OK…This is it. LAST depressing post for a while….and it’s a long one….I was born in Illinois and it is May 2nd there, so it is officially the 21st anniversary of my fathers death. I have come a long way in those 21 years. It has been a happy, sad, wonderful, depressing, insightful, loving, and crazy journey of lessons. I feel like I should share them to help others. I wrote a memoir about understanding and overcoming suicide and I hope to publish it this year, but even if it doesn’t I want to start helping others now. The point: Suicide is never the answer. Your problem might go away but it leaves devastation for those left behind…..left behind to wonder why? how? what could I have done to stop this? Someone who does this is not just killing themselves but the lives of everyone close around them. My message is get help. My message is also and mostly if you are left behind you can go on. You can stop punishing yourself. You can live. You can be happy again.
Suicide is not just a slashing of a wrist, a jumping off a building, or pulling a trigger. This is suicide:
After the fight, my father left the house. He took the truck and left for three days. We didn’t know where he went. The three days were a blur to me. I couldn’t tell you anything that happened. He came home the night before he died. He was very different, stoic and still very mad. He didn’t speak to us and we did not attempt to speak to him. Mom slept in my room with me that night because she was scared. The next morning was May 2nd, four days before his 38th birthday. All he said to me—using his unemotional, stoic, ashamed-of-me face— was not to take the truck to school that day. I went to my mom, asked her, and she told me yes, I could take the truck. Within minutes, I left for school.
I remember seeing my father walking the dog and looking at me from up on a little embankment at the neighbor’s house. He was wearing his blue coat and he just stared at me—a stare of disappointment, of loss, of something I couldn’t place. I don’t know if he was upset because I took the truck, because of my lying, from my being a disappointment as a daughter, or if he was saying good-bye, because he missed who we used to be to one another. Was he saying good-bye to me in his own way? He was standing with Ali, my dog, across from the tree house he had built for me when I was a kid . . . the one in which I’d had so many happy times. He was standing a hundred yards away from where we used to fly kites. He was standing right by the bus stop I used to walk to each day in grade school. I think the look he had on his face was just one of sadness. Of having given up. Life was just too hard and he didn’t think it could be fixed. Whether he blamed himself or me or my mother, it just wasn’t working. It just wasn’t worth it.
I went to school and attended all my classes. It was a normal, yet abnormal, crappy day. During gym class, I was walking around the indoor track with my friends and we were discussing my dad and how he’d finally come back home. My friends confided in me they were scared of my dad and didn’t like coming over to my house. I told them I hated him. At that moment, the gym teacher came over and told me to go to the principal’s office. She wouldn’t tell me what was going on. I went to the office and my mom and grandpa were in the room, sitting on chairs across from the principal. They looked like ghosts. My mom told me that my dad had killed himself in our attic and started a fire. The fireman and police were still at the house. They’d come to the school to take me home.
That moment was the breaking point of my life. Time stopped. The pain was like no other I could possibly imagine. If I thought the last several months were bad, they were nothing compared to that moment and that loss. It was inconceivable. My father was the strongest person I knew in the world. I never in my wildest dreams imagined this as a possible outcome. No way. There was no way this could be true. Did I think my parents would divorce? Yes. Did I think my dad would be mad at me for life? Yes. But he would still have been on the planet. Knowing that he was no longer on the planet and connected to me in any way destroyed me. What had I done? I had told my friends I hated him, when he was already dead! How could I have said that? I said that over and over to myself: “I told them I hated him, when he was already dead.”
A few of the thoughts that circulated constantly in my mind from that afternoon onward: I am a monster. I am so ashamed. I can never look at my friends in the eyes again. God heard me say I hated him and he was already dead. I am numb.
Immediately, my brain just kind of stopped processing new information. I was like a robot going through the motions of life. I found myself walking out of the school and sitting in the back seat of the car. Stuff was going on all around me: sounds, movement, people . . . but all I could think was: I said out loud I hated my father and he was dead and I told my friends I hated my father and he was dead. I am the lowest human on the planet. I deserve to be punished. It should have been me. I should be dead right now. I am the monster. Where am I? This cannot be reality.
From the newspaper article, it said he doused himself with gasoline, he might have shot himself, as there were guns up there, he hung himself with a wire cable, and at the same time started a fire. The firemen were warned there were guns up there, so they would not enter until the police came. It was reported that it took quite a while to put out the fire. Those are the facts. They do nothing to comfort the aftermath.
When I got home, the fireman, police and coroner were still there. I believe there might have been a couple reporters from news stations there, as well. I was numb. My mother was trying to explain things to me, as I sat at my grandparent’s house staring at our house. My mother didn’t want me to see my dad’s body being brought out in a bag by the coroner, but I insisted. By the time that happened, most of the crowd of nosey onlookers had dissipated. I sat on the steps of my grandparents’ porch and watched him come out and get put in the truck. The image of this passing before my eyes was just surreal. I couldn’t believe it. How could this happen? What did I do? I had now become a murderer. I had murdered my best friend in the whole world.
