Surviving My Divorce Was More Difficult Than My Father’s Suicide


It was not the loss suffered nor the grief felt. Without a doubt, the sudden and violent death of my father remains the greatest loss of my life, and the pain and grief I encountered during and after the event are still untouchable by any sadness I have experienced since. It is the death of that which still walks, breathes, lives and exists. It is grieving a person who stands in front of you, remains tangible, holdable, shakable, yet says, “I am not leaving you because I am leaving this plane, I am not leaving you because illness has come for me, I am not even leaving the state, I simply don’t want you anymore.”

The morning I learned that my father had committed suicide, I drove immediately to the hospital where the police had taken him. They had not even formally declared his time of death yet. The only minuscule relief I was granted that day was at 8:17 a.m. as I drove on Rt 3 South in Massachusetts, my sister called to say that the time of death had been pronounced. It was the last clean breath I drew and exhaled that day, because something permanent had occurred. I was not waiting for death, I was not going to find out that he was not dead but instead paralyzed, and then have to map those territories. I knew that the middle of the ocean was waiting for me, and that I was about to cross an endless channel of anger, hurt and sorrow that would shock and amaze me every day, but I also knew he couldn’t die again. He couldn’t shoot himself again, he would not reappear and put me through this all over again down the line. Dead stays dead.

The day my husband called me to tell me he “changed his mind” and that he “had serious doubts about our future” I found myself spinning into the same sickening waters that I had weathered upon the death of those close to me, but it was markedly different. The undertow was crippling and no matter how many times my higher mind told me to slow down, swim parallel to shore, that this was a marathon, I could not stop fighting the current. I swam furiously for a shore that slipped further and further from view, every exhausting stroke making me angrier. I had survived worse than this, I lost people I loved and depended on far more than I did my husband, so why couldn’t I give up the urge to to make it back to the beach. To implore, to scream, beg, fight, cry and fuck?

About six weeks later, back in our apartment in Chicago, after a few sessions of therapy and countless hours of fighting and crying we sat on the couch and he said simply, “I don’t want to be with you anymore”. This person, from whom I had only ever demanded one simple promise: that he wouldn’t bail, was doing just that. Was washing his hands of me, of our life together. He said it without sadness, remorse, anger, or anything that resembled any emotion really. He could have as easily said, ‘I think we should re-paint the living room.’ That statement might have at least sounded as though he put some thought into it.

I was blind with fury and sadness. I felt as though I was back in Boston, in the dead of winter, marveling at the carnage of my father’s suicide, left on his side deck, like so much royal purple steak tartare. I couldn’t be near my husband without going after him viciously, trying to start fights by saying the ugliest, cruelest things I could come up with that fell within the truth. And I had to see him all the time, I had just completed a contract position and he had just been paid off from his job, no one was moving anytime soon. Separate bedrooms was as good as it was going to get. It was also around this time that I found out my most recent colonoscopy had produced a polyp that contained pre-cancerous cells. It was the first time in the ten years since being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease that such cells had shown up in any growths. I was spending my days in bed seeing how closely I could embrace the dead and dying, and my nights out with friends bringing my liver to the verge of tears.

Finally one night, after coming home nearly blacked out, starting a fight with my alienated husband and then going to bed to do something akin to passing out, I had a vision of sorts. I was standing on my father’s side deck, the same one I helped him build over the ocean, the same one on which he ended his life. It is the morning of his death, early January. It is bone cold and grey, the sun is just coming up. My father stands before me holding a blanket and a .45 Special. He is in his Levi’s and favorite maroon wool sweater, the same one I took from his home after his death and slept with for a year. He lays down on the deck, wraps the blanket around his head, puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. Before I can open my mouth to scream, he is on his feet again: alive, whole and handsome. And as I say, “Don’t do it, Daddy! You’re alive! I can help you! Please don’t die!” the whole scene plays out again, over and over until I sat upright and said, “this is the divorce”.

The body on the ground is your marriage, the leaving spouse, the ways in which love doesn’t cut it. Every time I saw my husband it was like catching my father right before he shot himself. There is a feeling that if you say the right thing, make the right gesture, make your pain understood, you can save it just in time. The strange thing is, I don’t want to save my marriage anymore. I can’t wait to be divorced. I can’t wait to be through this part of my life. I don’t think my husband and I should have married, I don’t think he knows or loves me as I deserve to be, and my resentment over this makes me a miserable harpy of a wife.

It is not a healthy relationship, it was not built on stable ground. We met two weeks after my father died, I was living alone in a new city, trying to stay afloat in graduate school while racked with depression and bizarre PTSD symptoms. I had to make someone stay. And I did, until I couldn’t anymore. And now, now I want off this deck. My father is never coming back, nor could I have ever made him stay even if I had pulled up on him before he chased himself off this good earth. My marriage will never come back to life, but the person with whom I breathed it into life with remains. Until I get off the deck, back in my car, and on my own ground, there is no funeral to be had. No epitaph to lay it underground with. It keeps playing out its death throes, and wandering the halls with Lady Macbeth. Hand wringing and all.