‘I Lost My Husband and Son Within 7 Months’
The pain of losing a child is unnatural and indescribable. There is a hole in your heart that will never close and never heal. I lost my son to suicide in August, 2017. But seven months later, I also lost my magnificent husband.
My son David was magnanimous, loving, caring and charismatic. His personality was larger than life. But his demons were overpowering. He believed he didn’t deserve our love, that he didn’t deserve happiness. I know he thought that we would all be better off without his struggles and his disappointments—however misguided that was. But he believed it and acted upon it.
David’s death was earth-shattering. There was so much pain and numbness. I kept thinking about how I had carried him for 9 months, I had felt his life inside me, and that had brought me a depth of love only a mother could know.
My husband Michael felt responsible, often lost in the feelings that he could have done more for his son. Our friends and family shared in our pain and felt the pain that we experienced. We were loved and cocooned. It wasn’t my loss, it was our loss.
Deaths of this nature can rip a marriage and a family apart, but David’s death did the opposite. My husband Michael and I were closer than ever, protecting each other, loving each other even more, if possible. Our daughter Elizabeth brought us so much joy and jumped in to attempt to fill the gaping hole in our family.
Susan Warner with her son, David. Warner lost her son to suicide in 2017.
And then we returned from a vacation and Michael was convinced his gallbladder was acting up again. Testing revealed a mass. Over the next eight weeks, I stepped into the role of cheerleader, guidance counselor, and caretaker. I tried to believe I could make Michael better and that we could get through this.
Often, as the sun dimmed at the end of the day, we would lie in bed together and tell stories to each other. He particularly loved to hear me tell stories. As we lay together, me in the crook of his shoulder, listening to his heartbeat, we would reminisce about our meeting, our early married life, the birth of the children, their accomplishments, and our love. It was the one place I felt safe, that the world would spare us, as long as I was enveloped in his arms.
We often spoke about what we meant to each other. We were going to grow old together, walk into the sunset together. We felt fulfilled in our love, but I felt robbed that our love story was ending too soon.
It was difficult and it was dark. But Michael was an optimist. And he hoped. Hope is a word I generally struggle with now. He did not think that death was as imminent as it was. But his decline was so rapid, and Micheal died eight weeks after his diagnosis.
I felt Michael was going to our son David, spiritually, and that brought me comfort. I always picture them together, loving, laughing, as souls travel in pairs. I have reconciled that Michael had to go to David to protect him, which is why he had to leave us, while I needed to stay and protect Elizabeth. I understand this force as a parent.
On March 18, 2018, as I prepared to bury my husband, I remember thinking: “Don’t ever utter, ‘things can’t get worse,’ because they can.” Over a thousand people attended Michael’s funeral. Shiva, our seven-day mourning period, was brutal, necessary and mind-numbing. I wanted to leave and go home, but this new life was my home. I felt completely enveloped by the situation, without an escape.
I am fortunate to have such a supportive family and friends. They were there for me, like a safety net—some stronger than others—and they held Elizabeth and me up. And that was real. My daughter stayed with me for about a week after Michael’s death until we mutually decided it was time for her to go home, resume work and for us to establish our new norms. It was time to move forward.
I don’t think I taught myself to cope, it seems innate. I lost my mother at a young age, and I coped. This experience set the foundation for moving forward. When the doctors delivered Michael’s grim prognosis in the hospital, I took a walk with Elizabeth. Of course we were devastated, clinging tight to one another through moans and tears. But I tried to explain in that corridor that we had another chapter to write, a right turn to make. This was not the end for us. As far as coping skills go, I knew I always wanted to live. I knew I was going to jump into the next chapter—hesitant or reluctant, I was going to jump.
There are still triggers and there is still pain. But I am making another chapter, a right turn. I’m moving forward with Michael and David on my shoulder. I recently went to our little bucolic cemetery in Sag Harbor, New York, where my men are buried. I cried; it was brutal. I miss them every day.
But there are new relationships to forge and new experiences to have. I have chosen to wake up ready to become a better version of me, most days. There is so much more of me to grow and discover. I have one shot at this life, and it is my overwhelming desire to give it everything I’ve got.
Susan Warner is a writer and host of the podcast Susan is Suddenly Single. Find out more at her website, susanswarner.com.