Melissa Todd On the Awful, Ugly Aftermath of Suicide

My husband killed himself on New Year’s Eve 2015. I got home about 5 and found a note taped to the bannisters that read, Don’t go upstairs. Call the police.  And even though his instructions couldn’t have been clearer, and I knew exactly what they signified, I stood staring, unable to think what to do next. Eventually a neighbour passed and suggested I do as I was told. So I did. And heard my voice explain very calmly that my husband had a history of mental illness and I suspected he’d committed suicide. They told me not to go inside, but to wait on the pavement. I stood there shivering. Soon there were sirens. I’d never summoned sirens before. Two female police officers went upstairs and returned, looking grave, to tell me there was a man hanging in the hallway. They were very nice to me, I remember. They wanted me to identify the body, but I couldn’t. I rang my mum and asked her to do it. She’s less squeamish than me. She pushed past my husband’s swinging corpse to gaze at him, then shouted that he was a bastard. Thus I learnt I was a widow, aged 39. 

Bastard corpse identified, I wasn’t allowed to return to my house. It was a crime scene now. I sat in the police car watching as they worked their way through all the rooms, looking for evidence of foul play. They asked if I wanted his wedding ring or watch removed from his person. I retched at the thought. Everything he’d ever touched seemed suddenly contaminated, loathsome.  We’d been together fourteen years. Raised a child together. That’s a lot of memories to want eviscerated.

I went back to my mum’s house to give a statement. Where I’d been at the time of the incident, how the day had unfolded. They were nice as could be but I still felt accused. We’d had a row earlier. I’d left the house angry and resentful. What kind of wife does that? What kind of wife goes to work simmering over some petty nonsense I could barely remember, while her husband sits home, tying a noose? 

I went back home next day. I found his slippers by my bathroom scales. He must have done some calculation as to angles and whether the bannister could take his weight, which astonished me: he was lousy at maths on the best of days. He’d had a beer and a mince pie, and the newspaper he’d been reading lay open on the table. It looked so normal. There was a Christmas tree in the corner of the room, cards on the mantelpiece, and the rope he’d used lying on the side, as if I might want to keep it for a souvenir. I threw it into a bin liner, shuddering. Then the beer bottle, then the slippers, his favourite snacks he’d bought for a special Christmas treat: the idea they’d outlasted him abhorrent. The pants and socks he’d bought on Boxing Day, still in their packaging. His wallet. Is there anything more personal than a wallet, the leather worn thin from his repeated touch? His British library card inside. He’d been so proud of that. I couldn’t bear to look at it. I drove ten miles to find a bin that felt far enough away from me. 

After that I went home to email everyone that needed to know. The writer in me wanted to send a tidy, coherent narrative. I explained he’d been unhappy since his parents died,  that we weren’t getting on, that we’d just bought a new business, he was struggling to cope with the stress of that. That sounded plausible, but I’d no idea if it was true. I didn’t understand anything, and now I never would.

When I’d finished that, I had to go to the airport to collect my 14 year old son and tell him what had happened. On that two hour drive I went through every emotion, round and round, violent, overwhelming grief, elation, despair, longing, fury. Fury felt best. I settled on that. 

For months after his death I sent him texts. You know the first person you think to text whenever anything happens? For me, for years, it had always been him. Now the biggest thing ever had happened and I had no one to talk to about it. Adam was a clever, insightful man, his natural wit sharpened by years of therapy, and his death made me yearn for him as I’d never before yearned. So I would send angry little messages. If only he’d received them, he’d have seen the yearning under the rage, and comforted me. He’d have known what to say. He always did. “Another night spent wondering how long it took you to die, inches from our bed. Cheers for that, prick.” Or, “Boiler’s on the blink again. No, don’t worry, I’ll sort it, you just carry on being dead. In fact I’ll just take care of everything, shall I, forever?”

People don’t care for angry widows. I was scolded for my rage. I should be weeping daintily into a lace-trimmed handkerchief, not hurling abuse at my dead husband. But angry was how I felt. I went to close his bank account – there’s a lot of admin attached to death, I wasn’t prepared for that either – and glowered at the teller, daring her to sympathise. She murmured that new year’s eve was a rotten day to die: I screamed it was a sight worse for me than him, since all the holidays made sorting his affairs insufferably inconvenient. Poor lady. She filled out the forms in silence after that. 

I wanted his stuff gone. Everything he’d ever touched seemed suddenly vile. I gave away everything I could, then drove back and forth to the tip all day long. Birthday cards he’d sent me, our wedding photographs. It all got dumped. The sight of his handwriting made me apoplectic. I wanted him not to be dead chiefly so I could smash his face in. 

It was me I was angry at, of course. How could I not have guessed what was on his mind? How could I have left the house that day? Why was my love not enough? Why did death seem preferable to a life with me? What kind of monster was I? I smirked sarcastically at whispered sympathy. I wanted to die too. No, death was too easy. I wanted never to have been born. Instead I welcomed the prospect of decades of suffering, stretching ahead of me, dull and unchanging. It was all I deserved. 

It was six months before I could read a book or listen to music. I couldn’t bear to be made to think or feel. I worked, all I could, and when I went home I drank until I fell asleep. During our fourteen year relationship I’d forgotten how to put air in the tyres, fix the printer. These were his jobs. Everything was my job now. I had to relearn how to change a lightbulb.  

 I developed a peculiar rash, my skin covered in weird pus filled lumps, so it hurt when I peed or spoke or swallowed. Thanks a lot, God. Yeah, like I’m not suffering enough. People kept telling me to get therapy: I laughed in their stupid faces. Yeah, much good that had done Adam. I wanted to hurt. I wallowed in my grief like a pig in its own filth. Nothing was allowed to distract me from it.

Eighteen months later I moved house and married a man as unlike Adam as I could find, happy go lucky, sociable, sunny-tempered, not the least bit tortured. It worked. I’m happy now. My son is happy too. Took a while, but we got there. I stopped being angry, then sorrow struck in earnest. I miss him every day. I miss his brutal wit, the way he could fix anything, the way he could instantly make me feel better. But mostly I miss the happy innocent self I inhabited before he died.

I’m so sorry he’s gone. It feels safe to say it now. I will always blame myself. And I will always miss him. 

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