Dear Amy: My husband, “Don,” battled substance abuse and addictions, major depression, anxiety, and severe sleep apnea.
Don and I also had relationship issues, much like any other married couple after 20 years of marriage.
One day this past April, I learned that Don had once again stolen my legally prescribed pain medication.
I became angry with him, said harsh words, and then I asked him to pack his belongings and leave.
Instead, that day, he took his own life.
I called 911 and they walked me through CPR. In the end, I could not save him. He had shot himself.
This is all still quite fresh to me. I am often asked, “How did your husband pass away?” and I find that an incredibly intrusive question, even if he hadn’t died from suicide by gun.
In order to reign in my emotions and anger, I’d like your advice on how best to respond to those questions – whether they’re from people I’ve never met or people with whom I do have a relationship.
If you feel my question and your answer would be of value to your readers, I do hope you will publish it.
Dear Recovering: As a public service announcement, I’m going to remind people not to inquire about a person’s cause of death. In my (sadly extensive) experience, grieving survivors will often volunteer this information on their own after condolences are offered and they are feeling more comfortable. If this information isn’t offered – don’t ask.
In response to this question, you can say a version of: “I’m not ready to talk about it.”
I feel a special connection to your story because my own family, like yours, is one of nearly 50,000 American families each year to experience the unique heartbreak of having a family member die by suicide. (According to a report released by the National Center for Health Statistics, suicide counts in 2021 totaled 47,646 – 4 percent higher than in 2020.)
My nephew died by suicide at age 17, several years ago. It would take volumes for me to pour out my own sense of loss and sadness. Many days I simply feel robbed of the opportunity to continue to know my nephew, who will now always remain his teenage self in my memory.
I do know this – there is no universal experience of grief. I wish there was, because then we might come up with a universal answer for it.
For me, Robert Frost’s great line often comes to mind: “The best way out is always through.”
My sister Rachel Dickinson has written (and illustrated) a beautiful and heartbreaking collection of essays about her own experience in grieving her son’s death. Her unique path through grief led her to some of the most remote parts of the globe – not looking for answers, necessarily, but finding her own way through. Look for her book, “The Loneliest Places: Loss, Grief, and the Long Journey Home (2022, Cornell Press).
Two other important books have helped me to understand the complexities of suicide: “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness,” by Kay Redfield Jamison, and “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression,” by Andrew Solomon.
There is help and support for people in crisis. Dialing 988 will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE.org) has a helpful list of support groups for suicide loss survivors.
Dear Amy: My adult stepdaughter, whom I dearly love, uses the word “LIKE” almost every third or fourth word.
She is smart, beautiful and a professional – but her speech pattern lends a different impression.
I have mentioned this to her a couple of times, and it almost kills me to do so, but observing others’ reactions (it is that noticeable) makes me sad.
I don’t want to alienate her, but is there anything I can do to help?
Dear Wondering: You’ve already brought this up a couple of times.
Now it’s her father’s turn.
If her father corrects her (privately), she may turn to you to complain about him.
That’s when you can say, “Well, this habit does distract from your awesomeness. Can I help in some way?” (Recording herself on video will alert her to this verbal tic.)
Dear Amy: Oh, those bickering twins who forced their “Twin Mom” to weigh their food to make sure they were getting equal portions!
My advice? Respond: “Don’t be concerned about what’s in someone else’s bowl unless you’re checking to see if they got enough.”
Dear Mara: I like it.
©2022 Amy Dickinson.