“All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us.” ~ Richard Rohr
Two and a half years ago, the love of my life was lost to this world. I had said goodnight to my husband one Friday evening after a long week at work. He didn’t seem happy the few hours prior. However, this depression had been going on for quite some time, and I tried everything I knew to help. I couldn’t change any of the life events he suffered. I was working on my own acceptance of the situation and prayed that he could find peace for himself.
Later that night he came into our bedroom to check if I was sleeping.
His gun was in the hallway, loaded and ready to carry out his idea that we both pass on from this life together. I wasn’t asleep though and was startled. Surprised I wasn’t asleep, he rushed out to get the weapon. There was a loud snap of the clip as it pushed into the handgun and I screamed with anticipation of what would come next. He rushed in breathless and frenzied. “I’m going to put one bullet in your head and two in your chest he huffed.” He was a crazy person. No one I had ever seen in the twenty years we knew each other. We later found evidence that painkillers and vodka filled his body that night.
What pursued for the next forty-five minutes was a frantic fight for my life.
We wrestled a bit on the bed until I got away and ran through the house to our crowded garage. We pushed against a door on the way, and then I made it to the car which was crammed inside the garage, boxes all around it. As I jumped into the driver’s seat, he tried smashing the window then aimed his gun. I leaped to the other side and out the right side of the car. All this time I screamed at him not to do this and shouted loudly the Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer alternately. He shot once and missed. He tried to aim under the car and could not maneuver a good shot. I moved as much as possible. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he gave up on shooting me and announced that he was going upstairs to turn the gun on himself. I wanted desperately to move to his side of the garage and persuade him otherwise. But in the end, I knew I had to let go and stay safe. After just a few minutes, I heard the single shot that ended his life.
How do you feel about what happened?
The feelings I have today about this tragedy in my life are twofold. First of all, it deeply saddens me to have lost this man and our beautiful dreams. It took almost a year before I even knew what to do next. Shock lingered for such a long time. Oddly enough, though, my second feeling is a relief for him and the immense pain he felt and guilt he acquired for thinking that he had ruined those dreams. Truthfully, I have relief for myself as well, that the agony has finally come to an end. This was not the end I had longed for, but that is part of my lesson. Life will not always be what I want it to be. That’s why enjoying what I do have is so vital to me today.
How does this experience affect you?
I think these feelings and this experience have given me an amazing insight to the real joys that await me in this world while simultaneously helping me to see that I cannot change people or things. I can choose to love people and accept things if peace is what I want (and it is!) My family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances have become so very precious to me. I have a renewed viewpoint of the sacredness of life and my participation in it. I take absolutely nothing for granted.
What is your part or participation in this experience?
My part in the tragedy was probably not getting out of harm’s way sooner. I knew he had a gun, but I ignored the danger. I decided not to put any of my friends in danger by going to them in fear. I was hoping this would just all go away. Today, I realize my responsibility is to take action in being as safe as possible. I do not blame myself for what he did that night, but from that day forward, I have taken precautions to stay safe and also to address signs of depression around me if they ever arise. While I know that each of us is responsible for ourselves, I understand much more the severity of the consequences of this illness.
What are you learning about yourself, others, and the experience?
I have learned that I had unrealistic ideas about life and relationships in the past. Somehow I felt that by being good and kind I could help to heal others. I am slowly changing my thoughts and I am more accepting of the things that can happen in life. I can see that it’s important to be true to myself while allowing others the dignity of their own choices. I still choose kindness, but I have included myself in the mix as well.
How are you working with this difficulty?
I choose not to be a victim. I choose to believe I was part of the tapestry of human suffering. In this case, it was the suffering that comes with untreated depression and addiction. I loved someone trapped in that web. As I repeated my prayers loudly that night as part of my plea, he finally whispered “shhh” several times. I know that he loved God, and prayers were distracting him from the nightmare. Sadly, he had forgotten that God loved him too.
I hope that sharing my experience helps others. I want to give support to anyone who believes they are responsible for other people’s self-destructive actions. I experienced a severely depressed person pushing me away, and sometimes even deceiving me into thinking he is okay when he was really feeling desperate. If recognized and acknowledged, there is help for people suffering from depression and suicide. As a person left behind, I want to give encouragement to anyone who believes that such tragic circumstances bring an end to hope.
I still carry the experience in my heart. I take it out when somehow I know it will help someone else. Each day I wake I live anew and welcome more friends and experiences with so much appreciation. I am in no way stuck in the past, but this experience has forever changed me. Gone are the days of petty worries. Even the big stuff (retirement, relocation, health issues, loss of loved ones, etc.) is met with clear understanding, that this is my life for now. My strength continues to prevail because walking through pain is the only way I can endure it.
I do not live in the shadow of this tragedy. I am re-building a life that honors and allows me the opportunity to love and serve others in thanksgiving for more time on this earth to do so.
How are you using what you’re learning from this difficulty?
As I am able to gaze into the eyes of each of my beautiful five grandchildren, I see the moment of love that spared my life so that I can witness them growing up. For me, it feels as though life is just beginning, with roads leading in endless possible directions.
Sue M. Washington. The United States.