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“What Lies in Suicide’s Wake”: New York Times Essay on Suicide’s ‘Invisible Casualties’

Throughout September — Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — we reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness, and connect individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services. In a recent New York Times essay, journalist Peggy Wehmeyer described her experience grappling with the loss of her husband to suicide, including the stigma, confusion, and painful questions she faced as a survivor of suicide. You may read the full piece in the New York Times; the following is an excerpt.

“… As much as you may love someone, it’s not easy to sustain a happy marriage when one partner struggles with debilitating depression or severe mood swings. Mr. Spade said his accomplished wife [Kate Spade] fought personal demons.

I knew those demons. I prayed and battled against them for more than 25 years, but on the night they convinced Mark he was better off dead, I collapsed in defeat. In the months and years after my husband’s death, I would slip into a foggy depression of my own, fueled by my loss and sense of failure. 

How is it I could persuade the man I loved to apply sunscreen, get regular checkups and wear a bike helmet, all in an effort to prolong our life together, but I couldn’t keep him from killing himself? Wasn’t it my job as his wife to help him stay safe and happy — securely tethered to life?

In the wake of a loved one’s suicide, irrational shame haunts those left behind. On the night Mark took his life, he had a dinner date scheduled with our younger daughter, Hannah, who was home from college. For days she wept, asking, ‘Wasn’t time with me enough to keep Dad from killing himself?’ His closest friends condemned themselves for not following up when he didn’t return phone calls. His mother, who just turned 93, still wonders, ‘If only I could raise him all over again,’ as if that could have saved him.

… When unwanted queries caught me off guard, my replies grew understated and were clearly unsatisfying. “No, I was stunned,” I’d say. “I don’t fully understand why he did it.” Or “No, I didn’t see signs it was coming.” But as I would drive away alone in my car, I’d rehearse what I wished I could have said. “Sure, I saw it coming,” I’d snap, pounding my fist on the dashboard. “There were little nooses hanging all over our house and I just ignored them!”

… During a week that elevates suicide prevention to a national imperative, we might do well to consider its invisible casualties, the living wounded.”

Peggy Wehmeyer is a former correspondent for ABC’s “World News Tonight” and a writer living in Texas.

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