I've lost my husband to suicide...now what?
Good has to come from this tragedy! Life sucks for those of us left behind in the aftermath of suicide! Don't do that to those you claim to love...please.
Ok...many of my friends and family suggested I start a blog to deal with all the emotions surrounding the recent tragic events in my life. Perhaps writing it
all down could help me heal and help others with similar experiences. So here goes.
My husband Ken Westeren suffered from depression and had been for a number of years. He was on medication...same
rx...same dosage for the 12 years I knew him. It is believed that he also suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. He CHOSE not to get help. Ken CHOSE instead a permanent solution to a temporary and fixable problem.
He CHOSE to try to make me suffer as a result. These words may be difficult for some to hear, but they are in fact, the truth.
You see in Ken's eyes I was to blame for EVERYTHING that had gone wrong
in our lives. I'll take responsibility for my part, but my part only. I loved him with all my heart and only wanted him to be happy and to get help. Still love him today, even after all that he has put me through. It is so
tragic that he couldn't see past his illness enough to get help. I am angry every day that he CHOSE to end his life...that Ken CHOSE to hurt his family and friends this way.
Ken CHOSE to pull
the trigger on his life on March 23, 2013. He CHOSE to make sure I witnessed it by sending me a suicide text. I watched him end his life that beautiful Saturday morning. In the blink of an eye many lives were shattered. With a loud
pop and a puff of smoke, my life changed irrevocably. I remember screaming his name and repeating over and over, "No you didn't, no you didn't!" I called 911 immediately and couldn't be understood by the operator. She just kept saying,
"Ma'am, calm down." Really? You watch the man you love shoot himself and then tell me to calm down. I couldn't believe it was happening! It was like I was on the outside looking into someone else's nightmare.
That's all I can talk about today as the grief and pain is overwhelming. I just keep seeing that same awful event replaying in my head and I can't make it stop. There will be more to come on another day. I hope
you stick with me.
Paula "Rusty" Westeren
The aftermath of a suicide death is full of conflicting emotions and can often be hard to understand. For example, I love Ken. Never stopped loving Ken, in fact.
But I hate that he chose not to get help and ended his life. I often wonder if it would be easier to deal with all of this if I had fallen out of love with my husband.
I want to rush out into the world and
shout from the rooftops that suicide is not the answer, but would prefer to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. All the while making believe that this horrific event never happened. I am not thankful that Ken chose to kill himself
but I am thankful that he didn't take my life that day too. It was possible for him to shoot me prior to turning the gun on himself. I feel lucky to be alive.
One of the ways to keep
my post traumatic stress at bay is to talk about what happened on that tragic day. But really, I don't want to talk about it at all! I don't want to relive it...I don't want to keep breathing life into all the torment. It feels like picking a scab,
never letting the wound heal. People who are far more knowledgeable on the subject than I say it's what I need to do. I don't know that I believe that now, but perhaps in time...
I laugh, cry,
smile, frown all within minutes of each emotion. I get so angry at Ken for doing this to us and then feel happy that I don't have to wonder which "Ken" I'll be dealing with at any given moment any longer. Then I feel sad for feeling happy about
that, get mad at myself and miss him all the more. Often it feels like I've become a hamster on a wheel...stop...I want to get off!
This was my Letter to the Editor that appeared in the local newspapers after Ken's death. I needed to share about everyone who helped our family through
I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the all first responders who answered my 911 call in Colfax on March 23, 2013. On that awful day my husband, Ken Westeren, died by suicide.
Within two minutes of my call Placer County Sheriff Deputy Stephen Barker was on scene and handling the emergency with genuine concern and calm experience. CalFire Battalion Chief & Colfax Fire Chief Chris Paulus
kept me informed of events and kept me talking with compassion and kindness. Suzie DeCamp and the team of Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplains took notes and informed my family about the next steps and offered comfort and guidance on what was to come
for all of us in the grieving process after a suicide.
There was so many more that day whose names I do not know but whose faces I will remember. I cannot thank
you all enough for the care and compassion with which you handled a tremendously difficult and heartbreaking situation. You were amazing and exemplified your chosen professions well. We are fortunate to have you at work in our community. To say thank
you seems grossly inadequate.
