This I Believe

Ann - Stoneham, Massachusetts
Entered on May 9, 2008

Without a Choice

I like to think I make conscious, rational life choices. Good choices, for the most part. One of my better decisions… marrying my gentle, British husband over twenty years ago.

Our first choice as a couple was to buy a tree farm on 200 forested acres in Vermont. The tiny cabin on our property was our weekend “getaway”. Terry wanted to protect me, he said, from rabid animals and menacing strangers when I was there alone, so he bought me a shotgun. In twenty years, I had fired the gun once, for practice. Terry had shot it twice, then one final, heartbreaking time that changed my life forever.

My girlfriend called after hearing that my husband killed himself with the very gun he bought to protect me.

“Why did he choose to die?” she whispered tearfully.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

I have struggled with that question for two years now. I’ve reviewed every aspect of our life together while endlessly reconstructing Terry’s movements on that fateful day. My newly retired husband had picked up the dry cleaning, bought a lottery ticket, visited a neighbor and drilled holes above the door for our new house number. Before hanging it, he inexplicably took his life.

I had always assumed that individuals consciously chose suicide for some particular reason. Perhaps, it was the easy way out of a complicated life. Perhaps, victims were dissatisfied with certain outcomes or they wanted to send a message. My lack of compassion and understanding overwhelms me now.

This I believe… suicide is not a choice, just as dying from cancer or heart disease is not a choice. In those moments before he died, I believe my husband left the rational world for another place we do not fully understand. Severed from his connection to family and friends, and in unimaginable pain, he felt only an overwhelming urge to escape. He acted spontaneously with no thought of the consequences, not even a thought of me.

I believe this man I so loved, and thought I knew, was not what he appeared …my rock, my grounding force. Though he loved me passionately, he inwardly led another life that ultimately robbed him of his power think rationally.

No, my husband did not choose to die by suicide. I believe that suicide is not a conscious, rational life choice. This new understanding does not lessen my pain, but it has made me poignantly aware of those who suffer silently in our midst. They are our family, lovers and friends. They share our days and nights, yet they are also absent from us. Their actions are sometimes beyond our understanding. They complete suicide because, I believe, in their final moments they are without a choice.

Though my heart is broken, I can make conscious, rational decisions about how to move on now. Thankfully, by the grace of God and the love of family and friends, I am not without a choice.