In the wake of my wife's suicide, physical, mental, spiritual and relational issues wreaked havoc on my systems. It was difficult (impossible, at times) to think, reason or do routine tasks.
The need to understand never ceased.
Everything appeared out of order. Feeling unprepared, I was shifting into a new dimension.
It was a Tuesday, and I would be ending a ten-day contract teaching assignment in Boston. My last conversation with Rebecca was Saturday night. I would be coming home tomorrow, Wednesday night. She relayed the plans for us to visit her sister in Little Rock following our counseling appointment on Friday.
Afterward, she had not answered or returned my calls, (even from her church accounting job.) Sunday she was scheduled to prepare and deliver a meal to a shut-in couple. She maintained a busy routine, and I assumed she was on overload. There was her daily exercise, church accounting, Women’s Ministry, along with neighborhood and social gatherings that filled her days.
My class time had ended when I called the house and again talked to the answering machine. So I called our neighbor across the street. Valerie said she had seen her leave earlier in the day and I switched to an incoming call. I only remember five words “Rebecca has taken her life.”
Dialogue followed, but I don’t remember a single word.
Momentarily the plant security officer and two Massachusetts State Troopers appeared at the classroom door. In an instant it became real.
Shortly, the plant’s night manager walked in and took over the training room. Aided by his staff, they provided astute support, as though they had done this before. While one changed airline reservations and arranged shuttle service, another supervised packing and storing my company’s equipment.
The staff placed calls to my family. I remember talking to my son, Michael. I had very little to say. Momentarily he called me back with something like, “Did you mean grandmother?” I don’t recall what I said.
At the plant manager’s insistence, a security officer drove me to the hotel and help me pack for the morning flight from Logan.
Reflecting back, I appreciate what Lucent Technologies did that afternoon. I had most of a day’s travel to get back home, which gave me private time to wrestle with what had happened. One event stands out on the flight home. I was in the airliner’s lavatory. I was looking in the mirror, yet somehow I felt I was behind the mirror looking out at myself.
I was met at the St Louis airport by three friends from my church. We waited briefly for my son’s plane to arrive and then headed home. I don’t remember a single exchange of any kind.
That afternoon I was called to the police station. I was too zoned-out to get more upset. Their line of questioning first planted the idea that it was “me” that was responsible for all of this. Learning a note had been left, I insisted (against the officer’s advice,) on reading it and taking a copy.
I have no thought I could ever describe the moments that followed. Over the years, I had time to sort through the emotional debris. I had known a lot of her frustrations first hand.
In time I realized the note was well thought out. There was an entry dated Friday, one Saturday and the final on Sunday morning. Just four short statements from someone no longer here and our life together vanished.
But there was much more I would learn from her journals and subsequent conversations with her family and friends. The most stunning issue came shortly before her death.
Rebecca and I had been in professional counseling during the months leading up to the suicide. In what would turn out to be our last session, she dropped the bomb. Her brother and a neighbor boy had been sexually abusing her.
The counselor did not skip a beat as he stepped methodically through a series of questions. They revealed how it started, when it started, that she did not tell her parents, how they discovered the situation, what her Dad did, what her brother did and then silence.
The revelation shed a striking contrast to her families’ image I held. In just under three weeks from that session, she would be dead and never willing to discuss the abuse.
That news fostered a lot of questions for me. Why had she not told me before? Goodness, we had known each other for three dozen years.
This news explained why discussions about her brother never happened. Ralph A., Jr had been lost from a Navy Destroyer the USS Mansfield nine-years before we were married. I had always assumed that it was the manner of his death that hushed conversations. The only statements I recall were “he was a talented boy, had a winsome personality, but did not want to live by house rules.”
While all of this was disturbing, I somehow reasoned that it would be explainable in time.
From various sources, I became aware that a significant percentage of females are sexually abused at some point in their life. Even today the subject at best remains blurred.
Rebecca’s situation had happened over four decades earlier.
It was a further shock to learn that her extended family and some of her friends were familiar with the situation and yet it never seeped out.
Reflecting back over our years together, this sheds light on issues from our past including her Dad’s willingness to sign her brother into military service, under the age of eighteen. Then consequentially why discussions of my Navy experiences were squelched. Things I would never have dreamed to learn, at least, not the way I did.
The most troubling element of her note was my being “unable to meet her emotional needs.” These stunning words stopped my heart. But, after all this time, I have to agree with her.
Had I been aware of all of this would it have been different? Well, yea? Would knowing have helped me or not, or whether we would ever have married? I don’t know, nor will I ever have the chance to know.
Could she have created a note that would make her actions make sense to me, her family and friends? That is just not possible.
All this leaves me with the opinion “that a suicide note could never do justice and calm the hearts of those left behind.”
Over time this has helped make sense of situations and reactions that happened to us over the course of three decades of marriage.
Does it make me think differently about her? Sure it does. However, to me - it does not degrade her or her family in the least. I just could not fathom how she could keep this under wraps for all those years? On the other hand, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for her and the family. I cannot imagine parents discovering sexual abuse of any kind, let alone incest.
I know so few details, just notes, pictures and newspaper clippings left behind. Everyone present, through all this, was deceased by that time.
I admire Rebecca and her family for picking themselves up and going on to make a difference in their community.
It has been an arduous task piecing all this together and learning to cope. Life does move along, though I did not recognize it in those early times.