Michelle Miller lost her husband to suicide in 2014. In the months since his passing, she has been processing her grief and the complications around it through various ways, particularly on social media and through writing a book. I chose to interview Michelle because she captured my attention through the vulnerability and authenticity of her posts. Everything about the loss of her husband was complicated – the circumstances beforehand and the circumstances afterward – and she was not afraid to tell the truth about her grieving process and how she has been handling it all. Some might call it unconventional and a bit of turn from what I usually post on here but I hope you can take something away from her words and have a better understanding of how grief does not affect all the same way and some things that perhaps one shouldn’t say to someone who is grieving.
1) What have been the predominant emotions you have dealt with since your husband’s death?
Immediately after the shock of my husband’s death subsided, murderous, blinding, all-consuming rage took over; and even those words minimize the level of hatred I experience daily since my husband’s death. My children were robbed and traumatized, and the life that I felt was promised to me was taken away. The rage feeds me boundless energy and keeps the depression at bay. I lived on nothing but rage for the first month combined with liquor and the occasional Diet Coke or Oreo cookie. Eventually I began to eat and drink normally, but the rage never really went away, it just became balanced with other emotions.
The guilt has been more debilitating. Where the rage feels like freedom, the guilt feels like oppression. It manifests into parts of my life and my personality that I had not anticipated. It has made me insecure and suspicious of people; a trait I did not have before. For instance, I am surprised when people are sympathetic and kind to me when they find out I am a suicide widow. My assumption is that they are thinking, “Why didn’t she stop him from killing himself?” or “What did she do to him to make him suicidal?” because the guilt that lives in me asks me these questions all day long.
Then there is relief. Admitting that relief is a part of my grief experience makes me an insensitive b****, yes I know, but I have thankfully lost the ability to care about how my honesty makes me look to other people. Yes, I experience relief. To live with someone who has a declining mental health is exhausting, and at times, terrifying. I feel relieved to not have to wonder where he is at night. I feel relieved to not be spending hours a day researching his peculiar and erratic behaviors trying to find out how to help him. I feel relieved to not have to beg and manipulate him to go see a doctor or a psychiatrist. I feel relieved to not have to explain to our children why we can’t do or say things around daddy that would trigger him into an outburst. I feel relieved that I don’t have to watch him pace, and sob, and glare, and shake, and eat boxes and boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes and bottles of Pepsi for dinner. The level of pain I have now is more than the pain I carried when my husband was alive, but the level of energy I expel to get through the day is less. Being relieved does not mean that I don’t miss him, or love him, it just means that I no longer have to carry his burdens in addition to my own.
2) How did you learn to give yourself the room to process his death and the circumstances around it in the way that was best for you and your children?
Like everything else in my life, I did not learn how to give myself room to process my husband’s death until I hit rock bottom. God forbid I ever do anything the easy way! In the book I describe an incident in which I ruin a friendship by having a one night stand with my friend’s ex-boyfriend to alleviate the pain of my wedding anniversary. This incident made me evaluate how far I had fallen and became the catalyst I needed to make a physical move to a new city.
Once the kids and I moved three hours south to San Diego; away from the physical memories and the people who had been destructive to myself and my husband, that’s when the real work of making our home inside of the grief began. The move became a metaphor for our new lives, a fresh start, and seeing my husband’s suicide with a fresh perspective. The kids flourished immediately and were able to share things with me about their pain that I believe they would not have, had we remained living in the chaos of a small town after a tragedy.
3) What are some of the worst things people have said to you regarding death and grieving in the aftermath of your husband’s passing?
After my husband’s suicide there was of course the usual, “He’s in a better place,” “Time will heal you,” and “Don’t worry you are young and can remarry,” comments that only serve to downplay the mourner’s feelings while relieving the discomfort of the person saying it. On top of this though, I can recall some more specific comments that caused me physical pain when they were said to me in addition to the emotional pain. These comments have hardened me in good ways and in bad. They have made me more self-assured about the ways I have expressed my grief and they have made me very distrustful of people.
One was, “Well he never did believe in God, so I guess now that he’s dead he knows the truth.” I felt that one in my stomach-the image of my husband now residing in the pits of Hell for a brain chemistry he had no control over, felt like a stabbing motion in my stomach.
Another one I got was, “It’s not okay that you are so vocal on social media about what happened, it’s really going to have a negative effect on your children.” This one I felt in my chest-like the air had been taken out of me. I had finally found something other than alcohol and sex to express my pain and it had taken on the form of writing on social media. To be told this was wrong and to insult my parenting on top of this hurt me deeply at the time. Now the kids and I just laugh about it.
I was also told that I, “Seemed happy” that my husband was dead because we were, “just going to divorce anyway”-this one I felt in my back. I remember feeling instantly heavy because it triggered the guilt I had about the feelings of relief I was experiencing. It also created a lot of anxiety about what others were thinking and saying about me. Yes my husband and I were separated, but just three days before his death I had canceled our appointment to meet with the divorce lawyer. I believed we would reconcile. Even if this hadn’t been the case, even if I was three days away from the judge making my divorce final, that person had no right to say what they said. No one should be allowed to dismiss your pain just because you appear to be happy.
4) What is the best piece of advice you have for someone who might find themselves in a similar situation?
To some degree we will all be in a similar situation to the one I have had. We will not escape this life without pain and loss and tragedy in some form. My advice for others, especially in the early stages of loss would be to grieve in a way that feels natural to you. Give yourself this gift. Some people grieve quietly with black garments and physical memorials of their loved ones. Others grieve loudly seeking attention and outlets for their feelings. There are billions of people on the planet, each with their own personalities, belief systems, and cultural norms, so it is fitting that we would each have a unique way to grieve. Give yourself permission to discover what works for you instead of holding to ideals of how grief should look. Oh, and learn to give the middle finger to those who criticize you for it.
5) You just released your book, Boys, Booze, and Bathroom Floors. What can readers expect from this book?
Well first of all, readers of my book can expect to see a lot of curse words! I did not hold back with my language nor did I hold back with the descriptions of some of my sexual conquests. This book is intended for mature readers. I wanted the book to be a visual experience as well, so I added pictures of my online dating profiles and hope everyone gets a good laugh out of them. The reviews on my book so far have all used the word “raw” to describe it and more than a few people have admitted to being brought to tears and to laughter while reading.
6) Where can people find your book?
For now, my book is available through amazon.com
in paperback and Kindle edition. In December it will be available at Mystic Galaxy books in San Diego as part of their local author event.
7) I, thankfully, connected with you through your Instagram page. In addition to that, are there other ways for people to connect with you and your story?
Instagram (@Mouthy_Michelle) really is the best way for people to see my story other than my book. I write a lot about my experiences with grief, in the captions of the pictures I chose to post. I work hard to make sure all areas of grief are represented on my page, not just suicide, and not just the loss of a husband. You can also follow me on facebook (Michelle Miller Oceanside, California) and on twitter (@Mouthy_Michelle).