“When I read or hear people try to dismiss mental health as if everything is a ‘choice’ or ‘you should just BE happy’, my heart breaks even more than it has before. Just because that may be your mentality on life, that the good will always outweigh the bad, where the smiles and laughs and zest come easily, it isn’t fair to assume that everyone else should naturally feel that way too.
I didn’t understand Tom’s battle at the time. We were so happy, trying to have a baby, talking marriage, his sons wanted me to be their step mom. We were SO in love, like a deeply-attached, nothing-else-in-life-mattered kind of love, the kind you wish for. But depression doesn’t care about your plans. It has its own agenda, creeping up to ruin anything you have going on. I wasn’t prepared for his battle. I offered everything I felt I could, until I couldn’t offer anymore. He hated me for leaving him. I hated that he destroyed us. But most of all, I hated that he couldn’t JUST. BE. HAPPY. I was so saddened by our outcome. Saddened that he saw darkness over light. Saddened that I wasn’t his saving grace. Saddened that I had to walk away from our future.
A month later, I got the call I’ll never forget, the call that shattered my world to pieces. ‘Tom overdosed last night. They think it was accidental… pills and vodka.’ I kept repeating, ‘What am I supposed to do? What do I do now?’ I’d never felt so lost in my life. There’s no guidebook on how to handle death. You have to learn it all on your own, and that was how my journey with grief began.
I remember in the beginning, and as years passed, just feeling like I was floating along in life, on my own little boat with nothing around but an ocean of sadness. Everything on the surface was always happy and calm, because why would I burden someone else with my troubles? But I had never gotten my closure. I was still in love with a man who was gone forever, dead, and my heart didn’t understand what to do with that. It was broken and couldn’t seem to be fixed. Grieving in solitude was my norm and I preferred it that way. It became a routine where I’d rush home to write to him. I had to let him know I remembered everything about us and how much I loved and missed him. I used every excuse to feel him with me. The lamp that started blinking rapidly in my room? That was Tom. Songs on the radio? A sign from Tom. Sunflowers or a butterfly- Tom. I was so desperate to still feel a connection. I was obsessed with trying to keep our love alive, because what would I do without it?
The ebbs and flows of grief are endless when you lose someone, varying in intensity. It would mostly be bearable, but it wouldn’t take long before staying afloat was a struggle. I’d fall asleep crying and would have dreams where he just held me as I wept, without words, and that was all I needed. The only person who could comfort me was the one who left, and I felt most secure when I could feel him with me. In my lowest moment, I had hoped I would just die so I could be with him and not have to feel sadness and guilt anymore. The pain was overwhelming.
I then had a dream where he sat at the edge of my bed and he shook my leg until I woke. He apologized with his head slumped in sadness, saying he had to go but I had to stay. I then watched him walk out of my room and all I felt was empty. But I understood. I woke up crying because I knew he was gone, and that I had to stay strong and try to move on with my life because it’s what he would’ve wanted.
I had been so numb after his death. I told myself I wouldn’t be able to love again for a long time and I reserved my feelings when dating. I’d say, ‘Maybe someday I’ll find a person- someone who can live with me with the loss of you… but not now’. No relationship ever lasted, all according to my plan. It was easier to stay alone and float along with my guarded heart. Tom needed to know I still loved him. He needed to know he was my keeper. He needed to know I wasn’t going anywhere.
But then my daughter happened, and I didn’t feel so heartbroken anymore. Her father and I slowly fell in love, and I didn’t feel the need to push him away… our family happened, and I didn’t feel guilty for being happy anymore.
Here I am, a decade after tragedy, with a man who’s beyond understanding of my journey- a guy who knows how meaningful sunflowers are to me, who says, ‘Hey Tom!’ when a monarch butterfly joins us on our walks. I have a beautiful child who lifts my spirits in more ways than anyone could ever possibly imagine, like life knew how much I needed her in it, my best friend and truest soulmate.
This day has always been the most special to me, not because I’m sad remembering how Tom died, but because I can reflect on how far I’ve come since his passing. I can only be reassured that my guardian angel is looking down on me and is proud of where I am and who I’ve become.
I will forever cherish you for your impact on my life story, from helping me pick apart the pieces to weaving them back together.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Breeze Woodward, 31, of California. Follow her on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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