Journalist raises awareness for those impacted by suicide after losing her husband 11 years ago
"We spent our careers telling other people's stories, and I thought it's time to tell ours to see if it can help other people..."
- Deb Sherwood
Suicide continues to be a growing public concern nationwide and locally. In Wisconsin, the suicide rate increased by 32% from 2000 to 2020 according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. It’s also estimated that one suicide death affects as many as 130 other individuals including family, friends, coworkers, and others.
Deb Sherwood reached out to Lake Effect to share how suicide and its aftermath has impacted her personally. Her husband Bob took his life 11 years ago. He was the first investigative reporter ever in Milwaukee working for what was then WTMJ TV (now known as TMJ4) according to Sherwood.
Deb and Bob Sherwood were married for over 31 years. When they first met, she was as a reporter and Bob came in to serve as a station's news director. After co-anchoring one of the regular news programs and spending extended periods of time together, they began a romantic relationship.
"We did what everybody tells you not to do — we fell in love, got married, and continued to work together in a very obvious profession for a number of years," recalls Sherwood.
They built a great life together, but Bob would later face numerous health issues that greatly impacted his quality of life. However, when Bob died by suicide in November of 2011, Sherwood says it caught her "totally off guard."
"I did not expect it at all, but he had a number of medical issues that quite honestly weren't going to get better. So he went from a very vibrant news guy to somebody who needed help with everything, including, you know, getting dressed and things that we tend to keep behind closed doors. And it was a huge frustration for him," she recalls. "And I think eventually, it just got to the point where he felt that he was tired of making me be his caregiver while our bank account dwindled with all the medical expenses. So he eventually made the decision to take his life."
Immediately following her husband's death, the few people Sherwood told advised her not to share what really happened for fear of ruining Bob's professional reputation. She said she took that advice to heart for quite some time.
"I mean, he was sick. Everybody knew he was sick. So it's sort of like, why do I have to maybe tarnish his reputation? And quite honestly, my own," says Sherwood. "It's sort of like I don't want people questioning our relationship or our personal situation based on that final decision. I want people to remember his life, not that final decision that he made ... and stigma is certainly a big part of it."
After the police had conducted their standard investigation following Bob's death in their home, the amount of resources and support Sherwood received was underwhelming, leaving her to navigate the aftermath mostly on her own. Even though she considered herself fairly well-versed with research being a journalist, Sherwood says "I didn't have a clue what to do."
"It's a really difficult challenge to go through when you're kind of at your weakest ... where do I turn, what do I do now? Who should I tell what to and how much to? All those are issues that you just kind of have to figure out as you go along," she adds.
Sherwood did seek out help from a therapist and continued to search for different resources and found varied success.
Throughout the healing process, Sherwood quickly realized that she needed to use discretion with whom she shared her experience, as many people weren't offering helpful support — even the medical professionals. Some of the comments she received questioned why she still wore her wedding ring or how she couldn't see it coming. Deb explains that a psychiatrist instructed her to box up any and everything that reminded her of Bob and get rid of it to "move on."
"And as I'm walking out to my car, I thought, 'You know, she's right. I do need to move on, but from her. Not from my husband of over 31 years," she says.
Though it took time, Sherwood says she eventually reached a point where she wasn't concerned with what other people thought, and began to trust herself to honor Bob and process what happened in order to start healing. She says, "We spent our careers telling other people's stories, and I thought it's time to tell ours to see if it can help other people that unfortunately, are going to have to walk in these same shoes."
The other people that go through similar experiences are frequently points of thought for Sherwood. She points out how many resources focus on suicide prevention, but not as many address the people impacted by losing someone through suicide. However, she eventually connected with a support group that became a significant help. Sherwood also continues to work with organizations and advocate for support of the people who are impacted by suicide in order to get resources to them when it's most needed.
Deb, a journalist at heart, realized that something that helps her and could also potentially help other people in similar circumstances is learning about Bob from people who knew him in various capacities. She invites hearing about her husband and encourages people to pursue healing measures persistently.
"People tend to stop talking about the people that we lose because they don't want to make you feel bad," Sherwood notes. "And it's sort of like, talk to me. I may cry, but you know, tears can be healing ... Do what feels right for you at the time. And then if it's not the correct answer, then you try something else. Just don't give up."
If you or anyone you know is in a crisis or thinking about suicide, trained help is available for you. You can talk to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988.
- Mental Health America of Wisconsin
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) — Southeast Wisconsin
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention