By – Sheri de Grom
How could dying be more tempting than living? How could such a desperate act seem like a reasonable solution to one’s problems?
How was I to know that I would be faced with my own suicidal thoughts? I was totally bewildered one spring, when the first stems of perennials were pushing their way through the earth, to find I was suicidal.
Tom was in the hospital to keep him from hurting himself. Somehow, that day, I lost my will to live. Suddenly suicide seemed an option. My endurance had taken a holiday without me.
Morti curled in my lap, purring. “Morti, whatever will I do?” Did he sense I needed consoling? My comfort zone had disappeared. I’d slept last night but my body screamed, ‘no you didn’t!’ My eyes were so dry, a sand truck could have off-loaded into them. No amount of artificial tears helped.
Gazing out the French doors Tom had installed, I watched the quail scurry around my herb garden. The hen, with her soothing coos, coaxed the chicks away from their protective shelter near the rushing brook. The scent of wild pineapple sage wafted through the air.
My mind wandered to the office, and I realized I’d have to place work on the back burner. This didn’t set well with me but I had to find out what was happening to my life. I had an appointment to talk with the lead prosecuting attorney at the U.S. Attorney General’s Office. He’d called me about our Veteran Affairs case, and he wasn’t known for calling anyone. He was used to investigators begging him to try their cases.
He’d understand, but I didn’t want our forward momentum stalled. Arrest warrants were already being issued. I didn’t cope well with postponing things until the next day—not when it came to my work.
It didn’t make sense that I was thinking about postponing my life, forever.
Who could I talk to? Not God. His Word ordained that suicide is a sin. God already knew what I was contemplating that day as I wandered out into my gardens. I felt the breeze caress my skin and tease my hair. The mammoth cottonwood tree played a rustling song, and the brook near our front door reminded me further that even if I left this extraordinary earth, life would go on. Why was I deliberately considering leaving my life when nature could still make me feel so alive?
I planned my own death and my strategy would ensure insurance payments for Tom’s continuing care. It seemed so faultless, that plan of mine.
I would soon be traveling from Fort Ord, California to the Presidio of San Francisco for a meeting. Two co-workers were also going, and I made excuses to ride in the back seat of the car. Some time before I had scouted for and found a location near the Santa Cruz Mountains that seemed ideal for opening the door and jumping from the car to guarantee my death.
Farley jumped up as a tiny rabbit scampered past. He knew he wasn’t permitted to chase the little fellow but he really wanted to take off at top speed.
Farley’s interruption of my thoughts racing in circles reminded me of how uncomplicated it might be to take my own life. I promptly identified with the workings of an irrational mind and how intolerable pain annihilates logical thought to meaninglessness.
The despairing loneliness, the feeling of total uselessness to the man I loved, and the knowledge that life could no longer be the same magical journey we’d once known, made life seem unbearable and intolerable.
I tried putting these terrifying thoughts behind me, but it became impossible. Invincible pain invaded my thoughts, penetrated my rational existence and endeavored to destroy me. Tom’s pain swallowed mine. It was easy to share his anguish and terror.
My world, engulfed by Tom’s illness, was crushing me. I had to find something I could embrace to save my life and not become another casualty of Tom’s disease.
Tom has attempted suicide multiple times. I’m astonished that this wonderful, loving and sensitive man can possibly cope another hour. My first suicide plan of 1988 seems shallow when I look honestly at the lowest point of Tom’s anguish. I continue to discount myself for having the same suicidal leanings.
What I’ve learned about myself is that I grieve for the loss of the Tom I once knew and that
causes me tremendous pain. Tom was the man I’d waited for all my life and then all too quickly, he was snatched away. Yes, he has bipolar disorder but he now has an even larger problem and that’s the physical damage years of medication have taken on his body. Tom has never indulged in illegal drugs or alcohol. Every pill he’s swallowed has been by a physician’s order and now his body has been destroyed.
All of my dreams vanished with Tom’s illness. I’ve learned not to linger over new dreams as they lead to more disappointments. The disappointments lead to depression and the depression to my own thoughts of suicide. As Tom’s 24/7 caregiver, I have to keep myself safe. Who would take care of Tom if I were gone?
I’ve talked with you previously about how invaluable my therapist, Elizabeth Crone, has been in helping me discover how to cope with so many of my life’s losses. When I became a full-time caregiver for Tom, I realized I had to face my own losses:
- The loss of a professional career I’d worked hard to develop. I was considered the best in my field. I was able to stay on for 20 years but at that point, I had to retire and become Tom’s full-time mental health advocate and director of his medical care.
- My financial security is gone. When Tom is manic he spends money uncontrollably. This is his one vice and it has nearly destroyed us on more than one occasion.
- My social activities are gone. We were involved in many activities as a couple and I was involved in several Boards of Directors, but I never know when Tom needs me because I’m the one on call 24/7.
- I’ve become more a mother than a wife and I miss having my partner by my side. The man I used to make decisions with, the man I could spend endless hours engaging in quiet conversation — I’ve lost all of that.
- Caregivers the world over need help and the tip of the iceberg hasn’t been touched. I’ll be bringing this subject up more often as time goes by.
- Tom didn’t ask for this horrific disease and I as his wife have dedicated my life to learning everything I can about it. More literature is becoming available with each passing day.
- I’ve learned, but not accepted, I’m on first for all matters that keep our household and our relationship operating at whatever optimum level we are capable of having. I want to get it right but I know, I must take care of myself in the meantime.
Once again, thank you for reading with me. Do you have ideas on what might make a 24/7 caregiver’s life easier on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? I’m looking for all suggestions you have to offer.
I appreciate the thoughts and ideas I hear from each of you. Often the thoughts you have to offer me are lifelines I seek in the middle of lonely long nights when I’m battling insomnia.
Have you ever felt as though you couldn’t face one more tragedy, one more blow to your dreams or one more task you must put before your own dreams and aspirations? I ask of you to remember, you are as important as the individual you are caring for and each of us, the 65 million unpaid family caregivers, must be recognized for the sacrifices we make each and every day.
September is set aside to raise awareness of suicide prevention; it is National Suicide Prevention Month.