Missy Palrang

(Special to the Tribune)

Chandler helicopter flight instructor Missy Palrang’s life was shattered by her husband’s suicide and she has co-written a book on her painful attempt to recover.

In the aftermath of her husband’s suicide, Chandler helicopter flight instructor Missy Palrang felt alone even when surrounded by friends.

Her grief therapist, Jill McMahon, would come to her house and tell those friends during those early dark days, “You guys need to be Missy’s bubble wrap while she heals.”

Three-and-a-half years later, Palrang has written a book she hopes will help other survivors of suicide victims – and their “bubble wrap.”

“I would hope that the bubble wraps in these people’s lives could read this book and understand the experience and know how to better assist the survivor so that they could heal,” Palrang said. “I learned later that a lot of people didn’t have friends to help. They were doing it on their own. It was really hard for me and I had so much support.”

The book, titled “Frantic Unleashed: Navigating Life After Suicide – A Survivor’s Journal,” is the first of her three-part Frantic Series and highlights the first three months after the suicide. The other two books, featuring the months four to six and seven to 12, are to be published soon.

Based on the journals after her husband of 24 years, Scott McComb, took his life, Palrang’s book may be a self-help book – but it is hardly a detached, pragmatic account. Her voice is direct and raw.

Of the first day she wrote: “I was eating a hamburger and tater tots with my boss at Sonic Burger Drive when my husband ended his life. I have not been back to Sonic since. When we got back to work, a man and a woman approached me in the parking lot as we got out of my car. … They were detectives. I remember someone saying, “very bad news” and the woman told me Scott had died. I think she told me it was a suicide without me asking, or maybe I did. It’s all a haze.

I remember calmly walking to her car and sitting there emotionless for the three-mile drive to my house. …In hindsight, I just don’t think I understood what had happened. The dogs were barking when we got to my house. It’s not where he killed himself. Maybe I crawled through the doggie door to get in. The detectives wanted to know if we kept a gun. I checked the closet where it should have been. It was gone. The magazine had been unloaded. I guess he figured he only needed one bullet.”

“He was my everything, my other half. We were one of those couples who did everything together. Maybe he just wasn’t as happy with our life as I was. Maybe this was the only way he had the courage to escape it. Why didn’t he just ask for a divorce if that was the case? Why didn’t he reach out to me? To anyone. Or maybe he did, and I didn’t recognize it.”

To the beginning of each chapter, Palrang added things that she wishes people had told her at the time.

McMahon, who owns Scottsdale-based Spring Returns Counseling, offers her perspective at each chapter’s end, drawing from 16 years of working with people who lose a loved one to suicide to share the common reactions, feelings and behaviors as they go through the healing process.

“Most people don’t know how to approach suicide,” McMahon said. “The question of ‘why’ will never be answered, and that sticks with the loved ones and the family members forever.”

Most often, there’s shame and guilt.

“If somebody dies of heart attack or cancer, there isn’t this feeling of ‘I could’ve done something differently,’” McMahon said. “There’s shame and guilt with this traumatic loss that’s not associated with any other loss.”

And then there’s stigma and misunderstanding.

“People want to create a story in their head about what has happened. They make all these assumptions. He must’ve been an alcoholic, she must have had an affair. More times than not, there’s no story behind it,” she said.

Scott McComb, 49, was a successful veterinarian and had sold his veterinary clinic in Gilbert a year before his death and was still working there. Palrang and McComb met when they were both studying at Oregon State University. Shortly after graduation from her master’s degree in counseling, Palrang began working as a parole officer in Oregon.

They later moved to Arizona, where Palrang learned helicopter piloting and began a new career. Now, she works as the chief flight instructor at a helicopter pilot school based in the Chandler Municipal Airport.

Three days after the death, Palrang began to write her feelings. She had never journaled before.

“Early on in our therapeutic relationship, she would have so much energy and angst and sadness that she didn’t know where to put it. I would only see her once a week. In between those times she would feel like she was going to explode,” McMahon said. “She needed somewhere to leave all of her angst. She would write in the journal every day and she would give it to me. I was reading the journal every single week.”

Journaling in the middle of the night was therapeutic. Subsequently, when she wanted to turn it into a book, it also became a project, a goal to finish and something other than the day-to-day dealing with the loss.

“What we’re going to do in between now and whenever it takes, makes a big difference how we come out on the end,” Palrang said. “You’d see how I struggled a lot and I’m extremely angry throughout the book.”

Three days after the suicide, she wrote: “Mostly right now I’m angry. Angry he, without my consent, turned my life into something I don’t recognize or want. I liked my life, it was good, it was our life. Happy, purposeful, full of future. Now it’s just empty. I don’t know if I feel more loss for what I had, or loss for the future we planned.”

Palrang’s other aim is to help those who lose a loved one to suicide learn “a little bit earlier than I learned” that there is hope.

“For me, it was the darkest place I’ve ever been by far,” she said. “I want to tell someone else that you can get past it… I do want people to know that there is hope at the end of it.”

“You will feel joy again. You will love again. You will play again,” she writes in the book.

When asked where she is in the grieving process, Palrang said she didn’t know.

“I feel like I’ve come a long way. I certainly, back then, would have never anticipated my life would have gotten to this point,” she said. “I just anticipated this horrible future for myself.”

McMahon thinks her client’s writing has been transformative. “I think that she needed it to grieve…I think, now three-and-half years later, she’s gotten herself to the place where, in her grief process, she wants to turn her story around to help others.”

“Frantic Unleashed: Navigating Life After Suicide – A Survivor’s Journal” is available on amazon.com; reach Palrang via Facebook at franticbooks.

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