“No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of worrying can change the future.” ~Umar Ibn Al Khattab
I don’t remember the exact day the message came through. It was from my son, Julian, and he needed to talk to me. It sounded pretty serious. He never really needs to talk to me.
His father was found dead earlier that week. He’d hung himself.
While this news hardly affected Julian at all, it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I cried.
We met in a taxi thirty-three years ago. He was the driver, I was a drunk passenger. He was super handsome and flirty. He brought me home, and we exchanged numbers and instantly began a relationship.
Within six months of dating, I found out I was pregnant. Since I didn’t want to be an unwed mother, we were married within a month and began our lives. We both had good jobs. I worked at a bank, he was an HVAC technician. Life was pretty good in the beginning.
Then his job took us to a different city. We moved and for the first time in my life, I was alone with no friends and no family. I was twenty-six years old. Our marriage was okay, and we got along well.
About six months after we moved to this new city, he started coming home later and later from work, some nights not until 2am. He always told me he had to work late. I believed him. He was on call a lot. I was home alone a lot.
A few months later I made the decision to return to our hometown. He was to find a job there, which wouldn’t be hard. I didn’t want to be alone in this big city anymore, and I was just about to give birth. I wanted my family around.
Life After Our Move
We stayed at my parents’ house when we returned, and within a month had found our own apartment.
He found a job almost instantly, and I delivered Julian two days after we got home. Life was going well.
About a year into our lives with the baby, things started to get bad. He was out “working late” an awful lot. He would come home around two or three in the morning, smelling of alcohol. By the time Julian was eighteen months I had had enough and asked him to leave. This wasn’t the life I wanted for my son.
He moved out and for the next six months, my life was a living hell. He would come over drunk at night, force sex on me, threaten to take my baby away from me, threaten to kill us both. He threatened me almost daily. Many nights I’d stay at a friend’s house just to feel safe. Many times the police were called.
He finally moved out of province, and it was years before we heard from him again.
The Divorce Agreement
The day had come to file for divorce and put this whole marriage nightmare behind me. I filed for sole custody with no visitation allowed to him. He was unstable, dangerous, and violent, and I was not taking any chances with my son. The fact that he lived far enough away was my saving grace.
Also stated in the divorce agreement was no child support payments. I wanted to completely cut all ties with this man. So I did just that.
Twelve Years Later
It may have been longer, maybe thirteen or fourteen years later, we received a package from him via his brother. It was sent to Julian. A picture of himself and a silver chain with a St. Christopher pendant.
It meant nothing to Julian. He didn’t even know who this person was. I questioned his gesture. Was he trying to make amends? Was he trying to prove that maybe he’d changed and he wanted to start a relationship with his son?
I never got the answer to any of those questions. He never reached out again after that.
When my son moved away to university, he lived only a couple of hours away from his father. He made an attempt through his uncle to maybe meet up with his dad, but his dad wasn’t interested and declined the offer.
And life simply carried on.
Every now and then, throughout the years, Julian’s uncle would update us on what his father was doing and how he was doing. It seemed alcohol and depression were major parts of his life.
I couldn’t help but feel responsible for this.
Was he depressed because I took his only child away from him? Was this my fault? Whenever we got another update, I just felt guilty. Did I do this to him?
When I got the call, I was in complete shock. I had no idea his depression was that bad. How would I have known? Were there other factors that played a part in his suicide? Or was it just years of anguish knowing he had a son who was never a part of his life… because of me?
Could this have been prevented if his son had been a part of his life? Did I do this??
I cried for a week. I had never felt so much sorrow, and guilt. SO much guilt. Was I responsible for someone’s suicide?
Dealing with My Grief and Guilt
It took me a while to wrap my head around his suicide. It also took me a while to convince myself I was not responsible for it, nor should I feel guilty about it. I didn’t talk to anyone about this. No one would understand my feelings, and they were hard to explain.
I realized, though, that he had been battling demons that had nothing to do with me. I made the best choice for my son, and that was the most important thing to me.
He had made his choices as well. And I had nothing to do with them. Me not allowing him any visitation to his son was a result of his actions and choices. He chose his behavior. Not me. I chose to not have his behavior damage my child.
I had to talk myself through that. It’s not your fault, Iva. He could have chosen to change his life, improve his life, reach out to his son more often, anything. And he chose not to.
It’s not your fault, Iva.
There is a tiny part of me inside that wishes things would have been different. If only he got help for his depression and alcoholism. If only he could have been a part of Julian’s life. If only he could have tried to help himself.
I’m sorry his life ended so tragically. I’ll always feel sorry for that. But I won’t feel guilty about it anymore.
It’s Not Our Fault
It’s so easy to take responsibility for a loved one’s suicide, especially when you set a hard boundary for your own well-being. “If only I had done this or done that” or “if only I would have not done that,” but the reality is, it’s not our fault.
We are not in control of how people think, act, react, or live their lives. We can only control our own lives. What people do with their own life is out of our hands. We can offer them tools and help, but it’s up to them to accept it and/or use it.
If they don’t, that’s not our fault either. It’s easy to think that we should have/could have done more, but we did as much as we could. The rest was up to them.