Unforgivable Past: Alison

Unforgivable Past: Alison
Dr. Phil talks to a woman who still struggles to cope with her husband's violent suicide.

"My husband of 18 years committed suicide very unexpectedly and left me to deal with the aftermath of that and raising three children," says Alison. Early in their marriage, she noticed warning signs. "Ray became suicidal because he felt he was not performing well at his job. Ray crashed his company car. He ran it off the road. I found out that was a suicide attempt and he staged it as an accident."

Ray seemed to improve and didn't mention suicide for 16 years. Then, he started to withdraw. "He went out running and got hit by a car. Ray pulled me aside and said, 'There's a letter in my car. You've got to get rid of it for me.' The letter was a suicide note."

Later, another tragedy struck: Alison woke up and discovered Ray on fire in their backyard. "I started screaming hysterically. I went over to get the hose, and in the middle of all of this, I can hear my daughter screaming, 'Daddy! Daddy!'" she recalls. "It was indescribable to see my husband's face and ears and hair and nose gone by fire." Ray died at the hospital nine hours later.

Nearly two years later, Alison is still plagued with guilt and shame over his suicide. She is also concerned about her daughter, who is left to believe: "Daddy didn't love me." Says Alison, "I think there's always a part of me that will blame myself."


"I hope what you just said is not true. You said: 'I'm going to be haunted by this the rest of my life. I think about this every day and I will continue to.' That's not what you want to do, right?" Dr. Phil asks Alison.

"Absolutely not," she replies. "I would love to be able to put Ray in a place. I realize that he is going to be with me for the rest of my life."

"You have an emotional cauldron going on. There's guilt, anger, blame going around," Dr. Phil points out. "His mother says, 'You killed my son.' What do you think of that?"

Alison answers, "Part of me completely understands that she is grief ridden; she's looking for someone to blame. I'm looking for someone to blame. Everybody is pointing fingers at everyone else. The problem is, Ray is to blame. Ray made a choice."

Dr. Phil wonders if Alison's internal dialogue is: "I missed the warning signs. I should've compelled him to be hospitalized."

Alison replies, "What I say is, 'I wish I had done more. I wish I could do more.' I feel like I failed him. I feel like I failed my children."


"The decision that someone makes to take their life is a very complex decision. It has many sides, it has many different layers, it has many different levels of motivation, and your ability to manage that is so far over your head, you cannot imagine," Dr. Phil explains. "If that person decides that they're going to take their life, they're going to get it done. There's not any amount of vigil that you as a layperson could maintain."

Dr. Phil reminds Alison that even the professionals who were treating Ray were not able to foresee his death. "I understand that he was pained. I get that. And at one level, I hate that he had that feeling and he had that pain," he says. Alison shouldn't beat herself up for not being able to stop Ray, and she needs to move forward. "You have responsibilities as a mother, and if you are walled off and you are experiencing reactive guilt and depression and blame, trust me, you don't give all of yourself as a mother," Dr. Phil explains. "You have responsibilities. He chose to take himself out of the life process. You're still here."

Dr. Phil observes that Alison's children have been personalizing their father's suicide. "You have a daughter that says, 'Daddy killed himself because he didn't love me.' That is not unusual," Dr. Phil assures her. "What you have to do is provide mental, emotional, spiritual leadership out of this. You've got to walk yourself out of this history and pain. You've got to do it for yourself and you have to do it for her." Alison needs to talk the situation over with her daughter by asking her, "Do you miss your daddy? Do you understand that he was sick and he was very confused and he didn't know what he was doing? It didn't have anything to do with you or me.'"
In order to get emotional closure and move past her anger, Alison needs to find her minimal effective response — whatever it is that will keep her from waking up every day with feelings of pain, guilt or anger. "It may mean that you need to give yourself permission to grieve, that you need to go to the cemetery and chew his butt up one side and down the other, that you need to write him a letter that you can't mail, that you need to volunteer in suicide prevention work," Dr. Phil explains. "Time heals nothing. It's what you do with the time that creates the healing." Alison is now engaged to Rick and will be married soon. "There's a point where Rick doesn't want to hear it every day," she tells Dr. Phil.

Turning to Rick in the audience, Dr. Phil asks, "We all come with a learning history, a past, and you're not uncomfortable dealing with that, correct?"

"Not at all," Rick assures him.