I have at least two more posts to share with all of you on the subject of suicide. This one comes from a woman, Julie Heidingsfelder, who is a member in our meeting. Julie has been impacted by the suicides of her grandfather and aunt. We are telling these stories because we think it’s important to reflect on the nature of suicide and how it impacts our lives. We are telling these stories because they’re important threads in our lives that have challenged and changed us.
Suicide has sharply impacted my life twice. The death of a loved one is always difficult. I am compelled to reflect on how the death of loved one due to suicide is a different kind of grieving process.
My Grandpa committed suicide just a few months after my Grandmother’s untimely death over 10 years ago. He shot himself twice. When I was told the news, I dropped to the ground feeling as if someone had just punched me in the gut. I couldn’t fathom that this loving, wonderful person would do this.
He was unbelievably handsome and instantly in love with my Grandma Eleanor upon meeting her. They were married after a short courtship and remained in love until the day they died.
These two lived during an era where hard work, initiative, and honesty meant they could attain the American dream of home ownership, travel, and early retirements. Grandpa was the manager of the location car dealer garage, and Grandma was one of the first female advertising sales representatives at the local newspaper. They had 1 boy (my father) and 2 girls. They had a good and happy life. Family dinners were a favorite time of mine. Grandma’s cooking was always the best. And dinners were filled with laughter and ease. In their retirement years they were snow birds enjoying the cold months of the Northwest in Arizona with friends.
My Grandmother died due to complications from a surgery. It wasn’t expected by anyone. We all felt she had so much life left in her. My Grandpa never recovered. My always happy, jovial, Grandpa took his own life just a few months later. His entire life filled of love, family, friends, and faith ended so abruptly and violently. Our family was shaken to the core. We were stunned, shocked, and suddenly these two people who were the rock of our family were gone. The next few months seem to be a blur. My Aunts and Dad were exhausted with the events of the last few months. Things seemed to change forever after that.
Reactions to his death varied. My mother was frustrated that he couldn’t have worked through his grief and maybe if he had he could have shown us how to work through the loss of spouse. My dad lost his best friend. Every time I think about that, or write it, or speak it, I still cry. He doesn’t talk about it much. My aunt Cheryl said she felt lost. I wondered how often I would see my cousins and aunts and uncles. My grandparents were the glue and it was gone.
For me, grieving my grandpa brought much more difficult questions. When he died, was he reunited with Grandma? Or was he in some form of spiritual limbo? Or worse? I felt angry at him, broken hearted for him, and I couldn’t help but picture how terrifying and sad his last moments were. I had many nightmares in the months that followed his death. One nightmare was just me looking for them in their coffin, I peeled back the lid to see if I could see bullet holes in him, or IV marks on my grandma’s arms. I was tormented by those images. I am sure others in my family were as well.
Unfortunately, Grandpa’s daughter also committed suicide several years later after the death of her own spouse. I wondered if Grandpa had been alive still, would she have made the same choice? I don’t think she recovered from her parents’ deaths and when her spouse died she was also dealing with her own Alzheimer’s. I think it was too much to bear. My heart breaks for my dad. It must be hard for him.
I don’t fully understand just how different the grieving process is when suicide is involved. I just know that it is. It has left a mark on my family. Most importantly, I hope the lives of my grandpa and aunt aren’t defined by how they died. Their lives were about so much more than that. And, they helped to shape who I am today.
I saw my cousin Heather a few months back. She, My aunt and my sister were visiting about Grandpa and Grandma with each other. My cousin said she had a recent dream of Grandpa. He said, “I found her! I found Grandma!” I am a person of faith, but my faith is perpetually weak.
I hope her dream is true.
Julie Heidingsfelder: Mom, Wife, multi-tasking extraordinaire.