Dover woman fights through grief of husband’s suicide

Heather Cruz with her daughter Alexa at a park near Cheswold. Ms. Cruz’s husband Alexander, committed suicide on New Year’s Eve five years ago She writes of her experiences in a forthcoming book entitled “The Widow Next Door.” (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — On New Year’s Eve five years ago, Heather Cruz’s husband, Alexander, killed himself. He was 29 years old.

Ms. Cruz didn’t see it coming.

“I knew my husband as well as anyone knows their spouse — I had no idea,” she said. “I couldn’t have ever imagined he would do it. You can have a perfectly intelligent, amazing human being standing in front of you and still not understand, or even know about, the demons they may be carrying in their mind.”

The tragic event thrust then-28-year-old Ms. Cruz and their 7-month-old daughter, Alexa, on a journey filled with pain, anger, sadness, grieving, healing and ultimately forgiveness.

In addition to advocating for mental illness awareness and suicide prevention, Ms. Cruz feels that her blog and soon-to-be-published book addresses certain judgments that may be leveled against people who commit suicide. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Struck immediately with crippling grief, Ms. Cruz, of Dover, found within a month that writing about her experiences helped her navigate them and find the strength to continue her life as a widow and single mother.

“In February of that year, I started a journal,” she said. “At first it was just an avenue to start trying to heal and get my raw thoughts out. A lot of the entries were literally scraps of paper in my pockets that I wrote down throughout the day or a few quick thoughts typed into my phone. I never planned to make it a book or even write in proper sentences for that matter.”

As time passed though, Ms. Cruz’s journal evolved into a blog, and from a way to help her heal and grieve into a way help others cope with similar circumstances. Several years later and a chance meeting with Lois Hoffman of Newark, owner of The Happy Self-Publisher, and Ms. Cruz is nearing completion of her book: “The Widow Next Door.”

“After a few years of writing the blog, I started getting lots of feedback and responses,” said Ms. Cruz.

“I decided that I needed to make something positive out of what happened in my life. People were getting in touch with me to say that they’d contemplated suicide, but reading my blog helped them realize what it would do to their families. Others suffering similar situations to mine starting reaching out to tell me how comforting it was to see they weren’t alone.”

In addition to advocating for mental illness awareness and suicide prevention, Ms. Cruz feels that her blog and soon-to-be-published book addresses certain judgments that may be leveled against people who commit suicide.

“Suicide comes with a massive stigma — people don’t talk about their attempts or thoughts because they’re ashamed or scared what people will think,” she said.

“It shouldn’t be that way. We should be having these conversations so people aren’t afraid. It’s OK to need help. I didn’t have the chance to help my husband, but I hope to start a conversation that might be able to help other people.”

Ms. Cruz herself has also lived under the yoke of judgments that often complicated the healing process.

“People asked right away: ‘Were you guys fighting?’” she said. “There is immediate blame put on spouses in these situations — an assumption that it was something I did. Even once you start healing, it can be hard because you feel guilty the first time you actually feel happy again. What’s the time-frame set for when you can smile again? When can you laugh and have fun with your kids? When can you date again? There aren’t good answers to these questions. It comes down to the individual, but no matter what you do, people will judge.”

For this reason, Ms. Cruz says the book strives to explain the realities of losing a spouse to suicide. Misunderstandings have often led to hurtful comments, she says.

“On the day of his funeral, someone walked right up to me and said: ‘Don’t worry, you’re young. You’ll marry again.’ — that was devastating,” said Ms. Cruz.

“Some people have even asked me why I bothered grieving for someone who did this to me. I’ve heard it all. Most people have good intentions, but not understanding this experience has led to a lot of insensitive comments over the years.”

The book is laid out chronologically so readers can follow along the path Ms. Cruz took during her healing process, she said — attempting to be as raw and honest as possible.

“I start from the moments where I couldn’t even find the strength to climb into the shower in the morning and go into the times I stood in my backyard literally screaming, yelling and cursing at my husband for how unfair all this was to Alexa and me,” said Ms. Cruz.

“Everyone goes through this process differently, but it’s normal to be angry. For me, it ultimately led to forgiving him. My husband was a wonderful man. His suicide doesn’t erase who he was. All the great things he did in his life can’t just be taken away by one thing he did one night in a dark moment.”

Acknowledging that there’s no quick fix for this type of healing, her best advice for both people contemplating suicide and those living through widowhood, is to “slow it down.”

“I can’t say I know how they feel because we all grieve differently, but what we have in common is that all our pain is at 100 percent,” Ms. Cruz said.

“Sometimes you have to slow it down so much that you’re taking things one minute at a time. My best advice is to always have something to look forward to, even if it’s something as small as a cup of coffee in the morning. Just let some time pass, because you don’t know what the next few minutes will bring.”

Ms. Cruz says the book will likely be published by March. To pre-order “The Widow Next Door” and help fund its publication, visit indiegogo.com/projects/the-widow-next-door#.

To follow Ms. Cruz’s blog, visit thewidownextdoor.com.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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