Seven years ago, my world was shattered. At 25 years old, I became a widow after losing my 27-year old-husband to suicide. I share my story every September for many reasons. I want you to remember Matt. I want those of you who never had the chance to meet Matt to know who he was. I want you all to remember how important he was to so many people and how his absence leaves a huge hole in the heart of everyone who was lucky enough to know him. I also want to put a face to suicide, a face to those suffering with thoughts of it, to those trying their best to support a loved one who is going through some difficult times, and to those who know the pain of losing someone they love to suicide.
This is Matt. Matt was a firefighter, and I worked for the Sheriff’s Office. We met in 2009 and married in 2012.
The day I lost Matt, it wasn’t a cold, dreary, snowy day in December — nope, it was a cold, dreary, snowy day in May. I will always remember every minuscule detail of that day.
I got home from working a midnight shift and went to get some sleep before going back in at 7 p.m. that night. I remember Matt coming in around noon to give me a kiss and tell me he loved me before he left for a haircut and some other errands. Had I known this was the last time I would ever get the chance to see him alive, I probably would have suffered through a little sleepiness during my upcoming shift and taken that opportunity to spend time with Matt.
But, sometimes, you never know a moment is a memory until it’s too late. I give him a kiss, tell him I loved him and he is gone. I wake up at 4 p.m. and realize Matt isn’t home. I assume he went to a friend’s house to let me sleep and will be back before I leave. I call his phone once. It rings, but no answer. So, I text a simple “I’m up!” I take a shower and check my phone — no response. Odd. Maybe his phone is dead or he’s at his buddy’s house helping him with sheep and can’t check his phone (which was a totally typical and normal scenario).
I text his friend Ryan asking if Matt’s with him. He’s not.
Where is he?
Now, anyone who works shift work or weird, overnight schedules can attest to this. Midnights do weird things to your brain. I try to recall if Matt said he was going in for a shift at the fire station where he worked part-time or wonder if he got called in to work at full-time station. I texted two different friends, and they both say they’ll check at each place.
Side bar: People always ask how I didn’t know Matt was going to take his own life. You always hear about the “signs” you will see in a suicidal person. I’m here to tell you that you will not always see “signs.” I will adamantly stand behind that statement and you will never change my mind — I don’t care if you quote an expert telling me there are always signs. Anyone who knew Matt will tell you the same. He never showed any signs of depression or made any comments that would lead anyone to believe he was having these thoughts.
We’d just celebrated our first wedding anniversary, we had talked about starting a family, we weren’t struggling financially. He paid our cell phone bill that morning, he went and got his haircut. We had gone to our travel agent earlier that week and planned on putting a down payment on a trip to Mexico for later that year. He had already put a down payment on a yearly fishing trip up in Ohio. If you knew Matt, you knew how tight he could be with his money. Someone planning to leave this way doesn’t pay for a trip they know they won’t be taking.
Matt was a friend to everyone. He was always smiling, and he had a contagious personality that would just turn your negative day around. He was not someone we thought we’d lose this way.
As I continue getting ready for work, I have this gut feeling something isn’t right, but I don’t really know what to do. I call Matt’s phone few more times, no answer. He’s not working a shift at either fire station. My job — specifically in dispatch at this time — has me running through the typical questions we ask someone when they call in with this type of situation. But my soul won’t let me believe that Matt could have done this. He wouldn’t have done this. He wouldn’t have ended his life by suicide.
I leave for work, that gut feeling in my passenger seat, but I’ve got to get to work. I didn’t know what else to do. I am on autopilot at this point. I call my parents and Matt’s parents hoping he has talked to them recently. He hasn’t.
While at work, I am clinging to a tiny piece of hope that Matt is still alive out there and his phone has just run out of battery. I desperately waited for that text or phone call. But the next phone call I receive is from Pleasant Hill Police Department asking for some information so they could start a ping on Matt’s phone.
(For those who don’t know, Matt and I lived in Pleasant Hill, MO at the time. Pleasant Hill is a small town. People know each other. Matt knew everyone…and that’s not an exaggeration.)
I get to work and put out a post on Facebook asking if anyone has seen Matt or his car. Several people comment, and unbeknownst to me, I had a good 40-50 people looking for Matt.
Before I know it, the sergeant is at my desk and asks what’s going on. This is where it all starts to get blurry. The emotions and tears I have been fighting so hard to hold in this whole time come out like a flood gate was opened. My husband is missing. I’m told to head home and I do so without a second thought. That little piece of hope that Matt is alive and okay still flickers inside me, but the bigger part of me knows better. I know I’ll never hear his voice again. I know I’ll never get to hug him again or sit on our screened-in porch and just catch up on how our days went. I know he’s gone and there’s nothing more I can do. I know my life is not the same as it was a short five hours earlier.
I pull into my driveway and see three people waiting for me — friends of ours and their daughter. Now, if you didn’t know, trauma makes your brain do weird things. There were more than three people waiting for me in the driveway/garage. There were at least 30 people there. But I remember three.
I found out months later that about five minutes after I left work, Pleasant Hill PD called back because they had found Matt. Actually, some friends of ours found him at City Lake.
I wholeheartedly believe that I would not have made it through the weeks, months, and years that followed, even through today, without my family and friends. We are only as strong as our support system. There is absolutely no way I would be where I am now without mine.
I don’t really know how to end this other than letting each and everyone of you reading this know, you deserve to live. I am always here to listen or talk or even just sit in awkward silence. I don’t care. But there is a large number of people with huge Matt shaped holes in their hearts and those holes will never go away.
You are loved. You matter. And I care.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Claire Canaan has lived in the Kansas City Metro for eighteen years and currently resides in Gardner with her husband, Nick, and 1.5-year-old daughter, Noelle; she is expecting another daughter in December. Professionally, Claire has served as a Deputy Sheriff with the Johnson County, KS Sheriff’s Office for ten years, currently in the Public Information Officer/Community Outreach position. In her free time, Claire loves cheering on her K-State Wildcats, spending time with family, and trying to keep up with a sassy, active toddler and a small zoo of animals — 3 dogs and a cat!