Author twice widowed by suicide seeks to help others

A woman twice widowed by suicide wants to change the way Americans think about people who commit suicide.

Marci Glidden Savage, a 64-year-old mother of three who owns a packaging supply business in Southern California, says she wrote the new book “And No One Saw It Coming” about the suicides of her spouses Paul and Michael to challenge social stigmas about mental illness.

“I think mental illness should be treated like any other illness and death by suicide should be treated like death by cancer or any other horrible disease,” Ms Savage said in an interview.

“When Michael died I googled ‘widower by suicide twice’ and nothing came up. I sat down and thought I couldn’t be the only one.

Ms Savage said she learned that many people feel too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about suicide.

“This particular way of dying is treated so differently than others,” she said. “The social stigmas around not just suicide but also mental health, and the preconceptions people have had all their lives about these deaths, come to the fore when someone dies this way.”

Before losing her spouses, she herself had many of these stigmata.

“I was completely wrong to think that suicide is a choice. I also didn’t understand the depth of emotional pain that drives someone to commit suicide,” Ms Savage said.

Her first marriage, to a college sweetheart named Paul who co-founded the family business with her in 1989, lasted from 1980 to 2014, producing two sons and a daughter.

She found him dead on their back patio two days after comedian Robin Williams took his own life.

“We had an amazing wedding,” she said. “I’ve learned that it’s possible to have a good marriage, and everything goes well, and your partner still doesn’t share their deepest challenges. You might not see it coming.

She initially thought she might have stopped him if she had come home from work earlier, but gradually realized that she couldn’t have known.

“I couldn’t have done anything more. I wasn’t responsible for it and I’m not powerful enough to change fate,” Ms Savage said.

She met her second husband, a business executive named Michael, two years after Paul’s death. Their 2018-2019 marriage lasted eight months before he committed suicide.

“Both of my husbands were Type-A personalities who worried about business, struggled with anxiety about work issues, and suffered from depression,” she said. “They struggled with this for a very long time like someone would struggle with a terminal illness.”

The author said she believes social stigma prevents many men in particular from seeking help for emotional struggles.

“They’re very good at hiding how they feel and sometimes I think people with depression and anxiety get so used to them that they don’t understand how they feel,” Ms Savage said.

Some psychologists confirmed his ideas.

“When we say someone committed suicide, ‘we treat it as a crime,’ said Jaclyn Halpern, who works at Washington Behavioral Medicine Associates in Chevy Chase, Maryland. ‘they died by suicide,’ it’s much easier to see the tragedy and the pain.”

People struggling with suicidal thoughts often remain silent to avoid shame, she added.

“As with much of mental health, suicidal thoughts are often stigmatized, so people are afraid to seek help. And family members may not know the warning signs,” Dr. Halpern said. “Destigmatizing suicidal thoughts and urges is so important for people to be able to access the support that is out there.”

Thomas Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, said Ms Savage’s insights into men’s reluctance to get help seemed “correct” to her.

“Unfortunately and tragically, the stigma of mental health issues still exists, and men, in particular, are too often reluctant to discuss or seek help for issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction, etc.”, said Mr. Plante.

Despite doctors’ ability to treat anxiety and depression, he said many people of both sexes never seek help.

“Very often people resort to suicide in an attempt to fix a temporary problem with a permanent solution,” Plante said. “Our society still has a long way to go in de-stigmatizing mental health issues so that people feel more comfortable asking for help and talking more openly about it with loved ones.

Parenting educator Laura Linn Knight, who also lost a loved one to suicide, said troubled adults deserved the same attention as troubled children.

“While suicide is not something that can always be prevented, sometimes we can see signs in someone becoming suicidal,” Ms Knight said. “These signs may include anxiety, depression, a family history of suicide or previous suicide attempts, alcohol or drug abuse problems, feelings of hopelessness, and other withdrawal behaviors.”

She encouraged people struggling with suicidal thoughts or their loved ones to call a helpline.

In her book, which was published in January, Ms Savage also encourages social support for loved ones struggling with anxiety and depression.

“When someone gets stents implanted in their heart or starts cancer treatment, people rally around them,” she said.

Engaged for the third time, she acknowledged that the world hasn’t gotten any easier during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I haven’t given up on life at all, and I think that’s very healthy,” Ms Savage said. “We all came out of those few years of COVID understanding what it looks like when the world changes overnight. I think it’s a good time to understand.

Lola R. McClure