We have truly been humbled by the outpouring of love, prayers, and support for our family and friends during this challenging time of crisis for us. Ken’s memorial service
was standing room only and a testament to the impact he had on many people throughout his life. We were all touched by your thoughtful words. Reverend Maggie McNaught of Loomis Methodist Church offered a touching and prayerful service that provided
comfort and healing. We gratefully thank everyone who spoke so lovingly about Ken, helped with set up, provided food, and assisted in clean up afterward. Your heartfelt contributions were greatly appreciated and made a painful event more bearable.
Ken battled depression for a number of years and chose not to get help for a problem that was changeable. We are determined that no family should have to suffer like we have by being the ones left behind to wonder, “if
only.” Whatever it takes, however it needs to happen, if you are in a dark place please, please get help. You are worth it! And if you know someone who is battling depression or contemplating suicide, get them help. It won’t
be easy, but it may prevent more tragedies like Ken’s. There is help out there…you are not alone!
If you would like to make a monetary donation in Ken’s memory, please choose from the following
Foothills K9 Association
5098 Foothills Blvd. #3-424
Roseville CA, 95747
Sierra Vista Community Center
PO Box 57
Roseville, CA 95678
Please designate that you are
making a contribution in memory of Ken Westeren when making your donation.
With heartfelt gratitude,
Paula “Rusty” Westeren
Where to even begin tonight. I miss MY Ken...the man I fell in love with...not the man that the depression and mental illness took away.
The Thursday morning before Ken died by suicide, he had his last "meltdown" as he referred to his episodes. As a result of his inability to deal with frustration and work through
his mental illness, he physically hurt three of our dogs. It was so painful to witness and I knew this time it was bad. Ken would NEVER, in his right mind, cause harm to any animal. He was so angry at me for trying to intervene and protect
them. I knew that if he would hurt them there was no telling what he might do to me. Looking back I believe that was when he decided he could no longer continue living his life in this diminished capacity. Ken killed himself on Saturday morning
and he set me up to witness it.
Because of my current living arrangements and my lack of ability to fuction at full capacity, I sadly had to downsize our pack. Hated doing it,
even though it was the right thing to do. Our little GSD pup has a fabulous new home with one of our dog training clients. She has fit in really well and has two little humans and a canine big brother. She runs and plays and is living the
good life. Our lab has a wonderful home with friends where he is so loved and has two humans and a canine big brother! Ken would be so happy to know they are with people he liked and trusted.
Caring for our remaining dogs has kept me going and often has me smiling. They are what keeps me getting up and out of bed every day when, honestly, some days I want to just say, "Screw it all!" Sophie, Cowboy, and Georgia need me to
be their strong leader, but quite frankly it's been tough. There have been many days that I have failed terribly. Thankfully I have an understanding roommate who is also skilled in working with dogs. She actually began as one of our
dog training clients and then became a good friend. I am eternally grateful that she offered sharing her home with me and my pups!
And my pups have had to go through their mourning
too. I have talked a lot with them about Papa not coming home...that he chose to leave us. It broke my heart when I brought Ken's truck to our new home for the first time. When I pulled into the driveway
Georgia busted through the porch railing to run and greet Papa. She jumped into the truck and ran in and out. I just kept telling her that Papa wasn't here...that he left us. All the dogs were beside themselves thinking that Ken
had come back. It was so sad and gut-wrenching and it made me so damn mad that he did this to us!
My three pooches right now are curled up around me as I sit at my desk writing this entry. Georgia
is my talker and she is trying to tell me something, but darned if I can figure out what it is. Cowboy just wants to snuggle against my feet or be in my lap. We've gotten to calling my old girl Sophie "fun police" because she doesn't want anyone
running, frolicing, or generally having any kind of good time. She's sacked out for the most part, but is giving Georgia the hairy eyeball for disturbing her slumber.
I love them all so much and they
deserve to have a balanced Mama and a strong pack leader. I owe it to them.
This is some of what I said at Ken's memorial service...I've added details and taken out others.
Two weeks ago
today was a day I never could have imagined. A day I never thought would ever experience But that day…that wasn’t MY Ken, that wasn’t OUR Ken. That was the Ken that depression and mental illness took from us.
I’d like to tell you about the Ken I knew…the Ken I love with all my heart to this day. The Ken few people had the opportunity to see and know.
