Photo by: Bill Clark
I have been lingering in some substantial resistance to recounting the story of what happened to my husband Claude. How did such a vibrant man who loved life, seemingly had it all and actually feared death to the core of his being arrive at such a desperate place that he felt suicide was his only way out?
I was searching for a movie to watch last week and landed on Concussion. I really had no idea what I was in for, it brought a lot of feelings to the surface for me and inspired me to write this post. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie, it’s based on the true story of the discovery of CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy which is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain. CTE is caused by repeated head trauma. In this case, it was the outcome of many years of playing football. A significant number of football players had been slowly losing their minds, experiencing dementia and depression, and eventually their own deaths by suicide. They all unknowingly had CTE. The ex-football players knew they had something terribly wrong with them. They sought help from doctors but were not getting the help they needed since nobody knew what was causing their debilitating symptoms. As a result, they suffered miserably, deprived of the truth before their eventual deaths, their families watching helplessly as their loved ones slowly slipped away.
As I watched, I found myself revisiting the hellish nightmare that ensued months before Claude died by suicide. This story of standing by helplessly while your loved one turns to doctors for help with no results, who slowly slips away mentally and physically, unfortunately, is all too familiar to me. That is what I witnessed firsthand with Claude.
This may sound oversimplified but from my perspective, looking back, Claude’s path to suicide was fueled by the denial of his inner or higher guidance. Claude, in his own way, was pretty tuned in and intuitive. At a certain point in time, we were both being called to make a change and move from our home in Memphis, TN and sell the business we had moved there to own in 1999. In my belief, our souls were calling out for a change that would lead us into a higher alignment with our life purpose. Claude wanted to create a viable alternative that would yield an opportunity for him to have a business that would be more personally satisfying with less pressure and stress. In essence, allowing him to lead a more balanced and fulfilling life. He came close, but things just never fell into place in a way that he felt comfortable with. I tried to encourage him to believe in himself and his vision, to take that leap of faith, but ultimately the final choice was up to him. I understand his choices and I am grateful he was being so responsible but I see them as a facet of the contributing factors to his ultimate demise since he was living a life that did not feed his soul.
The financial crisis of 2008, as it turns out, was the best thing that could have happened for his business and for us from a financial perspective. We were enormously fortunate but felt even more anchored than ever. How could we leave a rapidly flourishing business in that financial climate? So we stayed the course. I think that the stresses of the business growing so rapidly during that time and the fact that he REALLY would rather have been spending his life force energy in other ways, was a drag on his system on all levels. His emotional and physical health was slowly weakening. Claude had a history of Crohn’s which is an inflammatory bowel disease. This seemed to worsen during that time. He had sleep issues, mood issues, and cholesterol issues. He was taking prescription drugs for all four disorders. Some occasional back pain threw another drug into the mix.
Fast forward to 2011: Claude went in for his routine colonoscopy; we were pleased with the results. However, two weeks later he started to feel pain in his lower abdomen. His doctor thought it must have been a flare up and put Claude on six weeks of steroids. Living with him during that time was like living in an alternate universe. Claude was normally easy going, gentle, loving and supportive. Due to the side effects of the steroids, I found him to be arrogant, critical, controlling, manic etc.…Where did the man I married go? Actually, he was never quite the same person after that. The steroids were not alleviating his abdominal pain so his doctor decided to give him another anti-inflammatory drug. The list of the side effects on this particular drug is ominous. Needless to say, I was concerned. Not only that, but there was no lessening of his pain. His doctor then decided that after 12 weeks of taking these two very strong anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant drugs with no relief, that he must have Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. So he treated Claude for that with anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs. Nothing was helping; he was still in pain. After several months of taking medications that were ineffective, in addition loosing over 20 pounds, he became despondent and hopeless. He said to me, “I feel like I am preparing to die”. I wasn’t sure how to take that. Was he being overly emotional or was he seeing what lay ahead?
I was in a very delicate position. I wanted desperately to help Claude. However, my approach was contrary to Claude’s. I would have preferred a more natural and holistic approach to healing what ailed him but that was not Claude’s way. Regrettably, I felt I needed to honor and respect his wishes. He was more comfortable putting his faith in and following the guidance of the medical establishment. Clearly in his situation that was a fatal choice.
The last two months of Claude’s life were two of the most distressing months of my life. We spent hours at a time just sitting quietly, talking together, holding his hand, literally and figuratively. He was progressively sliding into a delusional world that he believed with absolute certainty was the true reality. Nothing I said or did to reassure him, nothing anyone said or did for that matter could impede his descent into madness. Because of his emotional state he was given additional drugs to compensate for his psychosis. I feel those drugs were quite possibly, as the saying goes, “the final nail in his coffin”.
In his final two weeks, the magnitude of the darkness that Claude was residing in reached a whole new level. He was not rational; it was frightening to watch, REALLY frightening. It was like he was possessed; the Claude I knew had been hijacked, stolen by some other life force. He knew he had no power over it. He even once said to me “I can’t stop this, believe me I have tried”. He felt powerless to help himself. Not only that, his delusional conclusions of some perceived unfixable issues with his business sent him to even deeper depths of torment and shame. He viewed them as catastrophic to the health of the business when in reality they were things that just needed some alterations. This false perception appeared to be the final insult to his sense of worth on the day he died. We said goodbye in person for the last time as he walked out the door, heading to the office, looking totally and utterly defeated. He called me several times that day expressing his distress and sorrow. He was a man on the edge of oblivion. My attempts to soothe him were powerless against the force of his pessimistic world with inescapable cataclysmic outcomes that he found himself caught in. By the end of that day Claude had literally reached the end of his rope. On April 19, 2012, I came home to find that he had hung himself in our attic.
The take-away from this heartbreaking story is that we are presented with choices throughout our lifetimes. Our choices create our realities. We all have an inner guidance system; some may call it intuition. When we are able to follow this guidance we have the opportunity to live our lives with a more finely tuned purpose and intention. If we choose to bypass that due to fear or denial we could very well be setting ourselves up for a life that is less than than it could be. Claude heard that clarion call, but was unable to redirect his life in a way that felt meaningful. These choices led him down a lesser path, denying his heart and soul’s desires. When we take into consideration the body-mind connection, this denial set the stage, resulting in the fatal downward spiral in which he progressively lost his mind, creating the “perfect storm” and leading to his eventual suicide.
I don’t blame Claude for his choices, I just wish he could have found that place of peace within himself. Who knows what would have happened if he were able to break free from the shackles of his fear and the perceived safety of the “known” and take that leap of faith. Sadly, we will never know. One of Claude’s gifts was to inspire others into action. I hope that this might inspire those of you who may be feeling that call, who may be on the fence about making a big change in your life. I am certainly not saying that there will be dire consequences if you don’t make that change but I do hope this may encourage you take it into thoughtful consideration. Allow yourself the opportunity to imagine your dream, not only that but imagine it can actually come true! What would your life look like, what would it feel like, if fear did not hold you back from listening to your inner guidance and ultimately, living that dream?
May your dreams become your reality…
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