One of the most baffling facts about my husband’s suicide, which occurred four years ago today, is that I don’t know where his body is. Theoretically, I do. It was cremated and then handed to his parents who have done with it whatever they felt necessary including not letting anyone—myself or Jamie’s two daughters—know where it is.
Jamie was from a very tightlipped, old school British family meaning that his parents were stingy with both compliments and love. Jamie often described his father, a small, pleasant, gnomish looking man with a red face and fast temper, as a complete and total wanker. He didn’t say much about his mom who—also exceptionally petite—has a good heart but as Jamie often noted, is overly concerned about what other people think of her family and its circumstance. I’m not British nor am I from Jamie’s parents’ generation so I can’t pretend to know how they think or how they view the world. His parents were nice to me, but I never felt comfortable around them. I always felt like this outspoken American anomaly that didn’t belong in their family, but was tolerated because she came from money.
Jamie’s mom understood that a seismic crack existed in Jamie’s foundation, but for whatever reason, was too afraid/ashamed/paralyzed to do anything about it. About his mother, two distinct memories prevail. One, when I first met her she said that Jamie was such a hard baby—needy, wanted to be held often, perhaps colicky—that she and her husband decided to stop having children. Jamie rolled his eyes when she told me this. Same old story, eh? Two, she and I met for coffee one day and for some reason, she said, “Ivy, you are his strength.” I knew she was right and returned to that conversation often when Jamie would hole up in his room, depressed, often suicidal and stinking with pain, self-loathing and discontent. As for Jamie’s father, again two memories. One, when we got married, he grabbed me on the shoulder and said, “Good luck. He’s your problem now.” This could have been said in jest, but there was a malice there that still makes me uncomfortable. Two, his dad kindly offered to drive me to Heathrow to pick my dad up the day before Jamie and I got married. Long story short, it was a LONG journey that took about eight hours when it should have taken 2.5. Stuck in midtown traffic on our way to Heathrow, we and eight other cars got lodged in a roundabout that would not move. I don’t remember the details, but something did or did not happen prompting Jamie’s dad to rip open the driver’s side door, march toward a white van and yell at the black bastard driving it to do x, y, z. Anyone who hates enough to degrade a race is someone to be feared, period. The anger steaming from Jamie’s dad when he got back in the car was no less than terrifying.
These are my memories. How accurately they represent the people in them or Jamie’s upbringing is anyone’s guess. Regardless, I wish Jamie had grown up in a kinder home, one like mine or the one I imagine his ex-wife provides for hers and Jamie’s daughters. Jamie was extremely sensitive, but because he didn’t have the coping skills hypersensitive people need to comprehend the world, he could be a royal asshole. Whenever someone hurt him in even the slightest of ways, he acted like a snake in a corner. As an extremely sensitive person with the same artistic sentiment who can also be an asshole, I know firsthand how imperative it is to be around nurturing and compassionate influences who understand the translucent nature of mental illness and its iterations. Jamie didn’t have this. I do.
This absolutely is not to say that I blame Jamie’s parents for his death. There was a time when my family had me on suicide watch and getting out of bed on any given day to do anything was too great a feat to comprehend. During those hours, Jamie’s parents were my scapegoat but only fleetingly. I distinctly recall my sister saying something along the lines of, “Ivy, if anyone is responsible for Jamie’s death, than anyone can be responsible for his life. Maybe he lived longer than he intended because he had you and the girls.”
When a suicide happens, everyone who loves the deceased is held hostage by the unknowns and inexplicability of the act. In that situation, deciding who to offer to the lunatic with the gun becomes an anyone-but-me-scenario. From that perspective, I understand why Jamie’s parents refused to tell me anything about his death, curtly concluding that I also was not welcome at his service, which they also refused to tell me about. Presumably, I became the sacrificial lamb upon which all blame was heaped because I had left Jamie three months before he died. We had been struggling for a while in large part because of Jamie’s refusal/inability to manage his bipolar symptoms. Jamie knew I was leaving—we had talked about it in May before he left for New Zealand to cover the rugby World Cup and what we’d both need to do to repair—but he refused to accept it. Most painfully for me, Jamie refused to let me tell his oldest daughter, Aimee, that I was leaving. She and I had developed a close and sometimes contentious bond—we’re both extraordinarily strong minded—and while I was grateful that I didn’t have to fill the mothering role for her or her younger sister, who I also love, I felt really good that I might be her friend and possibly a role model. By the time May 2015 had rolled around, Aimee had started coming with me to yoga, which I’ve always held as the most sacred of spaces. However, Jamie thought that if I told Aimee that I was leaving, it would distract her from her school exams and so for everyone in Jamie’s family, my leaving was a total surprise.