Ken was a visionary,
a dreamer, a planner. He was always thinking about ways to do things better, faster, easier. He truly wanted the world to be a better place. Ken loved to laugh…my favorite sound was his deep chuckle when he was really amused. It warmed
my heart every time I heard it.
When Ken and I met he was mostly a musician…a gifted guitar player. I could listen to him play guitar all day…and often did while he was writing songs or
rehearsing. He was a talented song writer and loved to create music that people could dance to and have fun with. My favorite is a song he wrote as we began dating and finished just before we got married. Dance with Me was written
to share about our love. Watching him play, so absorbed in his craft was mesmerizing. I loved seeing him perform with his bands…first Da Bluz Crew and later Kenny and the Crew. His goal was to make people happy,
get them dancing, and help them forget their cares for a while, and I believe he achieved it remarkably.
Ken loved to be read to. When we were dating, during our last phone call of the day I would read to
him, often children's bedtime stories. Later I would read aloud before we went to bed at night. That was a truly special time for us where we could unwind from our day and be peaceful. We loved westerns by Louis L'Amour the best…the
only genre of anything we could agree on.
Then there was Ken the outdoorsman. He loved being outside; always wanting to be one with nature. Whether working in the garden, landscaping when we had a yard,
fishing, camping, walking a trail, hunting for rattlesnakes, riding the horses, or running the dogs, Ken wanted the fresh air and warm sunshine…all day…every day….but he could do without the stupid hot days! As Ken's illness became
a harder battle, he spent less daylight hours outdoors which only compounded the problem.
There was Ken the vulnerable man. The one who had been hurt often and tried to hide it, but still wanted to believe in the
good in people. He tried to play the tough guy but we all knew the cupcake Ken was on the inside. He really didn’t fool us. This is the Ken I will miss most of all. The one I would talk with, laugh with, love with. The man
whose dreams I shared. The man I believed in. The man who loved his children with all his heart. The man whose deepest regret was the lost years without Michael, Amie, and Samantha in his life.
not forget the Ken that was also Papa to our pups... first Sophie, then Cowboy, followed by Buster and Georgia, then Chloe. Later Mellow, Jetta, our grandpuppy Scout, and lastly puppy Jess. He loved the dogs; loved teaching them new things; loved watching
them learn, process, grow. Ken had a way with animals all his life, so it’s no wonder he eventually became a dog trainer. We started out in the dog training business together with Bark Avenue Westeren and then he branched out to
work on higher skill levels of training…service dogs, therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs, and the like with his training program...Dog Training "The Westeren Way." His specialty though was in rehabilitating dogs. I think this
was his gift because he could relate in a unique way to the dogs that many wanted to give up on. He had just begun his latest endeavor of creating a non-profit for the rehabilitation of dogs from shelters and rescues that wouldn’t have much
of a chance of finding a forever home. Ken’s dream was to create a center where those dogs could come and get the help they needed, then be returned ready to be adopted. I was so proud of the work he was doing!
There was one aspect to Ken that many people were, thankfully, not aware of. Nothing tripped his switch faster than being flipped off. The first time I experienced this was while driving endlessly around downtown Grass Valley
searching in vain for a parking space for Ken’s work Christmas party. We finally found a spot in a bank parking lot. Unfortunately some young yahoo was blocking the spot while using the atm. Now this guy saw we were waiting for the
space and chose to take his time. He returns to his car and doesn’t move on. After a few minutes, Ken toots the horn. Out of the window comes this guy’s finger. I’m not sure I ever saw Ken move so fast. He was out of his truck
in a heartbeat to let this guy know just how rude he was! I think you could say they had a little come to Jesus meetin’ right there on the spot!
Ken and I had a hoot together! We could find humor
in almost any given situation and our fun was often contagious. Lord knows the last few years have had their share of ups and lots of downs, but we still managed to have some fun and find things to laugh about here and there. I will miss hearing
his laughter more than I can say. Lord knows there have been trials and changes but the one thing that has stayed the same is that I love him as much today as the day I fell in love all those years ago when he told me I would never have to be strong
I never thought it would end this way Ken. As I said in our wedding vows…today, tomorrow, and always my heart belongs to you.
The Westeren family…you’ve lost a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a nephew, and a cousin. Thank you for welcoming me into your family and accepting me as one of your own. I am so deeply sorry for your loss
and so sad for the pain Ken’s death has caused you.
