.  The plan included, after his time with D on the tractor, in the fields Laurie loved, a list of chores to do at home: sweeping the floor, watering the plants, throwing the garbage, walking the mutts…all things that would ensure another few minutes of getting him out of the overstuffed, overused recliner in our living room, and moving. Anything that would help the psychiatric meds circulate throughout his body, enabling them to work their healing magic.

I had considered NOT going to my Tel Aviv meeting, but this style of scaffolding his life had been going on for so long, and he was functioning so well, that I decided it was safe to go ahead and take the train and join my team for a few hours. I would be home by 16:00 and I had received reassurance from his psychiatrist that he wasn’t a danger to himself or others. On top of that, Laurie, himself, had promised me he would never do anything to harm himself. So I went.

The conversation I had with him, as I drove to the train, the conversation which would turn out to be the last time I would ever hear his voice, was horrible. All the surrounding circumstances will be forever etched in my mind. I had just passed Kibbutz Saad, on my right. It’s a bare wisp of a road that is No. 25 between the 2 stretches of the No. 232. A mere 15 minutes drive away from home, I had called him to hear how he was doing with the plans. And there he was – on the other end of the line, whining in his voice of depression, sounding weak and beaten down. My big, strong, love-of-my-life-bring-the-stars-from-the-sky husband was complaining that he didn’t want to go out with D on the tractor, begging me to let him please just stay home. He swore he would do all his chores. He swore he would walk the dogs and get himself moving. Just please, please not the tractor.

That was the last time we spoke.

Needless to say, we didn’t force him to go out with D. And he did begin to hold up his side of the bargain. He mounted his green bicycle and rode the 60-second journey to our kibbutz infirmary. He had his back bandage changed. He even went next door, into the dental hygienist’s office, to make an appointment to get his teeth cleaned the following week. At that specific moment in the timeline of that day, he still saw his future.

He got back on his bike, and in the less than 60 seconds it took him to get back home, to the security of his chair, something snapped. Of course, I can only speculate what was going on in his mind at the time, but this is how it played out, as I imagine it when I think back.

There is some context which I need to explain. All of the men on our kibbutz do periodic guard duty. From the founding of the kibbutz, until 1991, kibbutz children slept in communal Children’s Houses. Throughout the nighttime hours, there would be 3 guards: one male patrolling the perimeter for security reasons, along with a male and female guard to see to the needs of all the children during the night. The rest of the parents slept in their tiny kibbutz apartments. The baby house was the place where the female night guard used to sit, to see to the babies who slept there from age 6 months, while the male guard would do periodic rounds between the children’s houses, to make sure that all was well, and see to a child who had wet their bed or was having nightmares.

By 2008, there was no need for night guards in children’s houses. It had been 8 years since we had moved the kids from sleeping in the communal houses to sleeping at home with their parents. Yet, the traditional place for storing weapons and ammunition, used by the night guards, remained under lock and key in a small room adjacent to the baby house. But everyone who ever did guard duty knew exactly where the key was concealed.

As Laurie made that short ride home from the infirmary, the road took him past the baby house.

And something must have snapped.

In a moment of madness (this is the only way I can fathom it) he turned into the path of the baby house, rather than continuing the remaining 15 seconds’ ride home. The women in the baby house were surprised to see him entering the weapons room, since everyone knew that he hadn’t been well. And going into the ammunition storage room at that time of the morning was highly unusual. But it all happened so fast…

In a moment of madness, he decided that he was not willing to play the game of life anymore if it meant periodic bouts of this devastating bipolarity.

In a moment of madness, he acted and set his life – and ours – on a totally new trajectory.

