One is the owner of a rehabilitation clinic in metro Detroit, a successful business owner recognized as one of the top orthopedic specialists in the nation. The other is a happy, productive Birmingham mother of three who has launched her own enterprise at home and on the Internet.
They’re Sherry McLaughlin and Paula Perelman, two women in their 40s, moving in different social and geographic circles. They might have no reason to know each other, much less have anything in common. But they have been drawn together through shocking, soul-shredding coincidences.
Each woman’s husband committed suicide. In their home. By hanging. In 2006. And in each case, they discovered the body.
“We were supposed to meet, for sure,” says Perelman, whose husband, Shelly, was a respected businessman turned spiritualist and author. (Carolyn Krieger-Cohen, owner of CKC Agency public relations in Farmington Hills, knew both women and introduced them.) “Among the things we share is that the hardest thing for us was not necessarily the people who wanted to share their compassion, but the ones who really want you to engage in their anger.
“‘Why did he do that to you?’ How could he do that to his children? How selfish!’ I got a lot of that and Sherry did, too, trying to help us feel better. Like that’s supposed to make you feel better. And for us, it was the complete opposite.”
Indeed, listening to these two strong women energetically discuss past and present, several vivid impressions emerge. Both have reached a state not only of acceptance, but also of understanding, even forgiveness. Their husbands still hold a special, positive place deep in their hearts. And the suicides changed their lives indelibly — for the better, as they continue to progress. Time heals. And with the suicide rate in Oakland County soaring 21 percent since 2008, that’s a good thing.
“I have an autistic son, and before I had Josh I didn’t know any autistic people,” says McLaughlin, who operates clinics in Troy and serves as adjunct faculty at Macomb Community College. “All of a sudden, everybody knows someone with autism. It’s not any different with suicide. I never knew anybody who committed suicide, then my husband dies and suddenly every day someone was saying, ‘I lost my uncle,’ or brother, or cousin. For some it happened decades before and they were still in anguish and pain.
“Then I realized that things happen for a reason. And if something good was going to come of this, we needed to tell the truth about suicide and what causes seemingly normal, healthy, happily married family men to do this. They don’t do it to spite you. Nobody talks about being depressed, but depression is an illness, just like cancer. People who die of cancer, they’re heroes. People who commit suicide, they’re villains. One just happens to be more socially acceptable.”
McLaughlin’s husband of 17 years, Doug, a custom cabinetmaker, staged a suicide attempt a year before he died. “At the time, I thought that was the worst day of my life, but it ended up being one of the biggest blessings,” she says, incredulously. “Because in that year I learned a whole lot. His secret was out and he was free to tell me some of the horrific things he felt.
“Some of them were horrible to hear. There were times I wanted to bolt and run. Like one time he said, ‘When I wake up some mornings and feel that darkness, it’s so heavy on me that I can’t physically move unless I imagine cutting my throat with a knife or getting my head run over by a train.’ Imagine being his wife and listening to that. But in the end, I was so grateful. My understanding of what happened afterward was way better, and I think most people aren’t gifted to know what really is going through people’s heads.”
Perelman is perpetuating her late husband’s gifts, conducting courses in meditation, journaling, and channeling in person and on her website, channelingheaven.com. “This was the amazing gift out of all this,” she says. “He [Shelly] set a new bar for my life. It was like, ‘OK, he did this,’ but I look at the man I knew and lived with. Oh, my God, I have no anger for him. I loved this man! He was the best thing that ever happened to me. So you’re looking at it from a whole different scope.”
“It’s a huge hit to a life when you go from two incomes to one, from double to single parenting,” adds McLaughlin, who says she’s “madly in love” in a new relationship. “It’s an exhausting existence, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Somebody asked me, ‘Knowing what you know now, would you marry him again?’ I fell in love with the man, not the depression. I would absolutely, hands-down, marry that man again. And maybe I would do it better the next time around. Maybe I’d get to keep him a couple of years longer.”
The metro Detroit/Ann Arbor chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) provides a Suicide Survivor Outreach Program. Contact Laura Edwards at 810-229-4266, email email@example.com, or visit afsp.org for more information. Also, Common Ground holds a bimonthly Survivors of Suicide support group; call Amelia Lehto at 248-451-2613 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.