My amazing parents, Kieran and Deanna Anderson, you are my strength and my inspiration. I am blessed to have you and could not have made through
any of this without you. To say thank you and I love you is not nearly enough. My daughter Bethany who listened, comforted, and loved me through this journey.
My fabulous friends, you have gone above and beyond
in ways I still cannot comprehend. For fear of leaving anyone out, I won’t mention names. From help with food, dogs, cleaning, flowers, cards, outings, the memorial service…the list goes on. You have my deepest appreciation for your friendship,
love, support, and help through this terrible time.
As we grieve, let's also celebrate that our lives have been touched by this gentle soul.
When I read this post on the Friends for Survival Facebook page, it truly touched my heart. The message is so simple and yet so profound. All deaths
are traumatic certainly, but suicide death is different...we mourn differently and we struggle more with all the emotions in the aftermath. I grieve for Ken on some level every single day. I love and miss him so deeply...
BLESSED are they who recognize suicide grief is compounded; that we grieve the death of a beloved person, but first and foremost we grieve the cause of the death.
BLESSED are they
who give us permission to mourn the loss of one dearly loved, free of judgment, censure, and shame.
BLESSED are spiritual guides who relieve our concerns for the repose of our loved one's soul with the
truth that God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all forgiving.
BLESSED are they who don’t offer the meaningless cliché “time heals” because for a long while the passing of time holds
no meaning or value to us.
BLESSED are they who don’t say, “I know just how you feel,” but instead say, “I am here for you. I will not tire of your tears nor your words of sorrow
BLESSED are they who have the patience and love to listen to our repetitive obsession with Why?. . . without offering useless answers or explanations.
BLESSED are they who reaffirm the worth of our deceased beloved by sharing memories of his goodness and times of fun, laughter, and happiness.
BLESSED are mental health care providers who explain
to us that, very probably, our loved one died of a terminal illness called depression.
BLESSED are they who challenge our sense of omnipotence with the reminder that no one has enough power or control over
another to cause them to end their life.
BLESSED are first responders to our loved one’s suicide who try to relieve our sense of guilt and responsibility by assuring us, “This death is not your
BLESSED are they who lend acceptance to the value of the relationship we shared with the one who died by allowing us to speak of them and “what might have been.”
BLESSED are they who allow and encourage us to use our loved one’s death in a manner that gives our loss and grief meaning and purpose.
BLESSED are they who do
not expect us to find “closure,” “grief resolution,” “recovery,” or to “be healed,” understanding that these terms define grief work in progress that will take the rest of our lives.
BLESSED are community caregivers who direct us to suicide bereavement support groups where our anguish is understood, our loss validated, and where we are encouraged by the example of others who have traveled this road before us.
BLESSED are seasoned suicide survivors, role models, who show us not only that we can survive, but in time, we will thrive…we will regain peace of mind, confidence, productivity and zest for living.
BLESSED are all who honor our loved ones by remembering how they lived rather than how they died.
A Suicide Survivor’s Beatitudes
By Larita Archibald - Colorado Springs, Colorado
Excerpt from Finding Peace Without All The Pieces, After a Loved One’s Suicide
This sucks...I am a jumble of emotions. I really wanted to say something profound and heartfelt today and it's just not in me. My feelings are all over
My friend and I played the Lottery last night for the first time since Ken's death. The last time we had we created a little ritual with Ken. We all held the ticket at the same time
and wished/prayed positive thoughts; including something we would do for someone else if we won. A little silly but lots of fun. We were so disappointed when we didn't win that time. I think we got so focused on all the good we would
do, that it was more disheartening to lose.
So last night we followed the same little ritual and my friend included some sweet words about Ken. Well...shock...we lost again, but it was nice to have our
little bit of fun and fond remembering. My friend had saved that first lottery ticket that the three of us bought, so when we got home she put it in a frame. Another sweet rememberance.
I was supposed to go see a friend's band play at a bar/restaurant on the river. I've been looking forward to it for weeks. The day came and I couldn't do it. Both of Ken's bands had played there for many summers and the last time I was
there was for our Kenny and the Crew show. I couldn't go. I couldn't face the memories. I couldn't deal with seeing so many people that I haven't seen since Ken killed himself. I wanted to go as a sort of symbolic gesture of putting
some memories to rest. Couldn't do it and now kick myself for not stepping up.
