I am a suicide survivor.
I’m not usually great with dates, but there are some that have been seared into my mind as surely as if they had been tattooed onto my skin. In 2003, my husband, Laurie, had a psychotic event, leading to his hospitalization and diagnosis of a frontal-lobe meningioma. Following surgery, our doctor warned us that he was liable to hit a wall of depression after a month. Sure enough, one month later, almost to the day, it happened. That’s when he was diagnosed with bi-polarity.
He took his meds and followed the doctors’ orders religiously, but after 3 bouts of mania, followed by the inevitable months of the dregs of depression, when my naturally funny, perpetually optimistic love spent his days and nights just barely existing, as if a black veil were covering his face, he had had enough. His psychiatrist had declared him as not being a threat to himself or his surroundings. We even spoke about it, openly. He promised he would never do anything to hurt himself. It was a promise he could not keep. Towards the end of the 3rd bout of up and then deep down, just after turning 54, he decided that he wasn’t willing to ride this bi-polar roller coaster any more. We’ll never know if he had actually planned his route: walking into the baby house on the morning of November 13th 2008, knowing where the night guard’s gun was kept, and just like any kibbutz member who did guard duty, knowing how to open the safe. We’ll never know if it was merely an opportunistic moment of madness that led him there. No one will ever know.
But that isn’t the story I want to tell you now. That is in the past, and the past is just the backdrop for my life, not the script. I am writing this to tell you about my community, my kibbutz here in Israel, and how they help me get through this life, helping me preserve my sanity and my optimism.
When Laurie was well, he used to love to work in our kibbutz fields. He would work hard all day, and when the opportunity arose and a break was in order, he would whip out the little camping coffee set which he kept in the truck, put some water in the small finjan, and make a cup of coffee for himself and whoever was working with him that day. Together, they’d sit in the shade and savour the beauty that surrounded them. He used to come home and tell me about what he had done that day. (I must admit – I didn’t always really listen to his detailed stories about the tractors and the birds they had seen and the crops they were working with- and that’s something I came to regret, my taking that all for granted at the time …. what I wouldn’t give to hear his ramblings again.)
Every year the people who worked with Laurie in the fields, organize a “TiyuLaurie” in November, in his memory. Every year, I bake tons of his favorite chocolate chip cookies, send invitations made lovingly by one of his friends, his adoptive “kibbutz brother” from when he had come here as a volunteer from the UK so many years ago as a Jewish volunteer… there weren’t many of those 😉 . Every year, his friends and family come from as far away as Ketura (where his best friend lives) and Tel Aviv (where some of our family now live) and walk with us- walk with me – through the fields of the Western Negev desert, which he dearly loved.
Yesterday was that day. Despite the unseasonal heat, we strolled through the desert landscape, just beginning to sprout green fuzz, through the wadis awaiting the winter floods, ending with coffee, chocolate-chip cookies and other snacks brought by friends, under a tree by the reservoir where he used to love to fish.
The pain of suicide survival is indefinable. It comes along with a sudden status of “widow” slapped upon you, for sure. However, it’s not the same as losing your soul-mate to an unexpected violent accident, or some horrendous terminal illness that has your loved one grasping on to dear life, hoping-beyond-hope for a cure, not wanting to leave their loved ones behind. Although my brain knows that depression is a totally despicable illness – chemical based and as real and physical as any cancer – my heart still conceives it as the most violent, traitorous, hermetic form of abandonment that exists. While each one of my family has found (and are still finding) their way to move forward, it has been incredibly challenging for me, personally, to find another partner in this life (and believe me – I have tried). Life is not easy here in my home-cum-warzone. Family, friends, community are my salve. Organizing these walks, for the past 11 years, coming from afar to participate, is something that neither my family, nor I, take for granted. Not for a minute.
And we are profoundly grateful.