It’s been nearly one year now since Joe died, by suicide. Even speaking those three words and forming a sentence with them- since Joe died- is still hard to believe. It doesn’t seem real. I hope that my mind will one day acknowledge and accept that he is gone. Death by suicide comes with many unanswered questions, a lot of regrets, and of course, guilt.
Joe came to me approximately two weeks before he died and told me he had put a gun in his mouth. I was stunned at this admission, though I wasn’t in a frame of mind to fully receive it. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him, because I did. I knew he was telling me the truth- that he had put a gun in his mouth. But I couldn’t believe or accept that he meant it. That he would ever leave me and the life we’d work so hard to create together was beyond belief. There was so much to be grateful for. We were living life on our terms, up until Covid, or so I thought.
I knew he was suffering, but I was so close to it that I couldn’t see the severity of the situation. I was trying to figure out how to keep money coming in while we waited out the shutdowns and cancellations of all of our shows and keep him in as little stress as possible. Not only were our shows canceled, but there were also no wholesale orders because stores were closed. No fundraisers because schools, dance studios, all the things- were closed. That left online sales only-the one place we had not really applied any effort. Traveling to shows and meeting face-to-face with our customers is what we both enjoyed. That’s where our hearts were. Waiting out the quarantine and shutdowns with idle hands was something Joe had great difficulty with.
During that two weeks, from when he first told me about the gun until the day he died, there wasn’t a lot of talk of suicide. I thought we were making progress- Joe wanted so badly to be better- he “just wanted the pain to stop.” When he was up and down all night, that meant I was also up and down all night. The lack of sleep and the stress of everything happening in the world, combined with having to figure out a way to make money, was more than enough for anyone to deal with. Joe wanted to be better, and he did a good job of convincing me (and I think himself, too) that he was getting better. In order to help him calm his mind and to stay busy, he made a list of things “to-do.” Things that he felt he’d put off for too long that he now had time to work on. I know now, of course, that this was a list of items he didn’t want to leave me with- a “final” to-do list. Big projects that he was “responsible” for; building a new roof over the well-house, installing a new dryer vent in the crawl space, etc. I thought because he was DOING the things he had on his list meant that he WAS getting better- his idle hands were busy.
I’ve had more than one person tell me since Joe died that they wished they’d had the opportunity to at least “try” to talk to him, to help. I wish that too. I would give anything to be able to go back in time and do that. Maybe then we’d still have him, and I wouldn’t be bearing the responsibility of his decision on my shoulders, alone. But I didn’t ask for that help. Instead, I was honoring Joe’s wish of remaining silent- this was a private matter that we alone would work out, like everything else in our marriage. I made many phone calls in the last month of his life. I set up appointments only to cancel them at his refusal to go- before the date ever came. I drove him to the Hamilton Center in Terre Haute, just days before he died, seeking help, only to be turned away. That same morning we called the suicide hotline number that had been given to us by the receptionist at one of the doctor’s offices, but it wasn’t the national hotline number 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), it was a number that was not staffed 24/7 and closed when we called. I didn’t know that until much later- after Joe died. I did everything I knew to do.
There are many things I would change if I had it to do over again, but we don’t often get chances like that. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and help others see what those mistakes were, hoping that if they ever find themselves in a similar situation, they’ll be able to recognize it and make better choices.
I’m on the other side of it now, and my job is to heal. Focusing my attention in the best ways that I can on a worthy cause now helps others to heal, too.
All the firsts are the worst- that’s what everyone keeps telling me. I know getting through those “firsts” will not cause immediate healing (though I’m one-hundred percent open to that possibility.) I think more realistically that the grieving process will always be a part of who I am. It will change over time, but it’s now a part of me. June 26 will not mark the “end” of those firsts for me. Shows are once again happening, and I’ll be traveling to all the places to set up shop, this time without Joe. There are many customers, I’m sure, that will be hearing the news of his death for the first time. Joe was who they always came to see-waiting to hear a new joke about the Butt Naked candle or to talk about fishing and our traveling adventures. He always had a story to tell.
I also believe that as long as I’m trusting it’s God that’s guiding my every move, I’ll be OK. And even more than OK- I will thrive. I can both thrive and mourn simultaneously. To respect and embrace the mourning-to honor it just as I do the thriving. To feel the shittiness of the situation without bypassing the emotions that come with it while still moving forward, that’s how they can both exist together.
It would be nice if everything came wrapped in a neat little package with instructions, but life is more complicated than that. We don’t get to tell each other how to grieve. Grief is deeply personal, and everyone’s experience with it and through it is very different. Joe was my life. We woke up together, worked together, traveled together, brushed our teeth together, showered together, loved together- we were rarely one without the other. I lost my dad, and it was HARD! It was also a very different experience from losing my husband. I never imagined my love story ending how it did, and I will never stop sharing this journey. There are many layers, and Joe’s death was not necessary. The source of his pain was not his fault, and it’s time to call attention to this epidemic and help others get the support they so desperately seek.
I am forever grateful for the years we had together and the gifts he left me with, even in his last act on this earth—such compassion and love. I have never had any doubt that he believed he was doing this for me. In his state of mind, he couldn’t see how incredibly wrong he was.
We will be launching a candle on June 26th. This candle is dedicated to Joe’s memory and all who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse as a child. Though suicide was the ultimate cause of Joe’s death, the pain he suffered at the hands of his abuser is what caused his torment, leading to his suicide. All of the proceeds from the purchase of an UNBREAKABLE candle will be donated to the kNot Today Foundation to preserve the beauty and innocence of childhood through awareness, prevention, and restoration of children affected by sexual abuse, exploitation, or trafficking.
The money raised will help to print parent and caregiver guides. The guide is about the size of your pocket and can easily fit in your purse, pocket, or bag. It is a guide for parents and caregivers to ‘guide’ them through awareness and prevention strategies against sexual abuse, child exploitation, and trafficking. Stats are listed, talking points, red flags, watchwords, prevention strategies, and websites for help and support. To support this mission, please go here to be notified when the UNBREAKABLE candle is available.
I have had many private and candid conversations with customers, friends, strangers, and family since Joe’s death. Everyone is affected by this tabu subject, whether they know it or not. One is six men and one in three women. How are we not all affected?
Joe told me he saw “nothing good coming from sharing his story.” He was wrong. And I’m making it my purpose, my mission to prove it.
I will always love you Joe Beckley.
To your healing, and to mine.
xo, and peace.
by Kevin Caruso
The pejorative, disrespectful, and ignorant statements that we are assaulted with concerning suicide angels are in abundance…and are disquieting to cope with on a daily basis.
You’ve heard them many times, statements about suicide being “a sin,” “a crime,” “an act of self-murder,” etc. Well, let me address one more ignorant statement – that suicide is a “selfish” act.
Suicide is a desperate act by someone who is in intense pain and wants their pain to stop. That is a HUMAN response to extreme pain, not a selfish one. And over 90 percent of the people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death, so they are not thinking clearly.
Saying that a person who had severe clinical depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or a similar illness was engaging in an act of selfishness when they died by suicide – even though their thought process, mood, and judgment were greatly affected by their mental illness – is not only inaccurate, but downright cruel, to both the suicide angel and the suicide survivors.
And those who use the word “selfish” are merely helping perpetuate the STIGMA associated with suicide.
A suicidal action that manifests from intense, excruciating, unbearable pain associated with a serious mental illness has nothing to do with selfishness. Period.
If you or someone you know is suicidal, please go here for immediate help.