methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Photo courtesy of David McWalter

Melissa McWalter
Face of suicide

As part of his own healing process, David McWalter is sharing the tragic story that has left his life in shambles since Dec. 3, 2011. That's the day his beloved 38-year-old wife Melissa, a gifted earth sciences teacher and mother of the couple’s three children, took her own life.

 "I appreciate what you are doing by writing about suicide," he said. “I want people to know the truth. The hiding of the truth is what killed Melissa.”

That truth is that Melissa suffered horrible abuse as a little girl, which she kept locked inside. “She never revealed all of it until a few years ago, even to me,” he said. David, who has had training in dealing with people in crisis, knew they needed help. The couple sought counseling and felt they were doing all the right things. "I thought we were coming out of the woods," he said.

 But "the truth of abuse was hidden for so long that when it was revealed it hurt my wife Melissa so much she felt the only answer to her pain was to end her life." The abuse "destroyed her,” he said, adding, "I don't like the irony: The people who hurt her the most are still here and she is gone now."

He hopes that sharing this story will help save lives and help people better understand the legacy of abuse. "I truly know the importance of recognizing the signs of someone who needs help," David said. "Everybody tells me I did the best I could." His message to the rest of us is to "truly listen to people," and not in a casual way. “Be serious and not flippant. Reach out because you might be the last person they talk with.”

David described the day prior to Melissa’s death: “We had a nice meal. Our children were laughing. We had a movie night.” The next day he planned to work half a day and then spend the rest of it on a family outing to a local community celebration much like Winthrop’s Christmas at the End of the Road. He now recognizes, as would mental health professionals, that Melissa was so happy the day before she died because she had made the decision to kill herself. She ended her pain with a gunshot.

The McWalter family has many friends in the Methow Valley, where David was a ranger at Pearrygin Lake State Park. They, too, were shocked and have struggled to understand. Melissa’s death was especially devastating for Helen Treser, who started a group for young mothers and children that meets at a local church. Melissa had participated in the group for eight years. “Melissa had such love for other people,” Treser said. “If a new mom came, I could count on her to make them feel welcome and accepted.”

Treser described Melissa as an “open" and smiling person. Although she occasionally told the moms she was struggling and asked them to pray with her, she never revealed specifics. She was very private, Treser said, even when she shared personal things from her life in an attempt to connect and draw her out.

Melissa seemed “very happy going into the fall,” Treser said. That's when David took a State Parks position on the west side of the Cascades and the family moved. Three weeks before she died, Melissa called Treser. She asked her friend to pray for her, but she didn't reveal how bad she was feeling, or why.

David had taken the new job -- at Ebey's Landing State Park on Whidbey Island -- to gain experience he needed for his longer-term career plan. But in a second blow, shortly after his wife’s death, the job was eliminated as part of the current State Parks' budget cuts. He has been on leave since Melissa died. However, he said he is scheduled to report for work soon as an assistant ranger at Ocean City State Park near Ocean Shores.

“Since December 3rd I’ve been trying to put my family back together,” David said. “I lost my best friend of 20 years and my wife of 15 years.” His younger sister has been with him and is helping with the children. “Life is getting better, but it is hard to move forward without Melissa."

Five women from the Methow Valley drove over recently to help him sort things. “They loved Melissa and our family and knew I needed help sorting out 15 years of life.”

He has only good things to say about the Methow, which he loves, though right now his focus is on getting through each day. “My children are what keep me moving right now. They keep me alive.”


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