As I sat outside the house, I was by myself. My mother couldn’t bear to watch. I was out there when one of my friends from my childhood and her parents walked down the street to check out the scene. I was so pissed . . . that people just had to be nosy and crowd into other people’s grief. I went inside. I finally got a hold of Brian when he got home from school. He couldn’t believe what I was telling him on the phone. I begged him to come over as fast as he could, but he had to wait for his mother to come home with the car. Waiting for him was agony. I kept calling him to see if he had left yet. While I was waiting, the phone rang. A newspaper reporter called to get an interview. Fucking leeches! I don’t watch the news to this day. So much of the news preys upon other people’s pain to make money. My grandfather hung up on him.
When word started getting out, family started coming over to both my grandparents’ houses. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I went down to my grandparent’s basement and that’s where I stayed. Eventually, my mom came down and talked to me. She tried to give me some history, information I had purposely been kept in the dark about my entire life—all sorts of details about my father; about his gambling, the stock market, the loss of his job, his depression, his mental illness, how he had been threatening to kill himself for years. All the things she was telling me were just so unbelievable. I called her a liar and told her to leave. Was she coming up with all of this stuff to make me feel better? In my mind, I thought, So what about all of that stuff! She knows as well as I do what had transpired in the past 3 days and the past eight months. My mom knew what I had done. I wanted her to blame me. I wanted someone to blame me. Why was everyone getting this all wrong?
I wanted to see no one, except for Brian. I just waited and sobbed into my grandma’s couch pillows. Uncontrollable sobs. Uncontrollable pain. When Brian finally came over, his face was swollen red with tears. I explained what I knew. He told me how the first thing he thought of was how angry he was at my dad. “How could he throw everything away he had?” was Brian’s question. To him, I had the perfect life, and so my dad must have had such, too. The perfect house, the perfect cars, the perfect family, good job, etc. Since his parents were divorced and went through some pretty hard times, Brian had a hard time understanding my dad’s suicide.
After our initial discussion of what had happened, Brian’s arms were the only thing that comforted me. A little sliver of myself believed him when he told me it wasn’t my fault. I trusted him completely; so when he said it, it could have been- . . . no, it had to be true, didn’t it? I felt okay when he was there with me. I felt like if I just had him, I could be alright and I could forget about everything. I just needed him beside me. I just needed his energy next to me, around me. So, it devastated me when he had to go home. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want what felt like the other half of my soul to leave. I felt as though the part remaining couldn’t handle this pain and utter horror on its own. I didn’t want to be around anyone else and I didn’t want to be alone. What was I going to do? What was I going to do all night?
I knew Brian would be coming back in the morning, but I cried and ached, nonetheless. I stared at the TV and cried. I thought about everything relating to my recent relations with my dad . . . and I cried some more. I fell asleep at some point, and to my horror, when I woke up the next day, it was still the same reality! This loss permanently changed the entire dynamic of our whole family forever. Family get-togethers would never be the same. There would always be that unspoken grief in the air. I remember at many holidays in the future, going over to my dad’s parents’ house and my grandfather would break down when he said grace. He’d lost his firstborn son, who was now gone forever.
Sometime over the next few days, both my fathers’ parents came to see me. As with their personality they had few words. When ever my grandfather tried to talk to me his voice would close up face would turn red and tears would stream down his eyes. My grandmother tried to be the rock and appeared more stoic yet silent tears would still trickle down her cheeks. They attempted to put on a brave face for me, but it was so apparent that they bother were dying inside; dying of an irreconcilable pain in the middle of their heart tearing at the framework of their soul with a black poison slithering through their veins. No words..just no words. I hadn’t just killed my father. I had just killed their son. I had killed my entire family.
My mother tried to spend time with me, too, but I just didn’t want to. I just wanted Brian to hold me, and he did. He just held me. He held me as I cried. He held me as I sobbed. He held me when I asked why. And he had the best response for all of my questions. He said: “I don’t know.” He didn’t try to “fix me”. He was just there and that is all I wanted. During this same time, my mother was also planning the funeral with my grandfather. I only left the basement to go to the bathroom, and then I wouldn’t look at anyone. I would just stare at the floor and run in and out as fast as I could, like the kitchen floor was made of lava. When the funeral date and arrangements were decided, several days had passed. In the case of a death such as this, the coroner had to complete his report. So, naturally, no one was rushing about any of the details.
My mother informed me we had to go to the mall to buy something to wear, since all of our clothes were ruined in the fire. They weren’t burned, but there was water damage in the entire house and everything smelled burnt. I couldn’t bear to leave the basement. My mother and Brian finally convinced me to go to the mall. My mom said I would stay in the car and she would bring things out for me to look at. When we got in the car, I lowered my seat back and refused to look out or be seen by anyone. I felt such shame. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I couldn’t handle anyone judging me or feeling sorry for me, hating or loving me. I just wanted to be invisible. We got to the mall and my mom brought out a few things, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to go back home.
