In this moment, I Was The Most Broken I Have Ever Been In My Life
I don’t remember much of that day. The day two police officers came to my door to tell me they found my husband. I have brief glimpses of clarity, but most of it is a fog. Most of the first two months was foggy, and I still have some to be honest. They call it “Widow’s fog.” Yes, they have a name for it. But I joined the Widow Club that day. A club I never imagined joining and a club I don’t wish on anyone. Especially a young mom. I was forced into it, but here I am.
The officers were very kind and soft-spoken. But the words they said were harsh. Because how else do you say something like that. They told me he was dead. A self-inflicted gunshot wound. Suicide. Suicide. Suicide. That word that no one likes to say. Was now a defining moment of my life. I don’t remember falling to the floor. I do however, remember saying “No, No, No…” over and over. I knew it was true, but I didn’t want it to be true. And I let out a cry that was what I imagine a lion giving birth sounds like. It wasn’t pretty. Maybe guttural? I’ve heard that word before. It’s an ugly word and it was an ugly sound.
Before my aunt could grab my three year old and run out the door, my little one came up to me. I was on the floor. Winnie wrapped her arms around my neck so tight and said “It’s okay Mommy. Daddy will be home soon.” If I had any strength left in me, this wiped it away. In this moment, I was the most broken I have ever been in my life. I’ve been through some stuff. But never did I think that anything like this would be even a slight possibility. There were no signs. He wasn’t depressed. We had some stuff, but it was fixable. It wasn’t the end of the world. We were going to be okay.
Denny was happy. He was a complete weirdo, but in the best way. And he was the best man. He was good to the core. He was the best man I’ve ever known. He was a great husband. He was the best dad in the world. Truly the best. He loved those girls with every part of him. He gave everything to our little family. He was CFO of a successful company. He had a volunteer teaching position in our church that he loved. He had his wife (Hi, that’s me), and his baby girls. Winnie had just turned 3 a week before, and Piper was ten months old. He was a trekkie, a poker player, a former stand-up comedian, a 5’3 and 3/4’’ tall 35 year old man with a massive beard. He loved going to the gym and grocery shopping with his kids. He was obsessed with the Cubs, metal music, the Golden Girls, Converse All-Stars, and the color Orange. He could make anyone laugh and loved making people uncomfortable. He was Ron Swanson in most interactions but turned into the life of the party if the situation allowed.
Denny took his life because he lost faith in himself. A week prior to his death, we found out about some extended family abuses. This did something to him. It triggered a whole lot of memories. He was abused as a child. But I didn’t know it was to this extent. For two days he told me so many things. Things he’d been through. Things he’d done wrong. Things he regretted and needed to make right. He sobbed into my chest. He suddenly turned into a child. A child who was broken. But no matter how many times I told him we were going to make it and get through it, he didn’t see it. He believed he was destined to turn into a monster. I know he thought he was doing the honorable thing. He thought he was doing us a favor. He disappeared for a day and a half. Then the cops found him.
I put that he took his own life in the obituary. This was shocking to people. Then I spoke at the funeral. I spoke of the dangers of suicide. About the sad reality that this is an option in so many people’s minds. My speaking also shocked people. People being shocked by that was heartbreaking. It shouldn’t be that way. That’s why we’re here in the first place. If Denny could have talked about it, things would be different. I mean, I can never know for sure. Which is something that will haunt me. But I do believe things could have been different. If he didn’t feel like he was less of a man for having such strong emotions and feelings. For feeling hopeless and like he was worthy of the love and goodness he had in his life.
Because of all of this I found a determination within me. I was going to stop one family from feeling this heartache. That was my goal. It was a way for Denny to accomplish what he believed he was actually doing. He thought he was sacrificing his life to save us from this pain. So instead I became focused on him being able to do this for some other family. His life wouldn’t be lost in vain.
I started sharing my story on a blog. Friend and family only, really. I shared the ups and downs. A lot more downs than ups. I wanted to show them what suicide did to a family. The pain that we were feeling. All of these things that could have been prevented. This led to me sharing a video of my daughter in agony. In one of her many meltdowns that day, I followed the advice of our therapist and let her get her feelings out. I stood by and talked to her while she said things like, “Daddy’s not coming back.” “I know, baby.” “I want my daddy to hold me.” “I’m sorry, sweet girl.” I decided to take a video of this interaction. To show people the pain that we were experiencing in the most tangible way I could through the internet.
That video struck a chord and quickly went viral. 10 million views later, I had thousands of messages. Dozens of those messages each day said that this video saved their life. I got message after message of people sharing their heartaches but also saying that now they know that taking their life is not an option. Instead of saving that one family that I was determined to save, we collectively were saving thousands. Thousands of families saved from one video of my daughter and all of the people who saw the value and shared it. We all saved those lives.
Now, I’m continuing to share my story. In real time. We are in the thick of it. I’m sharing details of my life that I never wanted to share, but I am doing it to save as many lives as I can. To open up a conversation that is taboo and uncomfortable. Something that people often refuse to talk about. Because honestly, I have no idea how to stop this epidemic. However, I know the best way to start is by talking about it. So I’ll continue to share it until I don’t need to anymore.
I'm healing. It felt impossible, but it’s not. The world does keep on turning. My kids keep on growing and learning. I will overcome this. Someday I will be able to see the beauty surrounding me and I will be happy and whole once again. And sharing my story is a part of all of that.
Author: Dani Bates