A little over three years ago on June 6, 2017, I lost my husband, the father of our kids, and undoubtedly one of the most selfless people I have ever known. Tony was smart, witty, and had a dry sense of humor. He constantly had us laughing with his one liners and his quick comebacks.
Tony had what I liked to call a quiet presence. He was the guy in the room sitting and observing. We would often have get togethers at our house, and he would be the one making sure everyone had what they needed...and then would just sit back and enjoy others enjoying themselves. You didn’t always know he was there, but his actions spoke loud and clear.
He was a devoted father. He spent countless hours taking kids to practices, games, and competitions. He liked to call our house “Chaos Central” because there was always something going on-he never complained about it. He was fiercely protective of his family. He loved us with everything he had.
For a couple of years before Tony died, he struggled with a variety of health issues. His diabetes worsened, and it caused a condition caused gastroparesis. In short, his stomach wouldn’t digest food properly. Anyone who knew Tony knew he loved to eat. The treatments for gastroparesis had significant side effects, so he opted not to do them long term. He lost quite a bit of weight. His diabetes worsened and caused him dental issues, and the combination of that with his stomach issues made him quite miserable. He was still working without complaint, but he just didn’t feel well on a regular basis. He talked to his doctor, tried a variety of medications, but nothing long term.
Looking back, over the six months prior to his death, I could tell he was unhappy. I never imagined he was feeling the way he did, and we had multiple conversations where I said “You can talk to me. I’m not going to judge you. I can tell you’re struggling, just talk to me.” Today I think about those conversations and there was never any indication that he was considering harming himself. He was working full time as a successful systems administrator and taking part in the kids’ activities. He was fixing dinner for us, taking part in family events, and generally going about life “as normal”.
The weekend before he died, he helped a family member move furniture. He had made a friendly bet with a coworker about the Stanley Cup playoffs. The morning he died, he talked to our boys about dinner that night. He dropped them off at summer camp and went to work. Somewhere around lunchtime, he left work, went home, and succumbed to his thoughts of suicide. Prior to this, he had not mentioned suicide, not acknowledged depression, and had never given any indication that he was even close to that. We had multiple conversations, but there was never a time where he admitted he was struggling. I knew he was struggling somewhat, but he never let on that it was as bad as it was. To this day, I feel like he didn’t want to burden anyone.
I’ve thought long and hard about what we could have done differently. The answer is not simple. I could have pushed for him to talk to someone, but I don’t think he would have. He never really even acknowledged his struggles to me, and we talked about everything.
Hindsight is 20/20. I think a lot of “what if’s”, but in the three years since his passing, I’ve learned those “what if’s” will consume you if you let them. They lie to us and make those of us left behind feel guilty for something that we were blindsided by.
When Tony passed, a part of us passed with him. I don’t think you can lose someone in this manner and be the same. We refuse to give up, but we are not the same people we were on June 5, 2017. My children had to grow up faster than they should have, especially my older two. My youngest has very few memories of his dad, as he was only 6 when Tony died. My older two were 17 and 10 when he died. We have all had a rough three years trying to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense. Tony was the most logical and rational person I knew. This was totally out of character for him. He loved us. I can only believe that his pain was so intense that he was blindsided by it, and could not see past it.
If losing Tony was hard, the new normal after losing him is just as hard. Friends, family, and coworkers don’t know how to interact with you, and a lot of times they drop off because of that. You lose people in your life that you never imagined losing. It’s not negativity towards those people, it’s just a statement of fact. The beautiful trauma in that is you also find people who you may never have crossed paths with, and who have similar experiences. You find your new tribe. Life looks different now, but I definitely breathe deeper, smile more, love harder, and appreciate every opportunity for happiness I can grab. I am quicker to show grace to the people in my life, and my kids have a sense of compassion they did not have before.
I do believe we have to find a way to normalize mental health concerns, specifically suicidal thoughts as well as depression and anxiety so intense that it’s uncontrollable. We have to find a way to make it okay for people to not be okay. It’s more than just a slogan for mental health-it’s a mantra we need to live by.
Tony is not defined by his death. I don’t consider his death a choice. To him, it wasn’t. He was trying to relieve his uncontrollable pain, and he could not share that pain with anyone, even those closest to him. That is the real tragedy-the world lost a good man because he didn’t feel like he could ask for help.
- Kristin Dillard