My husband could kill himself.
When this thought first hit home I rebelled against it. I screamed at it, put my fingers in my ears and hummed to drown it out. I refused to accept it and flat out ignored it. And yet it persisted.
Opening my eyes to his reality was like a slap in the face. If I was to help him then I had to acknowledge how bad his illness was. Earlier this year, we had watched his mum pass away from terminal cancer. His depression is like a cancer of the mind, slowly eating away at his health and ability to function. And just like that cancer, it could kill him. I had to face that reality.
Surprisingly, when I did turn and face it I found freedom. I was able to acknowledge that it was not my responsibility to fix him. Just as I couldn’t fix the cancer through my love and care, so I couldn’t fix this depression. I couldn’t argue him into thinking happier thoughts. I couldn’t love him into happiness. I couldn’t take away his pain. And as much as that hurt, it also taught me about my limits as his wife.
I can’t heal my husband. But I can love him. I can advocate to doctors for him when he has lost his voice in the darkness. I can remind him of days when we were happy. I can hope for both of us for days when we will be happy again. I can hold him when he cries. I can pray for him, screaming at God for both of us. I can encourage him. I can cajole him to push just a little bit longer.
But I cannot fix him.
If he dies from this disease it is not my fault. It is not because I didn’t try hard enough or love him enough. It is an illness that saps all desire and strength to live. It is the place of doctors and psychologists to help him with the illness itself. I can let go of that responsibility and simply love him for where he is at. It is not my fault.
Accepting this means I am free from the burden of being the person who has to keep him alive. I can’t do that, not alone. It takes a community of medical professionals, friends and family. I am free of the responsibility and guilt if depression takes his life. Just as I am not guilty for cancer killing his mum, so I am not guilty of depression killing my husband.
Though I am free of this burden of responsibility, it doesn’t mean that this is easy. The thought of him dying terrifies me. I lie awake tonight, one of many nights, listening to him sleep and grinding his teeth, knowing that this is yet another expression of internal anguish, and it hurts me physically to know he is in pain and I cannot help him. I want to wrap him in my arms, tell him it will be ok and to fix his mind. I want to crawl into his brain and rewire it. I want to fix it.
But I cannot, and it is not my fault.
I have heard many stories of people who have lost loved ones to this illness and many experience guilt around not being able to help the person. I don’t know how I would feel if it actually happened to us, but I know that, for now, I am free of that guilt and that allows me the room to love him well. It means I can love him without fear, without blame, without him feeling guilty that he is not better for me. I can simply love him for where he is at and be at peace with that.
This is not his fault. Nor is it mine.
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