A Suicide In The Family
08/28/12
Special To The Jewish Week
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Bang!, was the sound I heard in the middle of my sleep. I jumped up, but my husband Matt wasn’t there. I bolted out of bed and ran down the stairs, tears streaming down my face, praying, “Please God, don’t let this be what I think it is.”

I ran into our home office, where Matt might have been working. No Matt. I noticed the door to our garage was unlocked. I ran into the garage, crying, shaking, and there, I saw my husband of 15 years lying on the ground in a pool of blood surrounding his head. He had finally done what he talked about over the years.

Matt suffered from a mental illness (Bipolar II, unofficially diagnosed).  He never acknowledged this and refused to seek treatment. He was extremely bright and throughout much of his 41 years was able to compensate. But mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Even smart people, even Jewish people, can be in its grip. 

It was now almost five in the morning on Oct. 31, 2011, just a few minutes after the fatal gunshot. People gradually streamed into my house. I was in a state of shock. Our rabbi, Seth Gordon (formerly of Bethpage, L.I.), appeared at 5:30 a.m. I have few recollections of that morning, but one is the rabbi’s wife folding mounds of laundry strewn over our couch.

I remember repeatedly asking, “What do I tell my kids?” ages 9 and 7. Just then, my 7-year-old came down the stairs, bleary-eyed, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, wondering why were all these people here. That was my cue to awaken his brother and tell them that their father was dead.

There was the police interview, funeral, shiva, many meals. It’s all a blur, with the exception of the vivid image of my 9-year-old donning his father’s tallit and tefilin every morning during shiva.

“How are you doing?” people ask. “How are the kids doing?” I never know how to answer. It has taken a community to help us in our process of healing, recovery and growth. But recovering is exactly what we’re doing. I write this as Matt’s one-year yahrtzeit approaches. I’m vacationing at a lake with my boys and Sheila, my “eight-week friend.”

I met Sheila at Annie’s Hope, a family bereavement center in St. Louis.

After Matt’s suicide, my boys and I attended an eight-week bereavement group. The boys were in a group with other kids their age; I was in a group with others who lost someone to suicide. Sheila and I bonded immediately. She refers to me as her “suicide sister.” I marvel at our friendship, two women — one Jewish and one Christian — who seemingly would have nothing else in common, have so much in common. Our discussion today at the lake centers on why I had to bring my own meat and what exactly does “kosher” mean. Thanks to my Ramaz education, I could explain this to her.

Between my shul, my children’s day school, and my professional community, I have never felt alone in this nightmare. I grew up in Queens and moved to St. Louis 18 years ago. My family still resides in New York. People have asked me, “Are you moving back?” The thought never crossed my mind. My community, my support network, is here in St. Louis. Meals came to my house for months. Nine months later, I still have meals in my freezer. People volunteered to babysit, take my kids for play dates and run errands. The emotional support offered to me was beyond what I expected. I am a psychologist and therefore many of my friends are psychologists and psychiatrists. I joke that I have “friends with benefits.” Rabbi Gordon was yet another source of tremendous emotional support and comfort.

But there are bad days, full of sadness, grief, trauma, loneliness, anxiety, and anger. There are the intense emotions of missing Matt. There are times when I can have empathy and compassion for him that he was so miserable, that suicide was the only option he felt he had. There are times when I am enraged at him and times when I have immense anxiety about being a single mother.  

Therapy has been crucial in our recovery. Three times a week, I drive to opposite ends of town, so that the boys and I each have a chance to talk to a professional about the normal emotions we experience. People ask, “How much longer are the boys going to be in therapy?” My reply: “Forever.”

As the holidays and Matt’s yahrtzeit approach, I ponder our healing and recovery. My boys are fast asleep from a day of swimming and boating with Sheila’s son. My family and friends tell me that they are amazed by how well we’re doing. Are there bad days? Absolutely. But they’re interspersed with good ones and ever-emerging feelings of hope. 

Anat Reschke is a psychologist in private practice in St. Louis.   

Last Update:

07/10/2014 - 03:51

Comments

Thank you Anat for sharing this story,
I found my foster sister after she committed suicide and I myself have struggled with suicidal ideation since I was four years old.

It is so great to hear that brave people like you exist in this world who are willing to raise awareness among the Jewish community. I have long felt ostracized by my shul to the point that I stopped following halochot and now stay far away from the Jewish community. I hope one day that more awareness will be raised.
Thank you,
B'z Hashem you and your children find long lasting happiness.

"Even Jewish people can be in its grip"? That's quite an ignorant statement from someone who is a psychologist. And to think that you would have nothing in common with another person just because you follow different religions is another ignorant statement, especially coming from a psychologist. Also, you don't seem to know much about what "friends with benefits" means -- it means that you are having a sexual relationship with that person. Finally, I find your reference to your "Ramaz education" to be a bit self-serving. It's quite sad that you find the need to show off about where you went to high school in an article that is supposed to be about a serious subject. And Ramaz forgot to teach you that you don't put a comma after an exclamation point.

