When I opened the garage door, I saw the grey motorcycle jacket hanging there. The sleeves extended as though Chris’ arms were still inside them. I unzipped the front, laid my head inside the jacket and breathed in as deeply as was possible.
We had broccoli to eat that night and Greek chicken. While we were at lunch, Chris asked if we could have dinner together. There was that weird twinkle, that strange energy that betrayed a simple dinner invite for something more, but I ignored it. I was pleased that Chris seemed interested in spending more time with the girls. I took it as a good sign. Over the course of our separation, it was exceedingly difficult to get him to agree to any set schedule. So it was a relief to know when the girls could see him. I was more than happy to host dinner.
Of course, Chris never showed up for dinner that night. The details that followed still feel to raw to share. Three years is not enough. I made the toughest phone calls I’ve ever made later that night. There are no words that soften that news.
The hardest thing I have ever had to do was tell the girls the next morning.
By the break of day my little house was full of people and coffee and tissues and love. So much love. My village rallied around me the way villages do when one of their own is down. I have never known such love and support as I knew in those blurry days that followed that horrible Sunday night. If we wanted casserole, it appeared, toilet paper, hugs, candy, cookies. I can never express how amazing my friends, friends of friends, teachers, family and strangers were for my girls and I. People really are at their best when things are at their worst.
On Tuesday morning, the second day after Chris died, I woke up from a restless sleep thinking about two things. I had a clear image of a photograph of the two of us in Times Square. It was a selfie we took on our tenth anniversary trip. We were happy. I knew Chris had kept it in a desk drawer in the living room. I felt an intense drive to get that picture. When I opened the desk drawer, taped to the back of that picture was Chris’ last note to me. He had written it that Sunday night, before he died. It was short, written in Chris’ characteristically neat print.
The second thing I woke up thinking was I had to call Chris’ girlfriend and invite her to the funeral. As well as I knew, they had broken up several weeks beforehand, but I knew she must be devastated too. So I called her and told her she was welcome and that she should have some time at the viewing. She loved him too and whatever complicated feelings I had about her and Chris, none of that mattered anymore.
I don’t blame Chris for committing suicide. I don’t consider it a selfish act. Chris was sick. He didn’t choose to kill himself because he was a quitter, he was standing in a painful fire and he needed to be at peace.
The year that followed was a tough one. The toughest year I had, the girls often slept in the bed with me. Sometimes all three of them and the dog too. I drank a lot and smoked a lot and hid a lot. I kept a cloak of fog around me.
But this is not a story of despair, this is a story of triumph. It is a tragic story of triumph, but still a story of triumph. Losing Chris, losing my husband, losing the father of my children and the person I once planned a lifetime with was devastating. That’s part of the reality. But the other part is I discovered my strength, my independence, my resolve to survive. My love for my girls and my admiration for their strength is endless. They are my super heroes everyday. Our bond as a family of four is undeniable, unbreakable and unstoppable. We are who we are because we have suffered deeply, not in spite of our suffering. We still cry, but we also laugh-a lot-and we love each other deeply. That is the gift Chris left us.