Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War

Stories From the Book: Linda Robideau

One day he just broke. He didn't make any sense. He was in the living room sharpening knives. I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm getting ready." I said, "Getting ready for what?"

I called the police. I didn't know what else to do. But he put up a barricade, right in the hallway. He told them, "Ever seen a pig bleed to death?" So they backed off. Then he took his shirt off and said, "I have to let the pain out." He took the knife, and he made a big X on his belly.

Every year he talked about killing himself-and always around May and June. It was the anniversary of when all his friends died. Sometimes he tried. He would take the car and get liquored up and deliberately drive to hit a tree. Overdoses of medication, lots of times. He just never readjusted to civilian life. He didn't like a lot of things that we have to be tolerant of. He didn't like to be in crowds. He didn't like the smell of diesel. If a car backfired, this is the first guy who goes down on the floor. He didn't like it when it rained in May or in June.

Any Asian, he didn't like. We had a neighbor who was Oriental, and one night when I came home from work my husband Don was sitting in the window and he's scoping this guy out with a gun. I said, "You can't shoot him just 'cause you don't like him." In the end he did not harm anyone but himself.

By 1984, we ended up at the VA hospital. He started having dreams and he'd wake up fighting me. They told him his records were lost. "There's nothing in your folder, so there's nothing we can do but medicate you." A whole slew of psychiatric medicines followed. Things would get better for a while, but then we'd be back again to May and everything would fall apart.

The day before Father's Day, June 16, 1996, Don barricaded himself in the bedroom by putting shutters over the windows and locking the door. He had put camouflage paint on his face, and he put on his medals and a camouflage shirt. He never did that, so I knew I was in big trouble. He came out and he said, "I'm going to do it. I'm sick of this life. I'm sick of the pain. I'm sick of the fucking neighbors. I'm sick of everything. I don't need no doctors or social workers or police. I just want to stop the pain." I got on my hands and knees and I begged him. My son Tony was there. I said, "Please, please don't kill yourself, because your pain will be over, but mine will just begin. I can't live without you." So he said, "Okay then, I'll take you with me and then you don't have to worry."

That night I called the shelter in Boston for Vietnam veterans. They came, but they wanted to take him to the "bunker"-I guess that's a place they bring someone in crisis-and he wouldn't go. I couldn't convince him. When they left he said, "I'll fix it in the morning. Fuck them."

I kept trying to talk to him, but if he saw or heard me is beyond me. So I went to bed. But when he laid down, I had to think, was I ready to die? I really wanted to be with him because we loved each other so much and we'd been through so much. But I thought about my sons. I called up the vets again the next day, and they said, "It's time for you to take care of yourself. You have to leave."

I went to Worcester, and the next day I had the vets call him and say, "Linda will come home if you just calm down." But he couldn't. He said he was going to cap himself at noon. He told the vets that, and then he tore the phone out of the wall.

I just could not come home. I was paralyzed with fear. I called the police, but I was afraid if I went home, I'd get there before them, and that he would kill me and kill himself, or kill himself in front of me. My heart wanted to go home, and then I didn't. Whether I bit the bullet or helped him, I should have stayed. I always stayed before. I finally called the police again, and they said I could come home now. He had shot himself, close range with a .45, on the front lawn.

He left me a long suicide note. He said he didn't want me to be mad at him, that he loved me, and he didn't know how I put up with him all those years. He didn't want to hurt no one. And he kept saying, "Help me, help me, somebody help me, I'm going to cap myself."

I carry a struggle that says that my husband was really not a hero because he killed himself. Last year, on the TV on Veterans Day, one of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash dedicated a song to the men who took their own lives also. When I heard that, it was one of the biggest reliefs I ever had. What Don did at the end, whether it was wrong or right, doesn't take away from what he did before. And I thought that there was no one else like me in the United States. It's not comforting, but at least now I know I'm not the only one.

But there's something else I got to say. It's awful, but when he died, I felt relief. Just for a second. It's the truth. I said, "Oh jeepers, he's finally at peace, he's free from the nightmares and the problems and the pain." I felt so guilty. He held me close for thirteen years. He held me every night. Thirteen years wasn't long enough. I will never forget Don. He's always in my eyes.

Back to All Stories