The saving pink line

by Beth Peters

My name is Beth Peters. On April 4, 2008, my life changed forever. In order for you to understand how my life changed so drastically, it is imperative that I start from the beginning. On April 18, 1997, during our senior year at Nazareth Area High School in Nazareth, Pa., Tim and I began what was to become an incredible journey through life. Our friendship had turned into romance and we shared our time on stage together during our spring musical of “Oklahoma!” then danced the night away at our senior prom. With his last name being Petrow and mine being Peters, we even got to sit next to each other at our high school graduation.

Our relationship continued through the summer and into college and while we had many, many on-again/off-again moments throughout college, we eventually ended up back together on a permanent basis. The summer of 2003 was the first test our relationship. Tim struggled with severe depression, and made two attempts to end his life. I stood by him through both, knowing that whatever I could do to help him through would only strengthen our relationship. As he worked through this difficult time, started seeing a counselor and was able to start medication to help regulate the chemical imbalance, we grew closer as a couple, and started looking toward our future together.

On Jan 26, 2004, Tim proposed to me and of course I said, “Yes.” I knew that what we went through the summer before had only made us stronger and brought us closer together. I knew that our relationship had seen the tests of time and nothing could break us apart ever again. We were married on Aug 21, 2004.

In the fall of 2007, Tim’s depression returned. He was working very closely with his counselor and he was being honest with me about his feelings and where he stood with his medications and stress levels at work. What made his diagnosis so difficult to deal with was his profession. As an assistant pastor of his father’s church, he swore me to secrecy about his depression. He did not want the congregation to know about his struggles, even though I thought for sure that if he was willing to let the people know he was “real” too, he would in turn be helping so many others who dealt with the same issue. I respected his wishes though and kept quiet about the struggles we both endured.
Throughout all of this we had been talking about trying to have our first baby, and were successful when on Jan 1, 2008, I took a pregnancy test and saw that pink line. I was overjoyed at the ease we had in getting pregnant and wholeheartedly thought that this would turn things around, bring joy to our lives and help Tim have something to focus on for the future.

Things took a turn for the worse on March 29, 2008, when I had gone away for the weekend to judge a pageant. Tim had called me to confide that something bad had happened – he had cheated on me with another woman the night before. I drove home from the pageant that was three hours away, to be with him to figure out what was going on. The combination of the guilt associated with what he had done and the depression was overwhelming. I was very concerned that he was going to make another attempt at his life. I assured him we would figure it out and go to counseling and do whatever we needed to do to make it work.

That Monday, March 31, when I started calling him in the morning once I had gotten to work, he did not answer. He eventually called me back and told me he had made an attempt. I kept him on the phone during my entire drive home from work to make sure he would be OK until I got there. As a school counselor, suicidality is something that I deal with almost on a weekly basis with students. I know the warning signs, and I’ve done the research. My first reaction when I arrived home was to take him to the ER for an evaluation and look into hospitalization. He looked at me with pained eyes and said, “Why would you take me? You know I’ll just say what I need to say so they’ll release me.” Not only had he been through this before in 2003, he was also a psychology major in college and knew the ins and outs of the mental health field. It was at that point I feared the worst and knew he had made up his mind.

I took it upon myself to have him under a 24-hour suicide watch for the week. I went into work late by an hour every morning so that I could drop him off at his office with his father, then made sure his father was with him every afternoon until I got home. I was not a wife that week; I was a full-time 24/7 counselor. By Friday morning I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted – and four-and-a-half months pregnant.

On Friday morning, April 4, I got up to go to work at my normal time. I looked at him and asked him how he felt and if he was going to be OK that morning. He responded by gently placing his hands on my shoulders, looking me in the eyes, and saying “I’ll be fine. I feel really good. I really think I’m starting to come through this.” He smiled and hugged me, and that was the last I saw him, heard his voice or felt him hold me ever again.