When Jamie and I first met, we were going to set the world on fire as all new lovers promise only Jamie and I had the skillsets to really do it. We met in Abu Dhabi on a morning press opportunity that included sand surfing with Tony Hawk. That’s how the affair that turned into a relationship that turned into a marriage started. I was a freelance writer/editor, Jamie was a brilliant sports photographer for Getty Images. We talked about the projects we wanted to work on together. In the midst of the Arab spring, holed up in the Ritz near Taksim Square, we plotted story lines and returns to Istanbul and Egypt. But then Jamie’s work came calling—Jamie’s work always came calling—as did his insecurities and, even though by the end of our relationship I made enough to support our family, Jamie was too entrenched in the grind to step away from it.
The final fractions of our life together are a devastating rendezvous of what mental illness is. One minute Jamie wanted to follow me to the states, the next he wanted to open a café in Harleston, England where we first lived together. He tried therapy often sending me photos of the day’s goals. Haikus of hope and love and faith flooded my What’s App account. But therapy can be a devastating window to the soul and for Jamie, it was one that possibly should have stayed shut, at least until his medication and his lifestyle stabilized and those who were accepting of his mental illness and capable of supporting him—me, his ex-wife, his girls as much as children can—got him to a place where he could crack those windows. That wasn’t to be, however. As Jamie searched for the pieces of himself that passed through, but rarely interceded, he became grotesquely thin, his exterior life mirroring that of his interior one. Less able to function, he took a leave of absence from work and moved into his parents’ home, an isolated, hollow status piece that was bitterly cold.
On August 28, 2015, Jamie’s ex-wife found him hanging in our garage in Southend-On-Sea, Essex. I know because she called me after she found him, her daughters shrieking in the background. That is a sound and a moment that I will never forget.
I will be eternally grateful for the everyone who offered me kindness during the time that followed, particularly the people who didn’t have to. People like Jamie’s ex-wife, whose acts of kindness knew no bounds. Because of her, I know how Jamie died. Because of her, I have his wedding ring and the items of the heart that characterize our life together. When Jamie’s parents warned me not to attend the service, when they refused to share the details of the police report with me, Jamie’s ex-wife offered her home. She said that I could stay with her and the girls if I decided to fly over and attend the service. Even though I bought a ticket and fully intended to insert myself in Jamie’s death as I had inserted myself into his life, I knew I couldn’t put that stress on his ex-wife or his girls. Blood is far thicker than water and, despite their best intentions, my attendance would have created a terrible and unnecessary divide.
As the years pass, the questions remain unanswered but for one. Whose fault was it that Jamie killed himself? I believe Jamie’s parents will always pin that on me.
A few months ago, I was sitting at City Park Cemetery in Fort Collins thinking about the profundity of headstones, a collective’s agreed upon summary of an entire life, when I saw one with my second born’s name written on it in the background—Rider. Not spelled the same, but still. There wasn’t a grave or a final date on Rider’s headstone, but the overwhelming grief brought me right back to Jamie’s death. I looked at my boys who were sleeping peacefully in the Burley, their heads waterfalling from their necks, and finally understood. Nothing trumps losing a child. Nothing.
Sometimes I wish Jamie’s parents would talk to me long enough to understand that I will gladly be their scapegoat if doing so helps lessen the pain of losing a child to suicide. How could any compassionate person not wish to take that pain away from someone? If lessening that pain means taking some blame and accepting that I’ll never know where Jamie was laid to rest, so be it. I did not lose a child and, God willing, I will never, ever walk in their shoes.