When Ron Swirczek left to go to the grocery store last July 17, he didn’t know that it would change his life forever.
He was gone for only about 25 minutes, but when he came home, he found his wife in the backyard with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
On the 911 call, Ron was frantic, confused and scared. He can be heard screaming his name and address into the phone, though his emotions made him almost inaudible. He was screaming and crying telling the dispatcher that he thought his wife just killed herself, repeating “no” over and over again until he disconnected the phone.
“The initial pain, I recall this pretty vividly, I remember was like a crushing, suffocating free fall into space and time that there was nothing to hold onto,” Ron said recently. “Suicide was never in my reality. I could say the words but I never thought that Marilee would do this.”
Marilee Swirczek was prominent in Carson City. She worked as an English teacher at Western Nevada College for 24 years, served as a Carson City supervisor for three years and was described as a “caring, creative and giving person.”
But Marilee struggled with depression and anxiety for nearly six months before her death.
“It started in January of last year. Marilee had hand surgery and then it was followed by a diagnosis of rotator cuff tear and she began by saying that she didn’t know how she could handle this,” said Ron, her husband of 26 years. “As a result she got herself into a position where she felt like she couldn’t go back nor could she go forward in her mind when that happened, (she had) anxiety of the future with her body breaking down and she felt like she wasn’t a use to anyone. She thought she would be a burden going forward.”
Ron said he regrets not educating himself on the signs of suicide.
“I relied on professionals, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, I relied on them to have the answers,” Ron said. “As a result I didn’t really educate myself in the consequences of major depression and warning signs that lead to suicide. I thought it was being taken care of.”
With this, he said he wished they created a safe plan with Marilee’s mental health professionals for what to do to protect her when her depression or anxiety got too bad.
“It protects her until she gets her thinking back to where she has hope again and that didn’t happen,” Ron said. “It was missing and this is what I learned, the purpose of a safe plan is to save lives, it shapes the treatment, medication therapy and hospitalization rather than just letting it happen.”
“What a safe plan would be is the treatment, the expectations, the timeline, the warning signs, the safety action plans, timely and continual communication with all participants and the agreed at the beginning and get together and say you are at this state, you aren’t in a good place but we all agree going forward these are our roles in helping us through this.”
And it is important for a person’s loved ones to be involved because often, the individual isn’t the only one who is impacted by mental health, those around them have to live with it as well.
“It was horrible in the sense that seeing the one you love go through this torment and pain and negative thoughts about life, about herself and the pre-occupation with death and dying and we would talk through every morning and sometimes it would start at 4 a.m., just talking through this that life is worth living,” Ron said. “So every day for six months was 24/7 of just a horrible feelings, not for myself but for her. Of feelings not knowing if I was doing the right thing or helping but to watch her it was just beyond heartbreaking.”
He struggled to watch his wife cut herself down day in and day out.
“Because of the negative thoughts in her mind, she would say she was a failure in life,” Ron said. “She did so many good things, and what she did for all of her students, what she did for her family, then she is saying that she was a failure and said it was time to end it. And I was saying there is no way you are a failure, you have given to too many.”
“You could feel the pain in her voice and then she was agonizing so much that she thought the only way to end it was through death and that agonizing feeling that she expressed of hopelessness.”
Ron said that the pain Marilee felt didn’t end with her suicide, that the pain transferred to the rest of the family knowing they had to continue living without her.
“It was a very disorienting and empty feeling when this happened and going forward what goes with these heart wrenching emotions that I will cry at the most unexpected times. I could be in the store, anywhere and it still happens every day… I relive it and I just think Marilee just come back I know it’s not going to happen.”
Marilee’s 5-year-old grandson still asks Ron when they can talk to their grandmother again. Her son had to walk down the aisle in April without his mother beside him. Her daughters struggle with not educating themselves on the signs of suicide earlier.
“The sorrow and sadness of wanting her back, that happens, the emptiness, the shock, it just goes on and on and I just expect that now,” Ron said. “I know I will never forget but I have got to go on with a different life and its just trying to get that balance going forward.”
For the family now, it is about moving on from the events last July and learning how to cope without their loved one. Ron has been attending suicide support groups in Minden and Reno to help.
“It has been over eight months, and if it hadn’t been for the support from my family and friends and the suicide support group — we help each other,” Ron said. “The heart breaking tragedy of suicide, whether it is sons, daughters, mothers, brothers, fathers, it is what I’ve seen because of the group, we all have something in common and the emotions you know are everywhere, some people have just kind of isolated themselves and for me I can’t do that. If I don’t confront it now, I have got to get it out.”