"The day began like any other, without knowledge that my last 'normal' hour had drawn to a close as I slept.
My alarm beeped, I heard the baby stirring, and made my way to him. A sweet 18-month-old ball of love, I held my son against my chest for an extra few seconds before giving in to the morning routine and making our way to the living room.
As I secured him in his booster chair, I realized that my sleeping fiancé wasn’t on the couch or the loveseat, where my eyes expected to find him. He had been experiencing terrible insomnia in recent weeks and falling asleep in front of the TV seemed to help.
I scooped a handful of Cheerios on my son’s tray, flipped the flickering TV to 'Sesame Street,' and headed toward the shower. I had getting ready in the morning down to a science.
Even though things had been intensely stressful and help around the home had been scarce in recent months, I balanced mom life and work life like a pro.
On the way to the shower, I passed my step-son’s bedroom and glanced inside. He was with his mom for the night, a fact we for which we later rejoiced, but I had hoped to find that sleep had overcome my fiancé and drawn him to that bed.
I figuratively scratched my head at the sight of the empty room and headed back toward our bed, checking the couches again as I passed. When I couldn’t find him, confusion set in.
As I wandered back toward the living room, I noticed light coming from under the door to the garage. I started toward it and felt relief that I had solved the puzzle.
Something bumped the door as it opened.
I angled my head around the open door and was met with the sight of him hanging from a rafter by a bright orange outdoor extension cord. A folding chair was next to him; he had gotten it from our basement.
The chronology of the rest of the day is questionable.
Though I'm not sure my expectation, I ducked back into the hall and screamed his name continuously before my legs finally came alive and sprinted to find the phone. I had laid my cell on the stairs in my search and I found it and leapt on it. My motor skills failed and my face met the step; I felt my heart beat harder than it ever has before or since.
My whole body felt hot and weak. I dialed 911 and have little recollection of any conversation. The operator asked if I would be able to safely get him down and I realized that there was an implied possibility that he could be alive.
I rushed to the dining room and grabbed a tall chair, hoisting it into the garage. When I climbed up to his eye level, I knew that he was gone. Forever.
I stayed on the line with the operator, but silently stared at him for several minutes in a hopeful attempt that there was something in the way he looked that would help me understand this. I studied his face closely, but nothing was revealed. A wasted attempt and a mistake--those details are burned into my brain.
It's a scene that still comes in great detail when triggered.
The officer finally arrived and I felt some short-lived relief, before having to launch into the story. I must have told the story 50 times that day, each time remembering more details and each time met with a different reaction.
The officer guided me to the next steps, though not exactly gently, of calling family and checking around the house for Joe's personal items. He directed me to call Joe's mom. I recall repeating back to him, horrified:
'You want me to tell his mother?!'
I couldn't imagine having to tell anyone this news, how could I tell the person who has loved him more than anyone for all of his 32 years? From the front lawn, face down and crying, I somehow managed to get the message out.
I'll never, ever forget her pain.
People came into and out of my house as I sat dumbfounded on the couch next to my toddler, still munching away at his cereal. It wasn't in that moment, but not long after, that I came to the painful realization that my son had lost his father. His life would never be as we hoped and planned.
That fact still makes me tearful to this day.
Driven by instinctual protection, I made the officer stationed by the garage swear to me that he would not, under any circumstances, allow anyone to enter it.
My mom and step-dad came. They rushed to me from the front door. My mom put my head on her shoulder and my step-dad knelt next to me and put both of my hands into his. He was praying, I could tell. My mom went to work on my behalf, calling my office and other immediate family to share news that I couldn't formulate the words for.
Joe's parents came. Even in their immediate shock and grief, they were gentle and comforting.
My best girlfriend came. She dropped to her knees in front of me and embraced me. She took control, even more than the officers on the scene, and made plans for my son's immediate care.
The fact that I survived the next several weeks lay in the care that she, my parents, and other friends and family showed me--they thought for me and I allowed that. They firmly but gently guided me through the rest of the day; most of which I don't remember outside of some clear, unshakeable flashbulb memories.
They were with me and my son, taking care of both of us, as the days and weeks of 'to-dos' were taken care of. They allowed and encouraged me to cry uncontrollably, rage, question, and then cry again at the loss of my best friend. They truly acted as angels for me in those weeks, months, years...even now.
With assistance (again from my angels), I found and regularly attended a support group for suicide survivors.
I selected a therapist and went several times a week. Using these resources, I slowly (very slowly) sorted through emotions. I was slightly annoyed each time I heard someone tell me that it would get better but, as time passed, I grew stronger. I returned to work and built confidence that I could accept challenges again.
I eventually gained the courage to go through his things and put my house up for sale. It is a journey I never thought I would take, but I am navigating it.
Sometimes, I don't feel like I'm navigating it very well, but slow progress is still progress.
I am a markedly different person as compared to 'before.'
I lost some things that I'll never recapture, but in some ways, I am proud. Though more fragile in some aspects, I am much stronger overall.
My son and I have a bond 'like peanut butter and jelly' (his words) as a result of nurturing each other and being each other's constant shelter through heartbreak.
My 'angels' are cemented into my heart as examples of how I want to treat those I love. Mostly, I have a new perspective on the world--with aftermath both good and bad.
And, since I know that there is nothing that cannot be overcome, I have let go of many worries and fears that used to keep me up at night."