At approximately 11:15 a.m., my husband, Joe, the love of my life, the father of six children and friend to many, walked into the field behind our house, found a beautiful spot in the woods- right under a shade tree, in front of a giant white oak that had fallen some time ago, and killed himself.
He had been dealing with depression for years, though many never knew it. Some did, but not to the extent to which it had progressed. He hid his secret well, and I helped him to keep it hidden. Depression brought on from childhood trauma that haunted him; plagued him. Things he couldn’t forget and memories that were just too hard to bear. Lack of sleep- he hadn’t slept for weeks- not enough to speak of anyway. He was in a state of constant anxiety (fear of the future), and depression (living in the past).
In the weeks leading up to his death, he had become increasingly fragile over any information regarding the current state of affairs, COVID, riots, all of it. They were canceling the shows we had scheduled, businesses who bought our candles- closed, gymnastics studios, and schools- closed. Which meant three of our four sources of income were gone overnight. We had never focused our sales in the online space. We had a website, of course, but our focus was on traveling. Staying home and “sheltering in place” was never meant for a man like Joe. It was all too much.
We were doing many things here at home to try and help him get better. He was open to try just about anything. We used meditation, prayer, gratitude, eft tapping, walking, talking- my god did we talk. We watched and listened to all of the advice of the great sages and healers. New mantras. We were reading books; we were looking for all the right things, everywhere. He wanted so bad to get well. In the end, he had secluded himself from everyone. He knew that we (his kids and I especially) looked to him as our rock. Our-solid-ground. No wondering what Dad thought, he would tell you in his no-nonsense way what he thought about any given situation… until he couldn’t anymore.
We had spent almost three months in Florida this year, shark fishing. He was terrified of sharks (Jaws), and facing that fear- to a degree (he still wasn’t “going in” the water), made him feel unbreakable (that’s the word he had our friend Karin stamp on his “my intent” bracelet when she insisted he have one). He had caught and released 14 sharks this year- and he had many more hooked up that in the end got away. Coming home was a huge contrast to what had been going on in his world, our world, for those months. Now he was forced to stop in his tracks and face everything he’d been running from- his whole life. This new world did not support his beliefs or principles.
When we got word that they had closed the beaches shortly after we left, he was confused and angry. Then they took away camping. “Why don’t they want us to camp? Why are they trying to keep us inside?” He would ask. The weekend they closed camping, we were supposed to be on a short trip with three of the GRANDS. That, too, was canceled. We ended up pitching tents in the backyard, but it wasn’t the same. He said to me shortly before June 26, “I’m never going to get back to Florida, am I?” Of course, you are! I told him. We’d already made our reservations- I was determined we WERE going to figure it out.
In the very end, he felt weak- not wanting anyone to see him- as he thought– pathetic; he had lost quite a bit of weight in a short amount of time. And although I pointed out to him that according to his BMI- he was still considered overweight, he couldn’t hear it. He was not in a receivership state of mind. He couldn’t stand to be a shell of what he “thought” he once was. He couldn’t stand the fact that I didn’t want to leave him alone. That he felt he had to be “sat with.” That he “thought” he was keeping me from living a beautiful life; that he was not worthy of love. These are the things he told me.
As you read this, you may be thinking, “how did she miss this?” But I am bullet pointing everything into a nice list for you. “This” isn’t “all” that I experienced, saw, or heard, daily. There was so much more. We did talk, we did love, and we did share- everything- mostly. I guess I was just too close to it; I was living in this world with him. I never thought it would end this way. As long as I could get him through the mornings, I knew he’d be ok. Mornings were the worst, and he always got better as the day went on.
I can’t blame COVID solely for Joe’s death; obviously, that wouldn’t be right. But it did play a significant role in his final decision to make that last walk. It pushed him over the edge. Well, to be clear, not COVID, but the circumstances surrounding it. You know, the ones we’ve become all too familiar with, accustomed to; a world where events are canceled, and businesses are closing-daily. A world where masks have become mandatory; a deadly mix when you’re in an already fragile state of mind (more on that, later.) It was for Joe, anyway, and I’m sure many others.
