The ten days between Thursday November 10, 2005, when I learned of the death and possible suicide of my husband Rob, and Monday November 21, remain a blur. Quick snapshots in my memory, yellowed, blurred by age, and all slightly out of focus; these are all I remember from that time. Family, friends, and neighbors arriving by the dozens, bearing casseroles and good intentions. The funeral home mercilessly bearing down, forcing quick decisions to be made by a mind unable to comprehend the simplest request, unable to separate day from night. My brain was in mental lockdown; perhaps this is what Alzheimer’s victims experience? I watched mouths forming words, sure that they must have some meaning, but unable to discern what they might be. When you are accustomed to having a quick and witty brain, and find yourself suddenly helpless as a baby, the terror is absolute. My brain was thickened by molasses; synapses were not connecting. I feared this might be my new and permanent state.
Several hundred people ebbed and flowed into and out of my house; platitudes were endlessly repeated by well-meaning but clueless folks. How could I tell them what words of comfort I needed, when I didn’t even know myself? Somehow, in spite of my brain fog, relatives were picked up at airports, guests were provided lodging, clothes donned, food eaten, wine drunk, stories told, days passed, life moved forward and relevant questions were asked. Did Rob have life insurance? Yes, two policies, and lots of it. Did he take out mortgage insurance on our home? Yes, of course; this was confirmed by our mortgage lender the day following his death. At least money would not be a concern in the midst of this tsunami of sudden death. My son and I would be well provided for and could remain in our dream home. There was an autopsy, an inquest, a cremation, and a memorial service. Duty done, people began to depart. By November 21, almost everyone had returned to their homes and jobs, lives only slightly inconvenienced.
On that day, which will forever be Black Monday in my memory, a fitting and terrible storm blew in. The skies were black and ominous, and insistent fingers of icy rain insinuated themselves down your collar, underneath your rain coat. Wind smacked sodden autumn leaves against your legs, and tore umbrellas from your grasp.
This was a day to begin the inevitable return to the land of the living, the business and administration of widowhood, which does not come with an instruction manual. The phone rang with the first indication that we were about to resume our descent into hell. It was the mortgage company, apologizing for the trainee who had informed me that we did indeed have insurance that would pay off the mortgage on our home in the event of my husband’s death. So sorry, but that had been a newbie mistake. What the new employee thought was mortgage insurance was really just the PMI that accompanied all mortgages when less than 20% had been paid as a home’s down payment. Oopsie, so sorry.
The second call was from the funeral home, telling me they had just been informed by Met Life that my husband’s life insurance policy had been cancelled months before. He had, in fact, “cashed it in”. We had purchased this policy many years before, as a cornerstone of our retirement savings. If neither of us died before retirement, we could have the money accrued in premiums paid as part of our nest egg. A win/win, right? Except that a whole life or universal life policy such as this can be cashed in, which is apparently what my husband did, to the tune of $36K. I provided the funeral director with all the information on Rob’s second life insurance policy so that they could collect their fee from that one, only to find that there was a two-year suicide clause in it, and he was twelve weeks short of the time required to benefit in case of death by suicide. Oopsie! In the course of three hours, I was facing the loss of approximately 1 million dollars. Little did I know that the fun was just beginning.
The doorbell rang and I found sheriff’s deputies from two counties on the porch. In addition to the subpoena they carried to confiscate the home computers and phone records, they also had much information to share. Southern to the core, these gentlemen had remained at a respectful distance until Rob’s memorial service was over to spare me the findings they had turned up in the previous ten days. They began to reveal a sordid tale which on that day was only partially written, and that would slowly be revealed in the coming months.
The ten-day period during which I mourned the sudden loss of my husband of eighteen years, and the loss of my boy’s father, came to an abrupt halt by the time the sheriff’s deputies left us. Truths of such magnitude and horror were revealed, grief instantly morphed into a savage fury and hatred. Nine years later, small puzzle pieces remain missing, but by and large the picture of one man’s descent into madness is now in sharp focus.
to be concluded Monday Nov 10, the ninth anniversary of my husband’s suicide…