In the Bleak Midwinter, Long Ago

snowy road

One year ago tonight I spent my last night with Tony.  I didn’t know that, of course.  How could I?  He didn’t tell me, but I’m sure he knew.  I’m sure he knew because the two weeks preceding his last day were awful in so many ways, most of which I could only understand after he had died.

I haven’t written about this here before, but the day that Tony chose to end his life was one that he picked, I believe, close to a year before he actually did it.  I remember on New Year’s Eve, 2012, he said to me that the world was going to end on December 21st.  The movie 2012 had come out late in 2011, and was about the Mayan calendar.  When Tony said that to me, as he did many times over the course of 2012, I thought it was just because he was fascinated by the subject.  We had a screenplay idea that involved the leader of a doomsday cult, and we had talked about that subject quite a lot.  I didn’t think anything of it; but he did mention it frequently enough that I started to get impatient with him.  It seemed like an excuse for letting things go, not trying as hard to be happy, because hey, the world was going to end anyway and why bother?

I don’t remember him talking about it in the few weeks preceding his death.  What I remember is that he came into my hospital room right before I was going in for my back surgery, and told me that he wanted to separate.   I was on a very strong painkiller called Dilaudid, so my reaction wasn’t as strong as it might otherwise have been.  Nevertheless, I was upset.  A lot of times being married to Tony was very hard work, but I loved him and he was my husband, my friend and my writing partner.  I knew he was sick, but that didn’t stop me from loving him.  I could tell when he came in that he was upset.  I asked him what was wrong, and I’ll admit, I pushed him a little.  I could always tell when he was in a dark place.  He told me, dumped that on me right before they came in to take me to the operating room; and then said, “Well, you asked me!” when I pointed out that it maybe wasn’t the kindest thing in the world to lay that on me right before surgery.

When I got home from the hospital, he didn’t mention it and I didn’t bring it up.  After a few days, he brought it up again.  What I believe now is that telling me that was his way of trying to prepare me for what he was going to do.  He did love me, though, the best way he could; so when I got upset and talked to him about working on the relationship, about getting help, he backed down.  Then he brought it up again after a few days.  Those weeks were so hard for me.  I knew something was wrong, but in spite of his depression it never occurred to me for a second that he was planning his own death.

The last conversation we had about separation happened two days before he died, a Wednesday.  We had a horrible fight.  I remember feeling so desolate, so upset, so shattered.  I was up all night, crying all night.  No amount of concealer could hide my swollen eyes and face.  My coworker Sheri took one look at me when she walked in, and asked me what was wrong.  I confided in her.  She was shocked, because her impression of Tony was one of a loving husband who came in to my office over and over again while my back was hurt to keep me company and sometimes, to sit at my desk and type emails that I dictated to him so I could lie on the floor in a slightly more comfortable position.  She told me she was sure we would work it out, we were such a great couple.  I wanted to believe her, but I was so scared. 

That night, the night of the big fight, Tony tried to give me his video camera, the one I had bought him for Christmas several years earlier.  I didn’t know then that giving away treasured possessions is one of the warning signs of impending suicide.  I was hurt that he didn’t want to keep it.  I refused to take it.  The last thing he tried to give me, and I turned him down.  I had no way of knowing, and there’s no point in wishing that I could go back in time and recognize that as what it was.  Even if I had, even if I had pushed him to get help, chances are good that he would have refused as he did all along, every time I suggested it.

Our last night together was a Thursday.  I had been sleeping in a zero gravity chair I had rented, but that night – in retrospect, it seems like a premonition – I wanted to sleep in the bed with Tony.  I couldn’t sleep on the inside, against the wall, where I usually did, because I had to do a barrel roll to get out of bed safely.  We switched sides – he on the inside, I on the outside.  Through our marriage, even when things were difficult, one of my favorite moments of every day was when we went to sleep and I would curl into his side, my head on his shoulder, inhaling that particular smell that was his alone. 

I reached for him that night.  He pulled away.  As if that would hold my heart together when his was no longer beating, that I didn’t have that one last time to hold him close and listen to his breath and smell him and feel his warmth.

I grieve, but I am still so angry at him.  I know he was sick.  I know that he was in the grip of depression, a disease that lies; and I know that he had other forms of mental illness, too, ones that were never and never will be diagnosed.  What I’ve discovered is that a lot of people, even those who have lost someone to suicide, don’t want to talk about the anger.  We’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead.  I don’t think of this as speaking ill of Tony.  What it is, is speaking truth about him; and he deserves that.  We all deserve it, because in the end, we are all just human.

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6 thoughts on “In the Bleak Midwinter, Long Ago

  1. You can be angry with someone you love. Heck, I think we get angriER at the people we love, because in addition to whatever expectations/wishes we have for their behavior, they’re supposed to love us back enough to take our feelings into account. And that’s an emotional response, not one that can be mitigated by understanding of things like mental illness.

    Anger is a normal and necessary step towards peace. I’m all for more peace and less anger, but unfortunately we don’t get to dictate how that path goes.

    Love you lots, lady. And I know Tony did too, as best he could, and you’re angry because it wasn’t enough. It’s not fair. I wish it had been.

  2. What if your anger allows someone else to begin their healing process? To know it’s okay to be angry. To BE angry?

    Thanks for your words today. I am so sorry that you even have this “anniversary” to endure. I hope you find some moments of peace today. All my love.

    • Thanks Kristin. If that happened, if my writing helped someone else to begin healing, that would be the greatest thing I could imagine coming out of my writing. xo

  3. I remember talking about this with you when we went out to dinner together. It’s ok to feel anger. It’s all a normal part of the grieving process. You are not dishonoring his memory or speaking ill of Tony when you express your anger. I sometimes feel angry with my dad for not telling me sooner how sick he was. I shake my fist in the air asking, “Why, Why did you keep that from me?” I could have gone back East sooner, spent more time with him, etc. But, it wasn’t meant to be. Don’t feel bad about being angry. Embrace it, feel it, walk through it so that eventually you will make peace with yourself. There was no way you could have known what was going to happen. You were a kind, supportive, loving wife and friend to Tony and he was lucky to have such an amazing woman like you in his life.

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