Once I got to work I started calling him around 7:30 to make sure he was OK. No answer; 7:40, no answer; 7:50, no answer. At 8 a.m. his dad called me and said he wasn’t at work yet. At that moment I knew. My gut and my heart knew that the unimaginable had happened. I ran out of work, raced home and started searching the house. His dad was also there with me looking for him. I saw the basement door ajar, and worried that one of the cats had gotten down there and up into the rafters of the basement ceiling (we had a daredevil of a cat). I flipped on the basement light and went down to make sure no one was stuck anywhere. As I turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs, I saw Tim lying on the floor, with blood next to his head. The shriek that left my mouth was truly an out-of- body experience. I fell to the floor and couldn’t even go to him; it was if something pulled me backward and knocked me over. My father-in-law ran down the stairs when he heard my scream and kept saying, “Go upstairs, go upstairs,” and I just couldn’t move. I was paralyzed by the scene in front of me.

The rest of the day was a blur. Friends, family, fellow pastors, the police, EMS, the coroner all filled my house. I was taken to the hospital to make sure my baby was OK and then left from there to go plan my husband’s funeral. As I look back on it now, it truly is all still a blur.

I immediately moved back in with my mom that night and slowly cleaned the house out over the course of the next couple of months. I came to my due date of Sept. 9 and watched the day go by uneventfully. Lydia had decided she didn’t like the date the midwife had chosen for her to be born, and wanted to stay inside for another two weeks. On Sep 21, my water finally broke and we went to the hospital. After 15 hours of labor, and no progress, my dreams of a natural water birth were shattered by the reality of an emergency C-section. Lydia Anne was born at 2:12 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2008, and I know Tim was looking down on us from above, watching her as she emerged into this world. She will grow up knowing that it was her little life inside me that saved my own life that day I lost Tim. If it hadn’t have been for her, I truly don’t know if I can say for sure that I would be here today.

I was very lucky that I didn’t experience any signs or symptoms of post-partum depression after Lydia’s birth. The nights when I’d be up with her at 2 a.m. feeding her, I’d strongly smell Tim’s cologne out of nowhere, and it was so comforting and reassuring to know that he was still checking in on us. The other nights when I’d be up crying with her, I’d feel a sense of calmness come over me, reminding me that I am a strong woman and I can do this.

I met a wonderful man about four years after Tim passed away, much sooner than I ever thought I would. He became my husband in May of 2013 and he and his two sons are a very important part of our lives. Lydia loves him very much and has developed an incredible relationship with him. She will always know how very lucky she is that she has two daddies – one in heaven watching over her every day and one on earth to walk beside her.

I continued working as a high school guidance counselor until I chose to leave that position to join a private practice as a therapist while working toward completing my Doctor of Education in pastoral counseling. This has been a very important part of my life. My ability to work with clients in situations where suicidality is real has been an asset to my position. While I questioned myself very much after Tim’s death about my capabilities as a professional counselor, I was also reassured by my own counselor and others that even doctors sometimes can’t save their own family members with cancer.

I have taken on an active role as the secretary of the Greater Lehigh Valley American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Chapter and have walked for six years now in our local Out of the Darkness Suicide Awareness Walk. Last year, our Lehigh Valley walk raised more than $20,000 for suicide awareness, prevention and research.

I look forward to the day that the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide is completely removed, so that others who have been through my story no longer have to hide in shame or be forced by another to remain quiet. My hope is that mental illness can and will receive the same medical attention that diseases such as cancer and diabetes have received, and one day a cure will be found in treating mental illnesses correctly. |

Beth Peters has extensive experience working with children, teens, adults and families. Her passion lies in working with the adolescent population during what some believe are the most confusing and difficult years of a person’s life. She spent nine years as a guidance counselor at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, where she was also a member of the Student Assistance Program. Beth has also worked with individuals who have experienced grief due to death, divorce and other types of trauma and crisis. Beth specializes in working with depression, anxiety, sexual abuse and spirituality. Currently, Beth is a third-year doctoral student in pastoral community counseling and works as a private therapist with Monocacy Counseling Associates in Bethlehem, Pa. Beth is active in the performing arts as a dance and drama teacher at the PA Youth Theatre and serves as the education/outreach coordinator. She also dedicates her time to volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Lehigh Valley Chapter as an executive board member, as well as a Survivor of Suicide community speaker and advocate. In her spare time, she is an active member of the Emotional Wellness team at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem.