Coping with Suicide – a Personal Story

On a cool November evening in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains, Gae walked through her house rearranging knick-knacks on shelves and dusting furniture that didn’t need dusting, every so often glancing anxiously through her living room window.

Daylight faded and the gas lamp in the front yard flamed on. She also made certain the garage light was on for her son Dean when he got home.

Her husband Monty was in their bedroom in his favorite lounging chair, tired from a long day’s work at the shop, reading the newspaper. It was almost eleven o’clock when he said, “We need to get to bed.”

She sat on the bed’s edge, stretching her legs that ached from wandering about the house, and from tending her little granddaughter that morning, a cute little toddler who had kept her running for over four hours. She wasn’t as young as she used to be. She was exhausted.

“I don’t know why I feel so uneasy tonight,” she sighed.

“I feel a little uneasy too,” Monty said.

After thirty-two years of marriage, they could sometimes read each others’ thoughts.

Now, looking at her husband, the words fell into her mind. Dean’s in trouble. Shivering, she wondered where he was. He was usually home before midnight.

In bed, her husband was finally asleep, but she wasn’t. She watched the digits on the clock change to 12:00, 12:12, 12:35.

Finally, she got up and went into the kitchen. She unloaded the dishwasher, wiped off the counters that didn’t need wiping, sat at the table with her hands clasped, and stared at the wall, waiting.

She was about to give up and go back to bed when she heard the familiar sound of a car engine and the back door that creaked when Dean opened it. She could go downstairs and say goodnight to him but then thought no. She could talk to him in the morning.

She slid onto her side of the bed, careful not to disturb her very tired Just go to sleep said a voice in her head.

She closed her eyes and was drifting into an uneasy sleep when suddenly she heard what sounded like a shot. Instantly awake, her heart pounding in her chest, she wondered, Is this what I’ve been expecting for years?

Her husband and son were hunters. There were guns downstairs, locked in a cabinet. They both had keys to the cabinet.

She pressed her hand against her husband’s shoulder and said in a loud, urgent voice, “Monty. Wake up. Wake up!”

He struggled to open his eyes.

“I think Dean’s shot himself,” she said, the words strangling her throat.

Instantly he rolled from the bed, threw on his robe, and headed for the basement. “You don’t go down there,” he called out to her. “Get on the phone and call 911.”

She did, then sank into the living room sofa, hands clutched in her lap. It seemed like hours before she heard her husband’s footsteps and the flick of a lamp switch that shot dim light into the room.

He slumped beside her, half-facing her, clutching her cold hands in his.

“Is he … ” she began, the unspoken word “dead” a presence between them.

“I don’t know. I started to pull the door open when I felt a hand. It pushed me back so hard I turned around and stumbled back upstairs,” he said.

A hand! But it was after the shot. It couldn’t have been Dean’s hand that pushed his father back.

Gae and Monty both believed that the spirit world is very near; that ancestors watch over us.

They knew someone had watched over them that night their son died, and were grateful for that hand, whosever it was, and for the women from their church who cleaned up the blood..

They were very grateful that they didn’t have to remember their son the way he would have looked if they had seen him in his room. They could remember him the way he was those good years before his older brother’s fatal accident, and before he started taking the drugs that damaged his mind and body.

An Afternoon with Gae Hill

The summer of 1997 I was looking for stories about coping with the suicide of a loved one. My oldest daughter knew Gae’s daughter-in-law, and through her I met Gae who told me about the experience that I dramatized above.

She still lives in her home in Utah Valley, a beloved mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and a life-long active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Gae’s left arm was almost useless, but to her it was a mild disability that had honed her into a faith-filled, resilient, and realistic woman who directly confronted her trials. “She’s such a good lady” and “a wonderful example to my children and grandkids” wrote her daughter-in-law on Facebook.

On that long-ago day in Utah Valley, Gae told me, “One of my favorite scriptures is be still and know that I am God.”

“One of mine too,” I said.

“The day you feel the very worst you just say to Heavenly Father I can’t do this today. You’ve got to help me because I can’t handle it. Would you take my burden just for a few hours, or just for today?”

We both knew that He doesn’t remove the burden forever. That wouldn’t be good for us. “We only grow in hard times. We don’t grow in easy times,” Gae said. “In easy times you just float along.”

I told her I could empathize especially with the emotional aftermath of a loved one’s suicide. I was sixty-four years old when my alcoholic second husband shot himself. “Suicide isn’t an easy thing to deal with,” I said.

She adamantly agreed.

“My husband and I have had a lot of deaths in our family,” she said. “Our son Dean was sixteen when his brother was killed in an accident. They had been inseparable. They did everything together. Dean never recovered from the shock. He began going with an older group of kids and started drinking. My father had been an alcoholic and so I recognized the behavior. For eight years after his brother died, Dean tried at least twice a year to kill himself, but God really and truly intervened in each situation.”

She paused, walked over to her living room window, staring out at the bright blue cloudless sky as if trying to plumb its depths as she had tried to plumb her son’s.

She came back to her chair and continued.

“Dean ran with the older kids because he was out in the working world. We weren’t going to let him quit school and just sit on his hind end at home. He had to get a job. So for a while he was a bricklayer. I was certain he was going to do something with his life work-wise because he was always looking for ways to make money.

“But he kept drinking. He got a DUI and went to jail, then to a drug/alcohol rehabilitation program. He went thirty days without a drink. His personality always had real highs and then real lows. It was up and down all the time. That’s a sign of chemical imbalance, whatever the cause. The doctor said we should have him checked. He should go to a mental hospital for analysis. It would take a few weeks. Dean said okay. He’d do it in December when work was slow. I hoped he would. Then, he killed himself in November.”

“There wasn’t anything you could have done to stop it,” I said.

“I do know that now,” she said in a brighter voice. “Since that awful night, God has revealed to us what he said to Dean. `All right, my son, if you’re so anxious to come back here, I won’t intervene anymore.’ We know God knows how sick Dean was. Chemical imbalance is a frightening thing. Addictions are powerful and destructive. But God still loves us, each one of us, no matter what our weaknesses are. He seeks to magnify our goodness, to help us all he can. His love for our son and for us has sustained us through our loss.”

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