My name is Sue Abel and my husband Bill committed suicide December 19th, 2005. Before that fateful day, I had no warning-not even the slightest inkling-that anything was amiss. Bill had never been depressed, or shown any sign of stress or strain in his life. We enjoyed each other’s company, worshipped our daughters, and-every day-we grew closer together as a couple and a family.
On the day my husband died, I lost my best friend and my confidant. I had always thought I would grow old and live happily ever after with Bill. In my eyes, Bill was one of the most outgoing and generous individuals you would ever want to meet. He never said an unkind word about anyone, and he always found the good in people. When you were invited to our home, my husband would make sure he knew your likes and dislikes so you wouldn’t be disappointed. He loved having company and enjoyed the holidays. Every holiday but one, that is. Bill hated Christmas and so he chose that time to end his life.
I met Bill in 1971. The first time I went out with him he smoked a cigar and drank martinis. I learned that Bill was a natural athlete and very competitive. Golf was his love, as was gambling. Bill was a high roller and Las Vegas was his favorite place to go. Boy, I thought then, this guy is way out of my league. But I soon learned that Bill and I shared one common, and character defining, root. We both came from families of meager means, and we both grew up having practically nothing.
Bill and I married in 1982 and a year later unexpectedly had our twin daughters. We decided no one could care for them like I could, so I quit working outside the home. My husband soon became a self-made millionaire and the girls and I wanted for nothing. As he hated the limelight, he never wanted anyone to know how much he had.
Then came 9/11, and Bill’s economic empire started to crumble. He had put all of his money in the stock market and soon found himself in a financial mess. But Bill kept all this from his family. He played the game of robbing Peter to pay Paul-until there was no more Peter to pay Paul. Only after my husband died did we discover the depth of his debt. For more than 20 years I had lived the life of a princess — and, in an instant, I was transformed into a pauper. There was only enough insurance money to bury Bill. And definitely not enough to keep a roof over our head or to feed our family-or the wolves at our front door. I was 55 years old and hadn’t worked outside the home for decades. I was forced to swim or we would all sink.
My best friend and my mom found Survivor Resources for me. At first I didn’t want to go, as I believed I had nothing in common with anyone here. Was I ever wrong. I was very welcomed and was able to tell my story the first night I attended. I felt a special bond that I hadn’t experienced since my husband’s suicide.
Much like me, the group consisted of women trying to cope with the tragic loss of their husbands. I soon learned I was the only one in the group fortunate enough to have been left a letter by her departed spouse, but, unfortunately, I was also the only one with no insurance money. I quickly became known in the group as the “Queen of Denial,” as that is how I attempted to get through my grief.
I don’t know where I’d be today if not for the people, like those in my survivors’ group. I formed a bond here, without which I never could have overcome the deep debt and denial that otherwise could have destroyed my family. With the support and confidence gained from my new-found friends, I landed a job and began catering monthly luncheons on the side. Overtime quickly became my financial savior, and I took every opportunity to volunteer for extra hours at work. I avoided foreclosure, and put our house on the market. Eleven long and worrisome months later, we finally got an offer on the house.
Ironically, I was at a trade show in Las Vegas when the offer came in. I sometimes wonder if I had tried my hand at gambling whether my luck might have changed earlier. But then, luck did not solve my husband’s financial problems, and if I learned anything from my survivors’ group, it was that confidence and determination — not luck — would be my salvation.
Although the bank got the lion’s share of the proceeds from the house sale, I was left with some hope for starting anew. My daughters and I relocated to a smaller, more rural town, where the lifestyle is more modest, and the bills are much cheaper. On many days, it is still a struggle to make ends meet, but these obstacles only strengthen my resolve to succeed. Maybe it’s because I say the Serenity Prayer every morning. Or maybe it’s the need to assure my daughters that everything will work out. Whatever it is, it helps renew the determination that people like my survivors’ group helped instill in me. I can say today that the worst is behind me, and I no longer fear the future.
I could not have done this without the wonderful friends who helped me muster the confidence and determination to get through this difficult time. A friend of mine recently told me that I was her inspiration and she couldn’t imagine what I was going through. Well, that’s the wonderful thing about inspiration — and the support that a group like this provides. We all have different stories that tragically affected our lives; wounds that may never completely heal. And none of us would wish our fate on anyone, or want them to walk even a few steps in our shoes. But as different as each of our stories might be, we have a common purpose and goal, namely to dust ourselves off, get back on our feet and continue on life’s journey as best we can. Each of us may do it in a different way, but eventually we succeed, and in so doing we inspire others like us that we meet along the way. That inspiration is the gift we give to others. And it is a gift we give to ourselves.