I was in my meeting in Tel Aviv, taking place at the Aroma restaurant in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood, since our meeting room at the Ministry of Education, was booked. I noticed that my friend, J, kept leaving the table to take a call (her kids having a crisis, she said). My phone showed a curious text message from school, requesting all of the staff to come to the teachers’ room for an emergency meeting.  I wondered to myself what drama had happened now. Suddenly, out of nowhere, two people from my kibbutz, D and A, approached. Two people who I would never have expected to see together, at that sidewalk cafe, at that moment in time, appeared. They came over to me and said they needed to talk to me privately. Me – the stupid, naïve optimist –  not yet connecting the dots – thought there must have been some sort of wonderful surprise. It wasn’t my birthday. Some honor of sort being awarded to me maybe? I remember myself saying the words – “Can you at least tell me what it is about? You are freaking me out” (totally expecting them to explain the joyous reason for them taking me away) as they silently led me to the back room. I remember noticing that it was relatively dimly lit and undecorated with the usual Aroma décor, maybe used for storage or designated for future renovation. Private. 

“Laurie is gone,” D said.

What?

The next sound I remember hearing was a wailing, primal howl… which I realized was coming from my throat. Doubtlessly, more than one patron outside enjoying their brunch, left traumatized.  L joined me out of nowhere, to accompany me in the back seat of D’s car, and on the ride home, all I wanted to do was to open the door while speeding down highway #4 and jump out to join Laurie.  

During the days of the shiva (the 7 days of mourning), I admonished myself for having the selfishness to go to Tel Aviv. If I had only stayed home, this wouldn’t have happened. That if I had only been better, different, maybe Laurie wouldn’t have given in to this urge to abandon life, to abandon us, in the most violent, total, permanent manner. 

I have come to understand on a logical, cognitive level, that if a person really intends to take his life, he will do it. That it wasn’t me, or us, it was him.

And yet…

That total final exit has left a gash in my heart and soul that refuses to be filled, no matter how I try.

Laurie gave up on life, gave up on me, way too soon. Too soon to celebrate the weddings of our kids together. Too soon to experience the joys of grandparenthood together. Too soon to accompany me in the joys and horrors of life on the border, leaving me alone to deal with the newness of our kibbutz being privatized and being able to own a car (something which he had longed for) as well as undergoing so many difficult periods of security threats – not being together to keep each other strong and safe.  We both would have been 67 this year. We had dreamt of retiring and finally having the time to experience traveling the world together.

Since the first anniversary of his death, his friends who toiled the fields with him, have organized a walk through those fields that he loved, to help our community commemorate his life. This year, our boys requested not to do it – for the second year in a row. For them, this tradition has run its course.  We will get together – just the family – in a few weeks’ time, to commemorate together, but for today I am left with my own private pity party. So I have lit a candle while purging my thoughts and feelings here, with anyone who might care to read them. Another year stuck in time. 13 years of suicide survival, and still struggling.

Nov 14th will come soon enough.

About the Author
Born in the USA, Adele has lived in a Kibbutz on the border with the Gaza Strip since 1975. She is a mother and a grandmother living and raising her family on the usually paradisaical, sometimes hellishly volatile border. She moderates a FB group named "Life on the Border". https://goo.gl/xcwZT1 Adele recently retired after 38 years as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, as well as a teacher trainer and counselor for the Israeli MoE for EFL and a Tech Integration Coach. She blogs here about both Life on the Border, as well as about digital pedagogy, in "Digitally yours, @dele". She is a YouTuber, mostly on the topic of digital stuff. (https://goo.gl/iBVMEG) Her personal channel covers other issues close to her heart (medical clowning, Life on the Border, etc.) (https://goo.gl/uLP6D3) In addition, she is a trained medical clown and, although on COVID hiatus, until allowed back into hospitals, she clowns as often as she can in the pediatric ward in the hospital in Ashkelon. As a result of her activity as an advocate for her region, she was included among the Ha'aretz "Ten Jewish Faces who made Waves in 2018" https://goo.gl/UrjCNB. In November 2018 she was invited to Geneva by an independent investigative committee for the UN to bear witness to the border situation, and in December 2019 addressed the UN Security Council at the request of the US ambassador to the UN.
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