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Article via The Brant News

Devin Shyminsky, 30, remembers the first time he told someone he was a widower.

“The first time that I publicly said I was a widower – to someone I don’t know –

was when I was getting a haircut,” he said. “I feel kind of bad about this now, but I lied. I said it was a car accident. At the time, that was the best that I could do.”

Seated in a Paris coffee shop at the end of his workday at the Canadian Deafblind Association’s Ontario chapter, Shyminsky attempted to hold his emotions in check as he spoke of his 26-year-old bride Johanna De Longhi, who died by suicide in 2012.

The couple had been married for three years and together for eight.

“One of the biggest challenges – my personal demons – are the ‘what ifs’ or the ‘I should haves’ that still haunt me to this day,” he said. “The ‘I should have seen it’ or ‘I wish I did this.’ They come and go all the time and I have to keep telling myself that it wasn’t my fault. It’s hard because I couldn’t save her that night.

“All loss is difficult, but suicide has all sorts of guilt and other stigma wrapped up in it. One of my goals in life is trying to dispel the stigma around mental health and suicide.”

De Longhi had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, so the couple knew they would have challenges, but not to the extent where she would take her own life.

“I learned that she must have been a really good faker because in my grief and depression I’ve learned how to fake things really well,” Shyminsky said. “I’ve learned to put a smile on my face when inside it’s really dark.”

De Longhi worked full-time as a computer technician and also reached out to counsel people online who spoke of suicide.

“Afterwards, I looked through her journal and two years before she died she had wrote that she wanted to kill herself but she owed it to me and her parents to keep going,” Shyminsky said. “In those two years, I don’t know how many times I saved her without even knowing it, maybe a phone call here or there, or a text, or a hug, or a kiss. I have to remind myself of those things and to know that I couldn’t always be there.”

In his pain and grief, Shyminsky sought resources to help him through. He joined a bereavement group and connected to the International Survivors of Suicide Loss website, where he met other people affected by suicide loss.

“There are days that it gets the better of me – the guilt – and it’s a very isolating grief because people don’t understand it,” he said. “I know that there are lots of people grieving alone, in isolation, and I want them to know that there are people out there like them, who can help.

“One of my inspirations is wanting to bring something good out of what I’ve been through. And so, if my experiences can help somebody else, that brings me some comfort.”

Shyminsky shudders when he hears people say his wife “committed” suicide, saying it dishonours who she was as a person.

“It used to be considered a sin and it was also a crime, so just like you committed murder or you committed robbery, you committed suicide,” he said. “It makes my stomach turn when I hear that because I know all of the historical judging and all of that moral judgment that goes into it.

“We don’t actually believe that they had the mental capacity to commit anything. They were sick, so we like to say ‘died by suicide.’”

On Saturday, Nov. 22, Shyminsky will be among other suicide loss survivors to take part in International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day at Woodview Mental Health and Autism Services’ lower level meeting room, 643 Park Rd. N.

Suicide survivor and public speaker Scott Chisholm of Thunder Bay, who founded the Collateral Damage Project, will speak about the need for openness about suicide, how it can break the stigma and save lives.

“Scott Chisholm says not talking about it isn’t working,” Shyminsky said. “I read that spouses of somebody who died by suicide are six times more likely than the average person to then die by suicide, so talking about it is important for prevention, too.

“Jo and I were both Trekkies and in my eulogy I kind of promised her that I would ‘live long and prosper.’ The only thing that got me through the worst parts was not wanting to let Jo down. I just don’t want her to be disappointed in me.”

Cost of the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day presentation, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., is $20 per person, $10 for family members or survivors of suicide loss and $5 for persons with lived experience.

Call Lil Petrella at 519-752-2998, ext. 112, for more information or to register.

To view the article on The Brant News click here.

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