I met my husband when I was 12 and we married at 19. I fell in love with him as soon as I saw him. Shortly after we married and I was pregnant with our first child, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. It was a rough time having my first child alone.
He returned home from the war and we built a life together and had two more children. Life was good and we were happy.
When my husband was in his mid-30s his behavior started changing. I didn't understand at first what was happening but his behavior over time became more erratic and paranoid. I didn't know at that time we were losing him to mental illness. Because of this, we eventually divorced. Some years later he was hospitalized and was diagnosed as being paranoid schizophrenic.
After the divorce I was a single mother of three; and hadn't worked our entire marriage. I didn't know what to do, but I got a full-time job and put myself through college at night. Life went on.
In 1993 shortly after my husband was released from the hospital he took his own life. He was 44.
As my son approached his early 20s he began to display erratic behavior as well. We knew something was wrong. We tried counseling, but out of nowhere he decided to move to another state. I didn't know where he was and had no way to reach him. I kept waiting for the phone to ring.
In 1994 the phone rang. I had lost my beautiful 21-year-old son Daniel to suicide.
Two suicides in one year. Devastating to say the least. But I knew that no matter how deep my grief I had to get my two other children through this. My daughter had just started her senior year of high school and I knew I had to be strong to get her through graduation. My 23-year-old son was living out of state. He moved back home after the deaths.
When their brother died the three of us cocooned in our little condo for three months. We laughed, we cried, we hurt and slowly life moved on. Being a single mother I had to compose myself and go back to work. It wasn't easy. Suicide is a hard one; people don't know what to say so they say nothing. I kept my grief close and didn't talk much about it.
Years later I heard on the radio about a walk called "Out of the Darkness" to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental illness. They were walking that particular year in San Francisco. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was a 20-mile walk that started at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge at dusk, walking the city streets all night and coming in at dawn "out of the darkness".
My daughter and I participated while she was very early into her first pregnancy. The walk was especially poignant as her dad took his life off of the Golden Gate Bridge. The walk changed my life. People shared, they cried, they ached. We shared it with those who could truly understand. I could finally talk about what happened. The enormous guilt I felt dissipated.
I have since participated in two more walks. Each one as moving as the first.
What did I learn from this tragedy? I became a much more empathic and compassionate person. I laugh a lot, I am grateful. I never say "why me?".
If someone experiences a loss I offer to help immediately. I bring food, offer an ear, whatever I can do without being intrusive. I don't judge anyone. No one knows what each of us suffers.
I listen, I surround myself with people I care about and who care about me. My children and I share our story. With us it's 'what you see is what you get'.
I have a very loving and supportive family who helped us get through our loss.
I have four amazing grandchildren and my two children have grown into compassionate adults that make me proud every day.
This was not the life I planned but it was the life I was given.