Anxiety stacked on top of depression in the year 2020, well, it’s not good. Who knew this would turn out to be the year of clarity (as I was calling it) in such a profound way. I haven’t gone back and read my journals yet, but I will. I want to see what I saw, how I was feeling, and dealing with all the chaos around me. I was avoiding much of it; I know that for sure. It didn’t “feel” like chaos, at first, though. It felt like a wife supporting her husband through a very dark night. I have, however, read through some of the blogs I posted over the past year. Woven in between the lines is the truth of the struggle. But you had to be looking for it.
I can see now, in hindsight, that I was reaching out in the only way I knew how, with words. But, to remain loyal, not drag others into the fold of what was happening, and to keep the promise that I made, I couldn’t say much. Trust. It’s so important. But at what point do you become the enabler, instead of the trusted friend, wife? Is that the right word? Enabler? Maybe. I’m sure there’s a better one, and if there is, I will find it. I never felt like an enabler. I always felt like a best friend. Someone with good intentions. Uplifting. High energy. That’s how it seemed to me—a wife who loved her husband and would do anything to see him well again. In sickness and in health, till death do us part.
Joe had a tattoo on his arm that read, “love you till the end.” And he did. In the last month of his life, especially, he was sure to tell me every day how beautiful I was, how much he loved me, how sorry he was that he hadn’t spent our whole marriage telling me these things daily. He told me how special I was; he told me how I had changed his life in the best ways; he said to me that I was his greatest gift, he told me so many beautiful things in that last month of his life—so many beautiful things.
He became so agreeable in the end to just do whatever made me happy. We talked about that. I told him he’d changed, that he’d become more agreeable than I was used too. In my mind, it meant he was breaking down walls – hard held beliefs; stubbornness. He asked, “that’s a good thing, right?” Well yes, it was, but I also liked for him to stand his ground when he felt he needed too. There were many things we were doing together that we had never done before, meditating for one.
Looking back, I can see that he opened himself up to me in even more ways, with his desire to please. And I’m speaking of his desire to make me happy. He knew what he was doing… someday. But I, of course, did not. I don’t even know if he “knew” (consciously) or if it was an inner knowing (subconsciously), but he did know. You can’t put that much love, compassion, and thought into something and not know. And I’m speaking of the thought he put into his death. I wrote about it here.
Was he planning to plan? Probably. Joe’s motto for life was “you either do, or you don’t. Get busy living or get busy dying.” Even in his last act on this earth, he took that fundamental principle that he believed so deeply in, to his grave. The man that walked into the field on June 26, 2020, was not the man his family and friends knew. When I look at the videos from Florida and see how happy he was there, I am shattered, myself, to see what he had become. Not Joe. This was not my Joe. The Joe Beckley that if you were fortunate enough to know and love was not the man who took that walk. Believe me.
I have had many reach out to me and tell me [from their own truth]-“Marie, this had nothing to do with you.” Such comfort in those seven little words. And I know it’s the truth. The compassion and love that he left me with only make me love him more. And it makes me realize just how much he did love me. What we shared was like no other. I have always said, “I hope everyone, especially our kids, can find a love like ours.” And I still do.
One of my mentors from the online world called me last week. She advised me not to worry about “posting on a schedule” or anything of the sort. Her advice was, “do what you need to do when you need to do it.” Great advice; thank you, Kim. And so I am. I don’t know when I’ll be posting or sharing more. I’m doing it as I feel moved to; called to. We have many friends that I know need answers. Because he hid his secret so well, people were stunned to hear the news.
And at the end of the day, I can see all of the ironies. Joe had nightmares and memories that haunted him. He never wanted anyone to know. And now, it seems that the whole world knows. I begged him to tell his story, to share his truth, but he saw “nothing good coming from it.” But he knew I would. It’s who I am. I need people. I need truth. I always have.
This is not the end.
I found this image as I was perusing through my pictures. I had been playing with camera filters and long exposure photography this year. This is what I’ve been saying for three+ weeks now. God knew that these little gifts would mean the world to me. This is exactly how I’ve been picturing him in my mind; still fishing on the cape. He lived a great life. We made sure of it.
This was his song. He played it over and over. It speaks volumes, but you have to know the words. I believe music is the language of love. There are many others that I will share, later, because they speak volumes, too.
Thank you for reading and allowing me to share our story.