You’ll be Tested for Gunshot Residue

Dawne Richards
Photo from Rahul at Pexels

GSR: Gunshot residue. You’ll be tested for this, because law enforcement must ensure that what they see in front of them is the truth. It took three hours for them to get to me, for reasons that remain unclear; three hours of standing outside on a mercifully cool and unbearably beautiful winter day here in South Florida, surrounded by shocked and grieving family members. During those three hours, while I was permitted to roam around our small complex, I was also required to remain in sight of the officers at all times. When I asked to use the restroom, they said I’d need to await the arrival of a female officer. When she arrived, she escorted me to a neighbor’s unit, because ours was still blocked off with crime-scene tape.

The officer stood outside the door bathroom door, reminding me, “Don’t turn on the water! Don’t wash your hands.” Looking back, I wonder why it mattered who stood OUTSIDE the bathroom. Did they fear someone would have to break in and — what? Save me? Restrain me? If it came to that, would the officer’s gender really matter? I mean, if I’d started making a ruckus behind that door, were they going to put out a “call for immediate female backup”?

The rest of the day passed in a blur, as did many of the days since. Slowly, I’m untangling what happened that day, and what’s happened since. Memories — of Before It Happened and After It Happened — arrive, unbidden, at all hours, a 24/7 cacophony of joy and sadness and so much more.

A few days After It Happened, the sympathy cards began to arrive; peeking out from among them was the latest Sunset magazine. The cover informed me that page 80 contained “Amazing Brunch Hacks!”

“Oh good!” I thought to myself. “Will these hacks work at a memorial brunch? Am I supposed to host a memorial brunch?” The cognitive dissonance is relentless; every day, there’s comic absurdity juxtaposed with intense grief.

It is this discordance that colors nearly every minute in the days/weeks/months after a “tragic loss.” In this case, the tragic loss is my husband’s decision to take his own life.

If he had a choice in whether I could publicly write about this, my words wouldn’t see the light of day. But I figure he gave up that right on December 17, 2018. He was an intensely private person; I am the opposite. And I’m a writer and a sharer — and, now that I get to make all the decisions, for better or worse (and there it is, another painful reminder of our wedding vows), I’ve decided that it’s important for me to share my experience.

Reason 1: Writing is my therapy.

Reason 2: I’m hoping that if you’ve endured something similar, my words will give you comfort and maybe even a laugh or two.

If you haven’t been through it, count your blessings; if you’re still reading anyway, maybe you have a ghoulish curiosity. That’s ok. I’m pretty ghoulish myself, and few of us can resist the urge to peek at a train wreck, a car crash, someone else’s misery. “If it bleeds, it leads” is real.

And make no mistake: as I write this, I am miserable. I am also angry, sad, regretful, worried, and anxious. I’m grateful, too; grateful for my family (when they’re not fighting like cats and dogs over the myriad details left to those on earth, or wigging out in completely unsuitable and upsetting ways); grateful for my friends, former colleagues, and complete strangers who have wrapped their arms around us in an astonishing display of kindness. I’ve learned that I’m now a reluctant member of a club that’s got more members than I imagined.

We’ve all read the statistics; we read them, sigh, and turn the page. I suspect that most of us have no idea how many people we know who’ve been affected by the suicide of a family member, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure of much of anything right now, least of all my own judgement.

One thing I’m sure of, though, is that I won’t be considering a career as a relationship expert, since the most important relationship of my life has ended in a spectacularly bad way.

As I publish this, I’m six months into my “new normal” (an expression I hated before this happened, and I don’t like it much better now). It’s taken me this long to get up the courage to go public with this, but something is compelling me to share at this very moment, so here I am. In the coming months, I’m hoping to share my journey back — back to what, I’m not sure — but certainly back to a life that looks different than my life for the past six months, which is best imagined as a rickety cart, one that I’m fighting like hell not to fall out of. But this is a momentary feeling — at other moments, I’m wondering if I’m just made up of the steel in “Steel Magnolias;” a tough structure with no pretty, flowery exterior parts.

Just FYI, I say “hoping to share” because in an hour, a day, a week, I might be sorry I ever published this. Or I might not. Every day is consumed by indecision, about things big and small. Speaking of which, remember this: NO big decisions for a year! Trust me on this. I’ve gotten great professional advice from many corners, and thank God I did. I can’t even imagine the way I’d look back on any big decisions I might make this year.

I’ve gotten all kinds of advice on just about everything, some fantastic and some downright appalling. Here’s the one thing a friend told me that’s gotten me through: “It’s not day by day; it’s moment by moment.” So at 7:05 pm, I feel horrid, but I hang on, knowing that at 7:06 I might be OK again.

So, remember that. It’s moment by moment and, wherever you are in life, there’s always a chance that the next moment will be better. I wish he’d realized that. I wish a lot of things.

Dawne Richards

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Random advice, warnings and humor, mostly based on my own poor choices. Visit coachdawne.com for more.

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