I had a very intense conversation with a friend last week. In fact, the conversation did no go well at all. I can’t even tell you why that happened. For now, grace and space is necessary. I am praying for both of us and I believe now I could have approached the subject differently than I did last week. My hope is that my friend and I can come to a better understanding of one another in the future and that we will have an opportunity to express ourselves again and both be understood. Our conversation surrounding victimless crime, suicide, and law enforcement among other things, and despite the fact of a misunderstanding, did help me to ask a good question of myself. Could I have done more for Jeff? This will be the first time I have written about these issues in a blog since I wrote my book about our story, The Road Less Traveled, A Story of Love, Pain, Hope and Everything In-Between. My hope is that my answers to this question will help anyone who is wondering if they could have done more for a family member or friend who committed suicide. I know you loved them just as I loved Jeff. I want all of us to take something intended to destroy us, and turn it around for good. I know each of our stories is unique and not all of what applies to my story may apply to yours so please read this blog with that in mind.
My late husband, Jeff, I would learn after his suicide had struggled most of his life with bi-polar and borderline personality issues. He had come from both a physically and verbally abusive home and learned to adopt this as a normal part of life. I have no idea when his mental illness began to affect him but my guess, from what I know now and have researched, is sometime in his teens. He also, having been a police officer, dealt with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) after nearly being shot by a suspect at a traffic stop. I can only imagine what dealing with all of these issues was like for him. I know he went for treatment for PTSD a few years before I met him but I believe now he never addressed the other long standing mental health issues. I tried several times in the time I was dating him and married to him to get him to go to the doctor for his depression. He refused. He said he was fine and honestly, he would seem to snap out of these bouts of depression as quickly as he got into them. I know now that was a hallmark sign of uncontrolled bi-polar disorder. The borderline issues he developed were in response to long standing abuse at home. He also chose to adopt verbal and emotional abuse in his own relationships, I think he chose this because he did not know what else to choose. He would eventually move into physical abuse in our marriage. Many days, I did not know who I was dealing with and I am convinced he did not either. As you can imagine, this relationship was destined for a train wreck. The fairytale collapsed 2 days after our 3rd wedding anniversary in May of 2014.
After we separated, I tried to talk to him on several occasions to get him to agree to counseling and he never would. I also tried to just talk to him myself but he refused to address these deeper issues, not all too uncommon in people who deal with borderline personality issues. Email and text communication became Dr. Jekeyll and Mr. Hideish, with more attacking from him than wanting to solve problems. I was at my wits end. My parents, who he seemed to respect, even tried to speak with him to no avail. My last meeting with him in public went nowhere and I was more scared of him than anything else. I did not know him anymore. His last text to me would come about 2 weeks after this meeting telling me he needed to be gone so I would have peace. A follow up phone call to him that evening yielded the same result as well as a gunshot ringing out in the distance. My last resort to help him was to call the police to try and get him to not kill himself so perhaps he would go to our local mental health inpatient facility and get some help. His last text to me would come 20 min later, mind you at this point I already think he may be dead. It read: “in order for you to have peace, I must be gone.” I would later learn he sent that text at the same time the police arrived to try and get in to stop him. He died on June 14th, 2014 at 9:23 pm. I would learn Jeff changed the locks to keep me from getting into the house – he was apparently afraid he might shoot me too. A detective would confirm this to be the case when examining our wedding photo all of our friends had signed 3 years before. Jeff had shot one bullet into his face in the picture and one bullet into my face. This is referred to as killing in abstention. This is the first time I have actually said anything about these details. I chose not to cover these details in my book because I was not ready to write about them at the time. I am now and I want my readers, friends and family to know I have been processing the fact that I could have been murdered by the man I loved for a long time.
Why am I telling my readers all of this? I have rehashed everything I did 4 years ago since that conversation with my friend the other day. The answer I have arrived at to my question is simply this, I did all I could for him. I presented him with every opportunity I knew to get help. My last and final resort was law enforcement because there is no emergency mental health team we can call out to help people make a different choice. If I had gone to our house that night, one of two things would have happened; he would not have let me in (unlikely) or he would have killed me too. As I said earlier, it can take you a long time to process that the person you loved the most was capable of killing you and had at least some intent to do so. This is harsh truth but it is reality. I want to say that had he lived, I would have come to him at the hospital and done everything I could in the coming days to help him. I still wish he’d given me that chance.
Am I angry with him? No. He had dealt with life the best he knew how. He had loved me the best he knew how despite everything. Am I grateful to be alive? Yes! Do I believe Jeff is okay now too? Yes, he is with Jesus! He was a believer despite any of this and he went to be with Jesus and Jesus took all of those things from him.
I am here to tell you today that suicide does not automatically mean someone goes to Hell. That is a lie! People can talk to Jesus all the way up until they die and He can take them to be with Him! Christians can struggle with mental illness and Jesus still loves them and he still accepts them. Church, we have to be better equipped to help all people who struggle with mental illness!
I also want to say here that as men and women we must keep ourselves safe from unsafe people. My late husband, despite how much I loved him, was an unsafe person. Abuse made him unsafe. His abuse limited my ability to do more for him I believe. His abuse and mindset limited his ability to see what he was doing to himself as well as to me. We must always keep ourselves safe no matter who we are trying to help.
I will continue to speak out about the evil of abuse and the tragedy of my husband’s unnecessary death. I want people to know my heart. I will continue to advocate for better mental health in this country and better choices for those who struggle on a daily basis. I may make some people uncomfortable and that is okay. If we don’t deal with the elephants in our living rooms and in our lives, we will never be free of them. I am not afraid of making people uncomfortable. I want them to know evil when they see it and never to tolerate it.
My hope is that this blog will start a discussion and encourage those of you who need to take a step toward freedom to do so, regardless of who you are. As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. I will continue to do what God has called me to do. I will not be deterred, discouraged or silenced! With much love, Elizabeth