Berne widow seeks online education while expecting a third child

— Photo from Jennifer Williams

Matthew A. Williams killed himself last September. His widow, Jennifer Williams, is now taking online classes to become certified for jobs that will allow her to support her children.

BERNE — Matthew A. Williams killed himself last Sept. 18 while his wife, Jennifer Williams, was driving around with her two young children, thinking she was giving him time to cool down after a common domestic squabble. He was 47.

“He came home, and he seemed kind of out of it, but I assumed it was just a bad day at work,” Williams told The Enterprise last week, recounting the night her husband died. “So we were chatting at the dinner table and whatnot, and he went upstairs and called his mom, and that’s what kind of started all of this,” she said of the argument that ensued.

“Normally he’d talk to his mom on the couch, so I could talk to her and she would talk to the kids,” Williams continued. When that point of curiosity came up between the couple, it spiraled out of control. 

“He said, ‘Well let me know when I can do something right. I can’t even make a freaking phone call anymore,’ and I was like, ‘What?’” Williams said. “I was pissed off that he brought it so far, and got the kids in the car, went for a drive, gone half-an-hour, came back, and found him like that.”

 

Matthew Williams

Matthew Williams was born on Oct. 24, 1971 in Elmira, and, according to a tribute written by his family, called music his greatest passion. 

“It was my love for Michael Jackson that bonded us,” Jennifer Williams said of their relationship, which had started developing while the two of them worked in a law firm together — though their relationship was platonic at first.

At the time, Matthew Williams was in a difficult marriage, according to Jennifer Williams. “I was giving him advice on how to make it work … ,” Williams said. “Then we ended up getting together.”

Williams, who had two kids of her own from a previous relationship, was struck by how much her kids loved Matthew. “I had finally been content just being a single mom of two, saying I didn’t need a boyfriend or anything like that, and then he came along and it was a whole other story,” she said.

Among the qualities that made him attractive, Jennifer Williams said, were his happy-go-lucky nature and his capacity for empathy.

“He was caring and understanding,” Williams said. “He would go out of his way to help anybody … He was just overly friendly. And seemed overly happy. He could always put a good spin on life.”

Eventually, Jennifer Williams became pregnant with what would have been Matthew Williams’s first child, an experience that he was “so excited for,” she said.

But his light demeanor masked what Williams described as a lifelong struggle with depression. Matthew Williams had attempted suicide before, but had sought help from a friend before the attempt turned fatal, and he had been seeing a therapist and taking medication to help with his illness. 

“He always thought that he needed to be the best at everything,” Williams said. “And then he’d see all his friends making more money and stuff, and we were just living paycheck to paycheck.”

Despite Matthew Williams’s prior suicide attempt and his recurring depressive episodes, it seemed to Jennifer Williams that he was far enough away from the brink of another attempt.

“I could usually talk to him and he’d be happy again,” Williams said of her husband’s slumps. “It was mostly encouraging him, like, ‘You are good enough,’ and he’d seem to cheer up and it’d be fine.” 

At the couple’s wedding, just months before Matthew Williams killed himself, his family came up to the new bride and told her how happy he seemed. 

“His family kept coming up to me at the wedding and saying how they had never seen him so happy,” Jennifer Williams said. “And they were thanking me, and saying I was the one who made him this happy. So that made me happy and I felt like I was helping him out, but apparently I didn’t do enough … He was struggling with a lot more than he let me know.”

 

Background

While Matthew Williams’s suicide was a devastating shock for his family and friends, his demographic — a white, middle-aged man — makes up the largest share of a growing national suicide rate. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, nearly 50,000 Americans killed themselves in 2018 at a rate of 14.2 deaths per 100,000 individuals. 

While women are almost twice as likely to report a suicide attempt as men are, more men than women die by suicide each year, likely due to a trend in men to keep their emotions to themselves and not expose their vulnerabilities publicly, according to Verywell, a health media company with content that is reviewed by physicians.

Six months after Matthew Williams’s suicide, Jennifer Williams said there was no way to see it coming.

“Looking back at the things he said,” Williams explained, “I didn’t think he’d do this.”

 

Aftermath

Now, Jennifer Williams is finding a way to support her family while they grapple with emotional and economic loss. 

Williams told her children, who are both under the age of 10, that their stepfather died of a broken heart. 

“They’re too young to know that suicide is an option,” Williams said. 

She gave each of them some of his clothing as a way to foster a sense of connection, but they’re still working through their grief, she explained. 

“They’re getting better,” Williams said. “For a good couple weeks, they were crying every night. Now they act like they can see him around the house and they talk to him.”

For Williams, though, confronting pain is more complicated.

“I do all my crying while they’re away at school,” she said before schools were closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “As soon as the bus comes, it’s tough-mommy time.”

Meanwhile, Williams is enrolled in three online courses through the Stratford Career Institute, a distance-learning organization that provides home-based vocational training. 

Williams says she wants to get a paralegal certificate as well as a teacher’s aide certificate, but that she needs to remain homebound while she’s pregnant, and won’t be able to return to work until June of this year — two months after her baby is scheduled to be delivered by cesarean section.

When asked if there’s been support from her community during this time, Williams said yes, but that her “stubborn country-girl” personality prevents her from accepting it very easily.

“There’s been a lot of offers and stuff,” Williams said. “I just don’t take them because I’m stubborn and like to do things on my own … So they try. I just have too much pride.”

Williams said it took “a lot of convincing” from her family to reach out for financial aid in a GoFundMe campaign, through which she’s raised nearly $1,500 in two weeks. But not all responses to her request were charitable.

“There are people lecturing me about spending other people’s money,” Williams said, “but they don’t realize it all goes toward [Matthew’s] debts.”

Williams stressed that she was not looking to be able to afford “anything extra”; she just wants to keep up with mortgage payments and utility expenses. 

Through it all, Williams hopes that her struggle will help people understand that it’s OK to reach out for help — and that doing so can help save a life or a family. 

“Don’t hold your feelings in,” Williams told The Enterprise when asked about the lessons she wanted to share. “No matter how bad you’re feeling, don’t be ashamed to get help.”

Tags:

More Hilltowns News

  • Some of the towns with land on the Helderberg escarpment where large wind turbines were proposed in 2008 drafted laws on wind energy; others haven’t.

  • As coronavirus cases continue to climb in Albany County and vital services are shut down in response, children and seniors in the Hilltowns are vulnerable not only to the virus, but to hunger. To remedy this, the Berne Youth Council, Berne Library, and Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District are working together to deliver meals and groceries to these at-risk populations.

  • After Dr. Kevin Knuth’s scheduled lecture at the Carey Institute for Global Good was canceled due to concerns over the coronavirus, The Enterprise spoke with the University of Albany professor and former NASA scientist about his research into unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. “The majority of sightings are misidentifications …,” Knuth said of UFO incidents, “but there’s a lingering 3-percent of cases that don’t have an explanation.”

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.