I did not want to go to the wake or the funeral. I did not want to see anyone. I did not want to talk to anyone, and I didn’t want anyone to tell me they were sorry. And even though I wished my mom would just leave me alone, she insisted I go to both.
The wake did not go well. Once again, I went in our truck with the seat lowered back, so no one could see me. When I got there, I remember seeing Uncle Stuart outside. I could tell he couldn’t go inside, either. He looked completely broken and devastated. I didn’t want to go in, so I stayed in the truck for a long time. I kept seeing people file in and out of the funeral home. Whoever they were, though, I really didn’t want to see or be seen by anyone. After feeling guilty for not going into my own fathers wake, I finally decided to go in, but I didn’t stay long. I just kept looking down at the floor, looking at the pattern of the ridges in the carpet. I do remember my cousin,Scott asking me if I needed anything. I just responded with a basic; No thanks. I know a lot of people from the neighborhood came, along with my dad’s friends, coworkers, my schoolmates, and all the family members who attended. I don’t know if I actually saw them, or if it was just told to me. There were so many people there who loved and cared about him. He was such a quiet soul. Interestingly, I don’t know if anyone really knew him. He never shared his emotions, at least, not that I ever really saw. I do remember the pastor giving his speech about my father and loss to all of the people gathered. This pastor knew my father since he was a baby, although my father hadn’t been to church, let alone that church since he was a kid and forced to go. I remember one particular thing he said. It was something like Steve, my father, had signs of emotional problems as a child. I sat there stunned. What the fuck is going on? Is everyone insane? Are they saying all of this shit just to make sense of things and make themselves feel better? Things were only bad like the last ten months. I was just at a loss and mad. People would come and go and all want to say something comforting to me. Please just leave me alone. Forget I am here. I am invisible.
I do recall the next day a little more clearly, which was the day of the funeral procession. Some of my good friends came, including Genana Heidi, and Heather; but I don’t think I spoke with them. I remember the pallbearers walking my father’s closed beautiful casket into the hearse. Never understood why caskets had to be so pretty as it was just going to be buried. It didn’t seem fitting with how horrible everyone felt. They included my Uncle Stuart with his head bowed low refusing to look at anyone and his suit all jumbled and a couple sizes too big, my dad’s father in his light gray suit and white shirt, his gray/white hair disheveled crying barely able to keep it together with tears streaming down his face, my mother’s father in his dark gray suit with his white/gray hair perfectly combed in place trying to be the rock and not letting himself cry, Uncle Ed, my mom’s sisters husband in his dark navy blue suit with 20 more years of hair than he has now looking like a deer in the headlights numb. I remember the long drive to the cemetery in the back seat of my grandparents gray crown Royal with my grandfather and grandmother in the front and my mom, Brian and myself in the back with Brian holding me. My grandfather driving very carefully minding the other cars in the procession, my grandmother just staring out the front window with her tissue in hand afraid to look back at me as every time she did she would well up, my mother numb, crying, but her mind was probably running through the list of things that were going to transpire, Brian with his glasses on, white faced, telling me every so often that it would be okay, and myself cold, shaking, crying, embarrassed, numb, mortified, hopeless, leaning on Brian hoping that I could just melt into his body and not be there. I remember all the cars and driving through the brick pillars into the cemetery and weaving through the maze of sections of all the plots. How did anyone ever find their loved ones plots to visit them? It just seemed like a sea of death and loss. I remember everyone arriving by the funeral plot. We of course parked in the closest spot besides the hearse. Funerals are the one time you don’t want the good parking spot. You want to be the furthest away. The closer you are parked mean you are the closest to the pain. Seeing everyone filing out of their cars like Genana, not knowing what to do or say. Just sadness. My father was buried in a family plot next to my great grandma and grandpa Russel. That was one thing for sure I know he would have wanted. However, I knew he wasn’t in that casket. I knew he wasn’t being buried in that ground. He was there. He was watching this whole thing go down. He had to be sad and ashamed for what was happening right now. This could not be what his goal was. So many people devastated.
The next few years I used to go to the cemetery quite often and read his name on his grave stone. I used to bring a red rose and put it on the grave. I used to cry and ask why. I used to go and think maybe it was all a dream and maybe it wouldn’t be there when I got there. I used to curl up in a ball on top of the grave and sob. I used to tell him how sorry I was and beg for his forgiveness. I used to beg that this could all just go away and we could start again. I wished it was me that died that day, but then my pain would have went away. I deserved all of this pain. I came back to my grandparent’s house and went back into the basement, my prison, my tomb. I refused to complete the school year, and just stayed in the basement, staring at my grandmother’s black-and-white TV. I kept sitting there on her white, brown and gray couch, clutching and sobbing into the couch cushions . . . firmly believing this would now be my life.