Talking with Love and Understanding About Suicide

After a beloved wife’s decision, rejecting shame and embracing honesty

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Posted in , Jun 14, 2022

Edward Grinnan

NOTE: We are saddened to announce that Edward Grinnan’s wife, singer and actress Julee Cruise, passed away on June 9. 

The morning after my wife, Julee, died, I awoke past 11 am. I’d slept through two alarms and several phone calls. I felt panicky. I hadn’t slept that late since my freshman year of college, and there was so much to be done. How could I? Then I let myself smile a little bit. Julee always admonished me that I didn’t get enough sleep. I think she was making a point. 

Photo by M. Sharkey
 Edward and Julee with Gracie

I noticed on my phone there were already several news alerts about her death from Rolling Stone, the New York Post and The Guardian. All attributed her death to a long battle with lupus. She’d recently announced on her website that lupus would bring an end to her performing career. There was also a message from the obituary editor at The New York Times asking me to contact him. I fed poor hungry Gracie then called, taking a deep breath and telling myself not to cry. Keep it together. Julee hated it when I cried. 

We talked about a few basic details—hometown, date of birth, etc.—then he said, “She died of lupus, I understand.”

I paused. “Yes, she had lupus since college.”

“You don’t have to list a cause of death, if you’d rather not.” 

“Lupus had made her life very hard, especially lately.” 

“I can understand that. It’s up to you, of course.” 

“Julee took her own life.”

Pause. 

“The cause of death was suicide then. I’m so sorry.” 

“She’d struggled with depression, like so many people. Lupus made it worse. But I want to be honest. She took her own life. It happens in so many families. It comes with so much shame.” 

We left it at that. Immediately I second-guessed myself. Is this what Julee would have wanted? Painfully, I decided it was. She always urged me to write honestly about my own life and struggles no matter where it took me. She would want me to bring that same openness about her life. Her brother committed suicide almost 11 years ago to the day, and I remember her saying how sad it was that people didn’t talk about it, didn’t celebrate his life the way they might have if he’d died of a heart attack or old age. There is so much shame attached to dying by suicide. It’s the only form of death that is a decision. Yet so many families have had to deal with it, often in silence, in anger, without help to understand it, without closure and acceptance and proper mourning. There were more than 45,000 suicides in 2021, the twelfth leading cause of death in the U.S.

It was Julee’s decision how she wanted to die, that she did not want to go on living with the pain she was carrying. I know she was at peace with God. She would not have done it otherwise. How she died will become a matter of public record, and I felt ashamed not being honest about that. It seemed disrespectful to all those families who have struggled with the suicide of a loved one to cover up how my wife’s life ended. Those deaths often leave so many questions, questions we are not always allowed to ask and are sometimes afraid to ask. 

It breaks my heart more than I can say that she is gone. We were married for 38 years. I still find myself talking to her. I probably always will. But I will never tell her what she did was wrong. I will never question her decision. She talked so much lately about wanting to be with her family in heaven, including the dogs she loved so deeply, whom she believed were waiting for her. She told me to take good care of Gracie, and she could love us just as much from heaven as from earth. I believe that. And yes, Jules, I’ll try to get more sleep. See you in my dreams. 

Here are some resources for suicide loss survivors:

--American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

--Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors

--National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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