Recently someone reminded me, “You are allowed to be here.”
And it sucker-punched me right in the chest.
“You are allowed to be here. You survived and you’re still here.”
For a few seconds, I couldn’t breathe. The wind got knocked out of me. When I gulped in the air again, tears gushed out simultaneously with my quivering exhale. I didn’t know I was harboring this heavy weight until she said it.
I’ve done the healing work. I’ve addressed what happened and hashed it out over and over again. Every stage of grief has been “processed.” Or so I thought.
It’s been five years since my husband committed suicide.
Until that one phrase was spoken, I had no idea I felt guilty for being alive.
Looking back at this event that split my life in two, I see who I was before and who I am working so hard to be after. How do I cope with knowing that I am still alive and he isn’t?
So, I did what felt natural, and started writing. I wrote a letter. To me. Before being a widow and a single mom. Before living in a new place, building my business, and trying to establish a new normal. Before I had to figure out how to fall in love again. Before I felt guilty for being alive.
Dear Lisa 2015,
I promise I see you. I see you in those weeks leading up to that tragic event—the one you sensed was possible but couldn’t pinpoint. Would violence be turned on you, the kids, him, all of the above? I remember your fears. I recall the frantic desperation as you tried to file a restraining order and the hopelessness because it wouldn’t stop his cryptic verbal threats of “Don’t worry, you’ll get your happy ending.”
I understand the rage and numbing loneliness knowing your marriage was crumbling and this imbalanced, unrecognizable person was yelling at you that it was all your fault.
I want to run and catch you that fateful morning in December as you crumbled to the sidewalk after handing the police officer the keys to your house. So they can go in and see if Steve followed through on his threat. I will never forget your piercing screams of “Noooo!” when the officer came back out and said, “I’m sorry ma’am. It’s too late.”
You wondered if you’ll ever be you again and if you’ll ever recover from the paralyzing shock. That thick life fog will follow you for over a year. I regret those few weeks in June when you considered following in Steve’s footprints, toying with the idea that maybe he had the right idea after all. You won’t recognize yourself and the dark places your mind will take you. But I urge you to keep listening to that faint voice of truth and reason desperately screaming, “Your kids need you. They don’t deserve another dead parent. They don’t deserve any of this!”
And stay close to those core girlfriends who will fight for your resilience and threaten to camp outside your door. Every. Single. Night.
Remember to love and appreciate those friends who take time off work to drive you to all your appointments, to figure out if Prozac or homeopathic herbs will pull you out of the deep well of loss. And those who laugh with you but also take you seriously when you decide, “Nah, I’d rather up my therapy sessions, work with a trauma specialist, meditate and yoga my way through this grief.” Spoiler alert. For you, those will actually work.
I feel you. Fourteen years of marriage to a man who was once your best friend, before life and stress and God-knows-what internal imbalances hijacked that person you had vowed forever with far away and long gone.
I applaud you for committing to those four months of weekly family therapy sessions that will prove necessary and beneficial for the kids. At eight and 11 years, they’ll grumble and learn at an early age that talking about feelings, memories, and death is so hard.
I’m hugging you as you remain neutral in the challenge of hearing their adoring stories of their appa as you sit there reeling with anger at what he ultimately did to them—abandoned them. I’m proud of you for handling it with grace because they deserve to preserve those memories of their father. The one who loved them with all of his heart and strove to create a loving, kind, and fun-filled environment for them.
I hold you up and carry you during the worst moments, like the funeral which was the most surreal day of your life thus far. That nauseating phone call with the organ harvest center on the day he died and you had to approve every body part and organ they checked off the itemized list.
Know that unbeknownst to you, you are equipped with a lifetime of growth to handle it. Know that healing will come with time, but most importantly, with awareness. And paradoxically, gratitude. For all the sh*t that happened and all the blessings that were always there.
It’s hard to see that when you’ve stuffed down years of painful emotions. You’ve given the finger to the gratitude and the love you once knew because you are so hateful of him, your life, and the situation. This isn’t the happily-ever-after you envisioned, and you have to accept that there won’t be. Not in the way you might have pictured.
I am here on the other side now, writing this to ask you to please have faith. Believe in a happily ever after, just not this one. Hold onto hope and patience to see it through to the peace, understanding, and compassion on the other side.
It’s not perfect where I’m standing but it’s better and brighter than where you are now. There’s breathing space. Growth. The sun is shining. People love you. You will relearn healthier love and feel in your body what that feels like for you. Trust me, it’s foreign at first. Supportive friends make it easy. And certain people will trigger all your sh*t. But we can laugh about it together, you and I, on our journey—the one that keeps going and evolving.
“You are allowed to be here.”
To have hope for a future without Steve in it and to possibly find love again. Because of everything you are able to endure, I am allowed to live my life, in joy and uncertainty. Empowerment is knowing I am allowed to be here after everything that happened.
Thank you. Because of you, I am here. I am seen. I am safe. And everything will be okay.
I love you. You got this.
With all my heart,