Real Life: Author Amanda Howard shares her heart breaking story of a family left behind after suicide.
SHE IS A POPULAR AUTHOR OF MORE THAN A DOZEN TRUE CRIME BOOKS, A REGULAR GUEST ON TV - AND HAS A DEGREE IN CRIMINOLOGY AND PSYCHOLOGY. BUT LAST YEAR, AMANDA HOWARD’S DREAM LIFE TOOK A SUDDEN - AND CATASTROPHIC TURN, WHEN HER HUSBAND TOOK HIS OWN LIFE. ON THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF R U OK DAY, SHE SHARES HER HEART BREAKING STORY EXCLUSIVELY WITH MOSMAN COLLECTIVE.
By AMANDA HOWARD.
Even doing the groceries, I used to agonise over an outfit. I just had to look just right, proving to the outside world that I had it all together. And actually, I thought I did. In fact, quite easily I could say that I had it all!
My life was crazy busy, a haze of full-time work, writing, book events, television segments - and of course being a mum and a wife.
I was one of those women whose social media feed proved how great everything was. I would photograph mundane events, purely because I was blessed to have an amazing life.
I guess you’ve noticed the past tense I have used here. I HAD an amazing life.
Now, even grocery shopping is done in a fog of tears and torture.
Right now, even changing clothes is pretty much non-existent. I am currently rotating two outfits that feel safe and comforting. What to wear is just a decision I can’t make at the moment.
Why? I hear you ask.
I can imagine the judgments already, with your own inner dialogue considering what could possibly be so bad in my life that it requires me to wear just two outfits, and then cry whilst doing the grocery shopping?
I lost my husband to suicide on June 30.
There was no warning. No clues. No reason. And, most heartbreakingly, no answers.
Steve was 42; successful, intelligent - and I also thought he was happy.
I was the one who found him. There, at that moment, my life - a perfectly balanced construct of family and success - stopped.
Suicide shockingly, is the leading cause of death in males aged 15 to 45.
We all see the incessant posts on social media, “someone is always listening”, “call this help line or that helpline”.
It all means nothing to me now.
I was always listening, but unfortunately Steve wasn’t talking.
"we were successful. we were blessed. we were in love"
We were no strangers to this silent epidemic. A few years ago, a family member lost her husband in this way - and earlier in the year, a schoolmate did the same thing.
Steve and I had conversations about both these tragic events and we made our own judgements, using those common key words; “selfish”, “coward”, “family left behind”.
I thought we were rock solid. I didn't ever anticipate that either of us could ever contemplate such a thing. After all, we were so busy. We were successful. We were blessed. We were in love.
The week before Steve died, we'd actually sat down together and spoken about having finally ‘made it’, through all the hardships of money, raising a family and working long hours. It was supposed to be smooth sailing ahead - and we were looking forward to spending the best years of our lives together. Forever.
Now my husband is gone.
I can't tell you how hard that sentence is to write.
When someone asks, my usual response is, “I lost my husband suddenly and unexpectedly” which then brings in itself more judgments and questions.
I get looked at with pity - and the word “sorry’ is used so often. I guess if roles were reversed, I’d say the same thing, but inside I scream "sorry won’t bring him back".
I’ve only managed to do the groceries twice since Steve died, purely because I need to make sure that our children still have food to eat - but it has been another part of this devastating journey that's proven so hard to manage.
For twenty-three years, my husband and I (and later the children), did the groceries together.
It was something I hated doing and I would rush around the store, getting it done as quickly as possible. Grocery shopping was a drag – like doing the laundry or cleaning the kitchen. It was a task that needed to be done, a chore that nobody in our family liked doing. Well, no-one except my husband.
He was the shopper in our relationship. And he loved going to Woolies - and Coles - and Aldi. We used it as time to talk and connect, to chat about what we'd have for dinner, or which wine would accompany our meal. We often held hands and laughed when we bought certain things.
Our daughter and I would stand in front of the dishwasher tablets (something my husband had a fetish for), but nineteen bags under the sink were never enough - and Steve always managed to buy more. It was a funny family "in" joke for years - and now, I can’t even walk along that aisle.
My heart aches just thinking about Steve smiling and getting excited when his favourite detergent brands were on sale. But that was then.
Now, just trying to make it to the end of the laundry aisle is impossible without crying - and not just those silent, dignified tears that quietly slip from your eyes, but deep, sobbing, guttural groans that bring startled looks from other shoppers.
What are they thinking? I have no idea, but when they see me cry, most rush past and avoid me for the rest of their shopping experience. I guess to them, I'm just the crazy lady who cries while doing the groceries.
I understand it must be confronting to see someone completely lose it over dishwashing tablets - or baked beans - or grated cheese, but the pain is so raw, so real - that I cannot stop it.
These simple, everyday, menial tasks like supermarket shopping, are moments I took for granted.
But despite my own grief and pain, I have changed the way I see others. Sitting with my daughter in the shopping centre last week, I watched as two women reached out and held each other. But it wasn't the grasp of a greeting or a farewell; it was an embrace of love - an attempt to ease the pain of one woman, by the other.
I smiled at the woman offering the hug. I wanted her to know that I understood her friend’s pain, and that her warm embrace was a good thing, even in the middle of a mall. I saw love - and a desperate desire to connect and interact.
There are so many of us who are suffering, often in silence - and we judge too quickly and love less often. It is the reverse that this world needs.
Silent torment, chronic depression and catastrophic events like suicide will be a thing of the past, if we all put love first - and learn to do so without judgement.