The questions friends and strangers asked in the months and years after Mark’s death only made it worse. At the funeral of an elderly friend, an acquaintance seated next to me in the church pew patted my knee and whispered, “I can’t quit wondering, have you figured out why he did it?”
At another gathering, while standing in a cluster of people engaged in small talk, a young woman said, as if she was asking whether I washed my whites in hot or cold water, “Peggy, did you see any sign it was coming?”
For months the questions, like fiery arrows, came — in the grocery store, in airport security lines, in restaurant restrooms. I began avoiding people I didn’t know well. When unwanted queries caught me off guard, my replies grew understated and were clearly unsatisfying. “No, I was stunned,” I’d say. “I don’t fully understand why he did it.” Or “No, I didn’t see signs it was coming.”
But as I would drive away alone in my car, I’d rehearse what I wished I could have said.
“Sure, I saw it coming,” I’d snap, pounding my fist on the dashboard. “There were little nooses hanging all over our house and I just ignored them!”
Truth is, no one saw it coming. My husband was bright and sociable, an adoring father and husband. His humor made him the life of the party. His own battles with depression led him to help countless others find the assistance they needed to overcome it. But like many accomplished men, Mark was good at masking his feelings and powering through his bouts of despair. His fateful mistake was failing to reach for help when he needed it most.
Over time, I’ve found a way to protect myself when people ask me how and why my husband died. I pause to leave the question suspended in awkward silence. Then I say gently and firmly, “You know, that’s not something I’m really comfortable discussing with you.”
The kindest thing anyone ever said to me may also have been the most painful.
At an impromptu gathering of Mark’s college friends in Chicago, one of his former roommates, whom I hadn’t seen in years, pulled me aside quietly, put a hand on my shoulder and said, “There’s something I’ve never told anyone but I think it might be a comfort to you.” He described the days he’d come home after class to find Mark, captain of the college ice hockey team, weeping in inexplicable darkness, wishing he were dead.