By Guest Blogger Jessica Tudor
“A fish cannot live without water.”
That is what a friend told me a few weeks after my husband, Louis, took his own life.
Took his own life.
That is a phrase I never thought I would use when discussing my husband. Louis was a devoted husband, father, brother, mentor and lover of life. He was an avid outdoorsman and woke up everyday with a great attitude and a smile.
My husband LOVED the water! Anything in, on, or around water. He loved fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling and above all else, swimming.
He began swimming competitively as a child. That would lead to him becoming a Tarheel and swim for UNC, Chapel Hill. Louis stayed wet, swimming competitively in masters meets and summer league with his children. He instilled a love of water in all four of our children. Louis was a swim coach from the time he was a teenager until the time of his death at age 64. He was in ridiculously great shape and had the body of a 25 year old.
Louis woke up every morning around 4am. We owned and operated a breakfast restaurant for over 28 years. He always coached after work. When the restaurant closed, he was able to have his dream job and coach masters and children every morning and afternoon. Louis was definitely a type A personality, driven and a perfectionist. He had some OCD tendencies, especially when it came to working out and coaching. He would never use the same workout twice. He thought that was lazy. Each day he had new practices that he would meticulously craft for his swimmers. He gave a 100 percent each day, each practice, to each swimmer, six days a week.
Louis loved vacationing on the water. I made it my mission to take him on one snorkeling adventure every year. I like snorkeling, but my husband took it to a whole new level. He would snorkel for hours, eat, snorkel, nap and snorkel some more. I loved watching him enjoying himself with a childlike enthusiasm. He would chase fish, catch lobster, fish, kayak and paddle board any chance he was given. I had planned a trip to Kauai over spring break 2020. We would have coffee dates and look up the best snorkeling spots. It was going to be a much needed getaway. My dad passed away unexpectedly in January. We both took it very hard and we were adjusting to our new normal. We were still very much grieving when Covid-19 appeared. Our trip was canceled due to travel restrictions. We were disappointed but talked about going at a later time.
The pools and gyms were closed down in March. I knew it would be hard on him not to work or workout. I had been through it before with him when he had a couple of surgeries. I knew the drill, he would be anxious and antsy. It would be my job to keep him busy and distract him. I gave him a “honey-do” list. He cleaned out and packed up my dad’s entire condo. This took about a month and the gyms still had not opened. His anxiety increased with each passing day. He missed his workout routine and missed his swimmers. His swimmers were more than participants in the pool, they were his tribe. I called them his “swamily,” kindred spirits that were invigorated by the cold early swims.
Louis began to worry about finances and his health. I knew from past experience with him that we just needed to get him in the water. Water had always been his cure all and his great equalizer. In the meantime, I took him for walks and a friend of his would take him for bike rides up a steep mountain. Our son would run 10 miles beside him while he rode his bike around town. I see now, these were bandaids and my husband was bleeding out. He would have blood pressure spikes presumably from his anxiety and feel physically worse. Then he would feel ill, which affected his psyche.
In May, the pool finally opened. I thought, finally, Louis will go back to normal. We just needed to add water.
He went to his first few practices and swam some himself. He didn’t bounce back but seemed slightly better. I thought it may just take a bit longer since he was out of the water longer than before.
Instead of getting better he began spiraling. His BP continued to spike. One day it was 230/190 and we had to take him to the ER. I could not go in with him due to Covid. I could not be there to advocate for him. The next day I picked him up with his four new meds. All of these meds made him feel weird and squirrelly. He became more anxious and paranoid. Paranoid about money, paranoid about his friends and worried about his health. His brother would reassure him on a daily basis that his finances were solid and his friends reassured him that they cared for him. We got him in with a psychiatrist and he took him off those meds and gave him a sleep aid. The visit was virtual due to Covid. Louis had only been sleeping 3-4 hours a night for two months. He had weight loss, nights sweats, confusion and his BP would yo-yo. I asked his doctor if we could get a CT scan or MRI. Something was so wrong. They wanted to wait and see how the sleep meds worked for him first.
After a week on the sleep aid, there was little improvement. He had a virtual followup with the doctor on June 30. Louis said he didn’t want to do this anymore, but promised that he would not hurt himself. He told the doctor that if he could get him back on deck that he would give him free swim lessons for life. It was a deal.
The doctor called in Lithium for him to start. I got a message from the pharmacy that evening that they were out of it. I would need to get it somewhere else or wait. Louis and I went to bed around 11:30 that night. He woke up at 3:30am telling me about his worries. Over the last couple of weeks he told me that his brain and body were failing him, that I would be changing his diaper in a few weeks. I told him we would figure it out and that I needed to get some sleep. I fell back to sleep at 5:30am and woke up at 7am. Louis wasn’t home.
By 11:30am, July 1, 2020 my husband took his own life. I never, ever thought this would be how our story ends. I thought love was enough and that we would get through this storm, together.
I went back and read all of his messages from friends and family. Everyone was telling him they loved him and that they were there for him. We all have guilt. I shouldn’t have gone back to sleep that morning. Our daughter, the nurse, was sleeping when he called. She wished she would have answered. Our son said what if he wouldn’t have moved to Oregon last November. We all are going through the should haves, would haves and could haves. What if Covid wouldn’t have hit, what if I could have gone in the ER with him, what if his visit wasn’t virtual, what if, what if, what if?
My husband was well known in our community. The news of his death was on TV and in the local paper. I’m floored by the support, love and generosity. I’m also shocked at the amount of people reaching out to us about their own experience with suicide of a loved one. Some are strangers and some are people we know but never knew about their connection with suicide. They said they were ashamed and that there is a stigma. I could not imagine walking this road alone and not being able to share our story. There should be no stigma or shame. This illness should be viewed the same as any illness like cancer or a heart attack. Something broke in my husband. He did not do anything wrong. He was a loving, caring, generous and beautiful soul. Those attributes are not negated nor diminished due to suicide.
A note from Rachel Hoeing, Triad Moms on Main Co-Founder:
Louis was the beloved swim coach of one of my dearest friends in Roanoke, VA. His passing broke the hearts of so many family members, friends, and swimmers this past summer, but when I heard how they were using their grief to be a source of light for others, I knew I wanted Jessica to share his story. The Tudor Family wants to use this tragedy to shed light on the seriousness of mental illness and the lack of community resources. They have established Tudor House in honor of Louis. Tudor House will be a place where people can go to feel safe and get support for grief and loss as well as access to suicide education and prevention. The mental health system can be hard to navigate, and they hope to save even just one person from this heartache. They have only just begun! For more information and/or to donate to the cause, please visit tudorhouse.net. You can also visit them on Facebook at Tudor House and Instagram @tudorhouse_.
In honor of September being National Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month, we ask you to please share this story with others and “bring hope to the world.”
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