methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Peter Kolsky loved to cook. He left behind friends missing the "buoyant vivant" many knew him to be. Photo courtesy of Corbett Gordon.

Peter Kolsky
Face of suicide

Corbett Gordon’s husband Peter Kolsky committed suicide on Father’s Day, June 20, 2010, just shy of his 67th birthday, at their small farm in Carlton. She is sharing her story partly because she says it is so important for anyone living with someone who is mentally ill to get help for themselves as well.

“I had been living with a man who wouldn’t admit he was bi-polar,” she said. He refused to take all the drugs prescribed for him by his doctors. He would tell her, “I’m just depressed.”

Peter’s manic periods eventually became so extreme that he would have a psychotic break and descend into paranoia, Corbett said. “There were days when I went to Hank’s [supermarket in Twisp] and didn’t know if I would go home and find my husband, or him blown to bits all over the living room.”

That was Peter Kolsky’s dark side. He also was the Renaissance man she had married 21 years earlier. “He could do everything, and everything he did, he did well,” Corbett said.

The couple, and their blended family of four daughters, lived in Portland, but every year for many years Peter and Corbett came to Sun Mountain Lodge for a long weekend for their anniversary. In 2004, they came in the fall instead and while on a drive they saw riverfront land for sale and stopped at the Windermere office in Twisp. They looked at the property twice, and halfway home to Portland they pulled over and made an offer. By fall 2005 they had moved to the farm.

Peter, who had a degree from Parson’s School of Design in New York, worked at Nike USA, Inc. headquarters in Portland starting in 1984. He was a vice president there. Corbett is an attorney specializing in labor law, who merged her firm with Fisher and Phillips, LLP, a national firm.

“Peter was a fabulous cook," Corbett said, describing some of her husband's many talents. "He made 90 percent of our dinners until the last 18 months of his life. We always had a family dinner together when the girls were growing up.” He was an avid fly fisherman who also loved hunting, playing the piano, and motorcycles. He thought about flying lessons. “He built one house from the ground up and remodeled two others.”  Beekeeping was his final passion. His first swarm of bees arrived in April 2010. Two months later he was dead.

Peter Kolsky and Corbett Gordon with their four daughters. The girls, from the top, are Heather, Morgan, Diana and Sara. The kids decided everyone but their Dad should wear neutral colors then they picked out the colorful shirt he is wearing. "He was a wonderful daddy," said Corbett. Photo courtesy of Corbett Gordon.

“He wanted to control his story,” Corbett said. He would not take all the medications because to him it would mean “he was crazy.” He would accuse Corbett of thinking he was crazy. “No,” she would reply. “I think you are bi-polar.”

He would say, “I’m just a broken old man. You’d be better off without me.” She would reply that it wasn’t true. “We need you to be properly medicated.”

Near the end of Peter’s life, “My husband chose to tell other people unkind and untrue things about me ... He left me a legacy to overcome.”

For example: “He told people I was leaving him, that I was lawyered up and was taking his assets, [none of which was true], and he couldn’t bear to face Father’s Day without his family. So he shot himself on Father’s Day. His point of reference was himself, not others. If he had been capable of thinking about his girls and their feelings, he never would have shot himself."

Corbett said if you are living with someone who is depressed or has threatened suicide, “Get help for yourself and some insight.” She said she understands the reluctance of people living in a small community to reach out, but she said reading and talking with people helped her better understand her husband’s mental illness.

 “About one-and-a-half years before he died, I started to see a counselor,” she added – someone she found in Portland, where she was traveling a couple of days a month to tend her part-time law practice. She found counseling helpful. She also recommended “An Unquiet Mind,” an autobiography by Kay Redfield Jamison, as a book that helped.

Corbett started a monthly suicide bereavement support group at Room One in Twisp in February 2011. She said she was receiving phone messages saying, “I have a family member who really needs to talk with you. Or, "I have a friend who really needs to talk.” Month after month she went to Room One at the appointed hour. Not one person ever came.

"There is so much guilt and shame and anger and often relief" when someone commits suicide, which probably at least partly explains why nobody showed up. "The person who commits suicide has been sick for a very long time," Corbett said.

In her 2010 holiday letter, Corbett wrote, “Suicide is not a ‘normal’ death, and it leaves in its wake an abnormal grief, laced with anger and an endless quest to try to understand: How could the man I love abandon me? ... Peter’s death was a sad and unnecessary loss of someone who burned so bright with talent, passion, and the capacity to love. He was to the end a kind and loving father to all four of our girls.” 

Corbett was aware Peter had issues with depression from the beginning. What she didn’t know is that he had been diagnosed as narcissistic and bi-polar by several doctors over the years and had received prescriptions for the proper drugs, some of which he was refusing to take. She learned that Peter’s father committed suicide at age 39. Corbett said the family story was that he had an eye problem and the medications he was given made him suicidal. She now believes his father likely was bi-polar.

Corbett said that by the end of 2011 she had reached “a place of peace.” But she is frank about her feelings. “If somebody is that sick, it’s hard to miss them right away. It’s just now, a year and a half later that I am missing the good parts of him.”

Realizing she needed to have "a busier mind," Corbett has returned to Portland to resume her law practice. She has a caretaker at the farm in Carlton, which she intends to keep. And at some future time she said she’ll likely return to the Methow Valley to give semi-retirement another try.


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