There's nothing ignorant about it, she's merely saying that this ailment exists in the Jewish community, which tends not to acknowledge it or publicize it very much. There's nothing remotely arrogant/pompous/conceited in any of her statements. How dare you bring your disgusting bile and hatred to this forum, discussing this type of matter.

You are a disgrace.

She clearly was speaking to an audience that may not be so aware of the prevalence among the Jewish community. Her statement about commonality between her and the Christian woman was showing how two different cultures can suffer and experience tragedy in such a similar way. Clearly she understands what "friends with benefits" are because she stated that she jokes about this. Her speaking of her Ramaz education was not said in a boisterous or show-off way, rather it was said to simplify the statement as to how she could explain her keshrut practices--this also helps the reader understand her upbringing and culture a bit better. Ridiculing an incredibly small grammatical error only points to your character, low self-esteem, and need to belittle others in their time of grief.

Why would you assume the worst of what Anat says? She bares her heart to us and you think she's being elitist. Also, you don't seem to know much about using a trendy phrase in a singular way. You focus on the vernacular, while she seems to mean that her friends can be even more therapeutic than the best of untrained friends tend to be. I hope that someone as critical as you seem to be never experiences the heartbreak of a family member taking their own life, as many of us have; we learn to be compassionate about the person who brought such personal violence into our lives, as well as about ourselves and all the other silently suffering beings we may encounter. Peace and love.

She is being elitist by referring to her Ramaz education and the fact that she didn't think that Jewish people could have mental illness or get along with non-Jewish people. That is elitist no matter how you slice it. And I do know about the phrase "friends with benefits" -- today it means only one thing and that is that you are having sex with someone who is just a friend. Phrases evolve, as this one did. I am not being critical -- I am seeing this article as it is.

Anat, thank you so much for sharing your story. My younger brother (22) shot himself two years ago and in the aftermath I realized what a problem suicide is in the Jewish community but how it is so stigmatized and ignored. Although my family found much support in our community, there are also too many who have stayed silent, letting the "suicide elephant" sit beside them during shiva. The more people that talk about it, hopefully the less stigma there will be. I share my story as often as I can, and I think you for sharing yours.

My 48 year old younger brother committed suicide yesterday.
Our hearts are broken. He was Ill with crones disease, another really bad stomach illness which I can't spell, he had severe back problems, & a wife that was a witch that drove him crazy for 30 years but he wasn't strong enough to leave. He felt that he would never be able to have a peaceful life because of her. He has a 25 year old daughter with a great career. He also has a 15 year old daughter that is like her mother and shows him no respect. His wife has this kid so brainwashed against my brother who is a hard working , fun loving man that loved all of his family equally and he had so much love for everyone that he met. Everyone loved and adored him.
But when it came to his wife he was weak and never stood up to her, she was so mean and nasty to him. He worked 3 jobs and he was a professional that earned good money but she was never satisfied.
He went to a motel rented a room and 13 hours later he took enough pills to kill a horse, slit his wrist and shot himself in the head just as the police entered the room to try and stop him before he hurt himself. It took us 2 1/2 hours until the police located him from the Ping of his cell phone that we were texted him to please don't hurt yourself we love you we need you. We can help you make things better but this was the day that something must have snapped and pushed him over the edge( I can be sure his wife was to blame). We couldn't stop him. I guess he thought this was his only way to get away from her and the misery that she causes him. It's so sad, overwhelming and a million times why, why,why. We are devastated that he left us. He knew how much pain he was putting us through. But I imagine that he had to do this to help himself. Our lives will never be the same, he is gone and took a piece of my heart with him. I don't hate him nor am I mad at him I just need to know why
RIP baby brother I love you forever.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Thank you for writing thisarticle. My very dear friend found her husband of 18 years shot to death in their backyard. She was with her 9 year old son. The horror and devistation that surrounded them hasbeen surreal. I try to be as supportive as I can but I never feel that I am doing enough or doing it right. Myfriend has accepted some counseling but not her little boy. Even though he breaks down and cries he insisted he is fine. How can a 9 year old boy who has seen his father shot to death be fine?
My friend is not Jewish and has no faith or church or pastor or G-d to help her through this. I dont know what more I can do. If I cant be there for her ( I myself have been ill and gone through som surgery) I feel so guilty and when I dont feel guilty I feel guilty that I am not guilty. What can I do? How do I help someone who has no faith get through this horrible stage. Is there anything you can offer to me. I only know how to get through a Jewish situation and I dont want to invade her space.
If you could write me back I would greatfully apprciate any assistance
Thank you
KAren

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