This is a post I wrote in 2020 for Armon and Smith Funeral Celebrants. You can find them here: https://www.armonandsmithfuneralcelebrants.com.au
I thought I understood the concept of death. It’s a natural process, and one that comes to all living things, eventually. The heart stops beating, oxygen ceases to circulate, the neurones stop firing, the brain no longer functions. Life ends.
I thought I understood the concept of death, until it walked across my path and erased the footsteps walking next to mine. How could it be possible that at one moment a person existed in all their vital, chaotic,chemical glory, and the next they had vanished? How can a laugh run out? Where does the warmth of someone’s hand drain to? Where do all the half-formed thoughts of the dearly departed end up?
And departed to where? There is too much energy and unfinished business for it to simply disappear. As an atheist, this is what the rational part of me has always believed, and yet I am completely unable to compute the idea that I will never see my husband again. I have a recurring dream that he casually walks through the front door and apologises for being gone so long.
Even now, two and a half years after he took his own life, it will suddenly dawn on me that he is never coming back. The pauses in-between these revelations have become longer as time has dragged me with it, but they still hit me just as violently each time.
What is even harder to understand, is that this death was chosen. That my love chose the unknowable, over what he understood to be the inevitable continuation of unbearable pain. People often deride suicide as ‘the easy way out’, but I cannot think of a harder decision to make. Surely the easiest thing is to just do nothing? To keep on existing? It takes an extraordinary amount of resolve to do the opposite.
Bereavement by suicide is a unique kind of grief. People often ask me if I’m angry with Omid for ‘leaving’ us. It’s a common response, to feel bitter and abandoned. But I have never felt anger. Our future was so bright, that only a mental illness could have made him feel it was not worth living, and that we would be ‘better off without him’. And how could I be angry with him for being ill? I view it in the same way as I would cancer – a tumour, slowly eating away at his self-esteem and rationality. In her book, ‘Chase the Rainbow’, Poorna Bell asks her late husband “why did you leave me?”. He answers, “I wasn’t leaving you, I was leaving myself”.
In light of this epiphany, I have despaired “what a waste”. What a waste of potential. So many achievements and experiences pencilled into the diary of a life, and now erased from the future. Half a life offered on a plate and refused. It took billions of years and impossible alchemy for life to evolve. How could it be so simple to snub it out? It is the greatest irony of our cerebral evolution that our existential awareness enables us to eradicate ourselves.
Why did he do this? How could he do this? What was he thinking in those final moments? In the early days of grief, these questions consumed me. It was like a puzzle that I needed to solve, and the lack of a note only added to my frustration. I went over every conversation, read back through all ourtexts and emails, and his own notes and worksheets, in search of clues.
I’ve never been a fan of unresolved endings. Omid and I would debate for hours over the ambiguous finales of movies like Donnie Darko or Magnolia. He found them enigmaticand intriguing. I found them infuriating. I like endings to be all tied up in a neat little bow, with every plot point succinctly resolved. But a life snipped short by suicide is frayed at the edges and cannot be hemmed – the more we pick away at the threads the more tangled they become. I thought if I could get to the bottom of “why”, then I could understand, let him go and find some peace, but instead I tied myself in knots.
As time has gone by, I have realised that these answers don’t exist. It’s unlikely Omid knew them himself, and if he did they may have changed from minute to minute as the chemicals in his brain contaminated his thoughts. The jigsaw never had that missing piece, and while this still challenges me, I’m learning to live with the enigma.
What I do know for absolute certain, is that he wanted me, our daughter and his family to be happy. He wanted a good life for us, and believed (however wrongly), that would be easier without him. My initial reaction was to refuse. I thought that if I moved on and found happiness again then I’d prove him right and somehow justify his ill-founded beliefs.
Months after his death, while still struggling to process what had happened, my doctor asked me if I was still capable of feeling joy? It wasn’t something I’d considered before, but I realised that I was. It was painful as first – just a few short days after Omid’s death, Ava took her first steps. I instinctively burst out laughing, and the shock of it, after hours of endless crying, soon dissolved the giggle into yet more tears. I wanted to gobble the sound back up the moment it left my mouth. It felt such a betrayal – how dare I laugh in the midst of this tragedy? And yet how could deprive my daughter of my exultation at her cleverness? Whether or not I deserved my happiness, she certainly did. There was no way I could be present for her and indulge in her childhood while I was searching for that missing piece of the puzzle.
About three months after losing Omid, I joined a local support group for people bereaved by suicide, and this helped mein several ways. Our stories were all different – some had lost siblings, some children, some parents, some friends. And we were all at different stages of our grief – which is not defined, as somepeople believe, by the length of time since someone has passed, but rather how far you have travelled since then. But it is not a race. We are all different – you wouldn’t compare the length of time it takes a mouse to walk a mile withthat of an elephant. The pace we walk that journey is exactly right for us. We were, however, united in our search for understanding. Some needed to place blame, dragging inquests on for years in an attempt to hold someone or something accountable for their loved one’s death. For a few, this was to the detriment of their health, and their relationships with their living loved ones. They were running in circles rather than moving forwards.
Others in the group were further down the path of bereavement, and while not a day went by when they didn’t think of and miss their loved one, they seemed happy again. They were capable of feeling joy. Seeing that this was possible, at a time when I thought I would be miserable forever, inspired me. I recognised that my greatest responsibility now was to Ava, and that, in order to give her the future I knew Omid wanted for her, I had to find a way to be happy again myself. I realised that feeling joy wouldn’t make me a monster, or sully Omid’s memory. I needed to build a new life for us – no-one would win if my potential was wasted as well. My future wouldn’t be “better without him”, but rather an entirely different, alternate reality, that could also be good.
After Omid’s death, a friend told me thatno-one really dies until the last person who remembers them passes. And it’s true. Omid’s laugh hasn’t run out: it still rings in my ears when I see something that would have tickled him. Just like herDaddy, Ava takes great pleasure in making people laugh – she’s constantly pulling silly faces and doing ridiculous, wiggly dances that have me in stitches. Happiness begets happiness. And I hopethat wherever Omid has departed to, seeing us now would help him feel joy again himself. It’s the very least I owe him.