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Peter J. Devlin column: The pain of suicide lingers always

5:05 PM, Sep. 6, 2013  |  Comments
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I would probably have overlooked it if one of my children hadn't posted a brief note on Facebook this week.

It's a subject the current Miss Door County, Samantha Cole, talked about last week in an appearance at the Door County Board: suicide prevention. Cole pointed out the warning signs given by a person contemplating ending their life. There are several that can be found at many sites on the web, especially during this National Suicide Prevention Week.

My child mentioned the loss of a stepmother and of a friend, plus the struggle to keep a spouse from becoming a statistic.

The stepmom was my wife. Thirteen years ago next month, Donna took her own life.

To this day I cannot tell you with certainty what triggered her locking herself in the bathroom, taking a huge quantity of medications and cutting her own throat and wrists. I suspect it was money.

Donna dreamed of creating. She had studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Becoming overwhelmed by required courses for a Bachelor of Arts degree, she'd walked away from school.

We bought the first house south of the county line in 1998 in order for her to be as close as we could afford to the Door County art world.

However, things had not been going well financially since the move. We were getting by with me performing some menial tasks on a piecework basis, while Donna had recently taken a minimum-wage job.

One of our cars had broken down. The other had a leak in the fuel system. Fumes wafted into the passenger compartment, sickening Donna.

It was the last Friday of October 2000. As always at the end of the month, money was tight.

Both of us had worked long hours that day. I was a few minutes late to give her a ride home from work.

We sat in our living room, tired and hungry, discussing what to have for dinner.

I suggested going out for fish. Donna insisted on seeing the money to pay for the meal. I knew we had enough in our bank account, but I/we had no way of confirming our balance (pre-Internet days) after the close of business on a Friday evening.

So we stayed home.

Donna went to a different room. After the fact I discovered she had gone to write her suicide note.

Sometime later, still not having eaten, I found Donna in the kitchen. I saw several sheets of paper with handwritten notes atop the coffee maker. I thought nothing of it.

Announcing I was turning in, she said she would take a bath. We hugged, then kissed goodnight.

Donna took her "boom box" and a favorite CD into the bathroom and lighted some candles.

Because of nightmares, I took several prescriptions to get to sleep. Once they kicked in, I'd sleep for 12 hours.

Her music playing softly as I closed my eyes. When I awoke, it was still playing. The bathroom door was locked.

Knocking, I got no reply.

Suspecting the worst, I dialed 911. Rescue squad workers pried the door open and quickly confirmed Donna was dead.

I know I telephoned her daughter and my children.

Sheriff's deputies came, followed by Donna's sister and my children.

I remember very little of the next several months. One day in February, I got in my car and ended up in a barber's chair in a little town about 30 miles from where I grew up in Pennsylvania.

That spring, the grass turned green again. Flowers bloomed. The frogs performed their concert in the pond behind the house.

Donna's note asked that her ashes be spread in a meadow full of butterflies and wildflowers. We gathered in early August to carry out her wish.

When I drive by today, I always say "hello" and tell her I miss her. At night I still tell her, "Goodnight, I love you."

At the end she was a frightened little girl. I hope she's somewhere with Queen Anne's lace and monarch butterflies.

And I hope this story influences someone to think twice.

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