I spent some time today creating the photo slide show that is now listed on the left column menu of this page...Ken and the Dogs.
It's best viewed in fullscreen mode so you can hear the music and read the captions. I hope you visit and enjoy seeing Ken when he was happy and in his element...working with the pooches. There'll be more photos and some video added as time passes.
Kiss, hug, and say I love you everyday. You never know if you'll get another chance.
Been quiet for a while. Lots on my mind. Went for my therapist appointment on Monday and I'm still out on medical leave from my job. I would give anything
to be off work for ANY other reason. The mind is a tricky thing and can be your best friend or worst enemy. As I've said before...I know I am stronger than this and that makes it all the more maddening. Trying to give myself a break but it's
hard to do.
In my head I know and understand that grief is a process and it progresses at different rates for everyone...there is no exact timetable to go by. I have fun and then feel guilty for having fun. And
I know in my head this is wrong, but in my heart I feel badly for trying to "move on." After all didn't Ken? He left...he gave up...he moved on. I didn't.
I know it's
going to take a long while to wade through these muddy waters of grief. I've still got my hip waders on and I'm really not sure when I'll no longer need them. Sadly, a few people have offered up opinions on how long it should take me to "get
over it." Really? Just how does one even begin to measure when I will get over watching my husband shoot himself? Wish there were some magic trick...wave a wand...poof...over it.
My folks left this morning for their annual six month vacation and with them went my security net...my unconditional love and support. It's always hard to say goodbye knowing we won't see each other again until November, but
this time was especially difficult. They are just devastated that I have had to go through all this turmoil because of Ken's actions.
You know I sometimes
forget that everyone who knew Ken is grieving on some level. I've had to remind myself on more than one ocassion, that I am not the only one who has suffered a loss. Unfortunately I was the one with a front row seat. I am sure that everyone
else also stuggles on some level to reconcile the Ken they knew (or thought they knew) and the Ken that did this to us. God such a waste! Breaks my heart.
Trying to focus on the positive, but I'm having a hard time remembering what that truly is. I keep catching myself dwelling on all the bad and negative things
that have happened over the last few months. Everything still seems so overwhelming.
I hate that Ken did this to all of us. I hate that we are left to mourn and pick up the pieces of our shattered lives
and go on without him.
When I look at our wedding photos and can't help thinking about how happy we were that day and how excited we were to share our love, our lives, our hopes, our dreams. I
couldn't believe that after 43 years, I had finally found the man who loved and accepted me and who I loved with all of my heart. I miss that man terribly.
I regret that in Ken's eyes I wasn't
the woman who could make him happy enough to overcome his issues or get help for them. I regret that he felt I had taken everything away from him. I regret that his mental health issues and depression kept him from seeing the role he played
in how our lives had changed. But most of all I regret the decision he made that dreadful morning.
Why couldn't he just reach out for help? Why couldn't he see beyond the darkness? Why couldn't
our love for him be enough?
I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email today from a friend and colleague whom I haven't heard from in awhile:
"I’ve been thinking about you a lot, wondering how you were doing, hoping that things were getting at least a little bit better with time, but not wanting to be intrusive or to bother you."
I've received many such emails since Ken's suicide 4 months ago from friends and family not wanting to be intrusive or bother me. Please don't think that I would consider communication from you a bother!
Quite the opposite in fact! I welcome the "normal" day to day activities that were a part of my life before losing Ken. Survivors of suicide loss grieve and mourn for sure, but we also want parts of our lives
to resume to the ordinary experiences.
Know that in my case, I will likely talk about Ken or maybe even share some of what happened. It's what I need to do to come to terms with my
PTSD and depression and move forward. I don't expect that you understand what I'm going through. I don't expect that you have pearls of wisdom that will magically make these feelings go way. I just want to stay in touch with you.
I've shared this before and it is worth sharing again...
Blessed are they who don’t say, “I know just how you feel,”
but instead say, “I am here for you. I will not tire of your tears nor your words of sorrow and regret.
Blessed are they who have the patience and love to listen
without offering useless answers or explanations.
Blessed are they who reaffirm the worth of our deceased beloved by sharing memories of his goodness and times of fun,
laughter, and happiness.
I would not have made it to this point without the love and support of family, friends, clients, and colleagues. These relationships are what has sustained me during this
dark time. Please know that I look forward to keeping in contact as we've done before!