I’ve been trying to write a few new mental health posts that are relevant to this month’s Suicide Prevention and Awareness month, but it’s taking time and I’m not finding the right words to explain what this month means to me. So. I went into the archives and pulled out an old post to share for those that are also recognizing this epidemic and trying to find words and stories to relate to. I’d like to say, I hope this helps, but I know for anyone in my club, this won’t help. It’ll just be another story to get you through the day.
I’m here today, this week, this month, and always on this topic, if anyone ever needs me.
Writing about suicide is not easy, sexy, comfortable or fun. Addressing the issue, however, is the only way to save impact lives and this cause, keeping our people alive, is important to me, and it should be important to you, too.
Eight years ago, I was asked to give a speech from the survivor perspective in DC, 6 months after my father died. As a self proclaimed lover of telling stories, it was the hardest speech I’ve ever given. At the end of my talk, which I’ll post here later when I can find it at home, people came up and thanked me for being so honest. One older man waited in line ten minutes to shake my hand, and when he did, he cried and hugged me tight, telling me he never thought of how his daughters would feel if he had succeeded in any of his attempts. He thanked me for saving his life and for sharing my loss. I didn’t save him. Maybe I just gave him a reason to keep going, a bit of encouragement that no one in his life had been able to leading up to that moment. In any case, I’ll never forget his face, his hug, and I hope he’s still alive.
I ask that you make it through this Chronicle and please repost and share on your own pages, because I promise you, someone in your life will appreciate and need this.
I can’t do much more to help in the prevention of suicide than to share what I’ve learned in losing my father, and share with you how suicide affects those it leaves behind. I can’t tell you how to prevent suicide at all, because if I could, my father might still be alive and I wouldn’t have death holidays to survive each year.
My father called me two days before he killed himself and as of 6 years ago, when I wrote this original post, I was unable to write about it, because of the guilt and because of my sadness and because of the regret. But here you go.
It was 2007, August, it was hot and it was like any other month in DC. I had received at least 30 strange and typical voice mails the week leading up to my father’s death, ranging from, the CIA is listening to my phone calls to someone is watching our mail to HEATHER ITS YOUR FATHER WHERE ARE YOU to Hi, guess what I bought on Amazon today?, to other stressful or funny but emotionally draining messages that always made me slightly grateful that he had not yet tackled Facebook or the concept of email.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, it was god awful humid and sunny out, I was bored at work and I called him back from a quiet, unused office and sat with my feet up, staring out the window thinking about happy hour and listening to the most recent Amazon purchases before the conversation took a serious turn that made me put me feet down and stare at the desk.
“I’m just too tired to do this anymore,” he said, sounding exhausted and defeated and I asked what was wrong, really wrong, because I had just spent a bit of time telling him I really didn’t think his mail was being watched or his phone was tapped by the government.
In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to his tone. Though much more weary this time and not as agitated, he had used a similar tone once before, in 2003, when he called me for the first time at work to tell me he was leaving work to kill himself and that he loved me, to please take care of my sister, and we’d be just fine.
“My therapist isn’t listening to me and I can’t drink and I want to drink. You know it’s been 16 years this week since I’ve drank and some days, I’m just old and tired and I want to come home and sit in my underpants and a drink cold beer.” He said tired in his Pittsburgh accent, saying taaaaaaaaaard, and I had seen him drink beer in his underwear on the back porch in my younger days and wished for a second that he’d leave me out of those forced visuals.
“That’s a really big milestone, Dad, and you should be really proud. I’m really proud of you. I know it must be hard.” I was proud of him, though I didn’t know how difficult his addiction was because I drank at every social occasion I attended. I was just like him, except I wasn’t giving up drinking and if I wanted a beer, I’d just open one.
He carried on, telling me he was tired of jumping from job to job. I barely kept up with the ones he had in short stints. I know he was a Manager at Target, because I remember him telling me about people hiding Elmos during Christmas or buying them and reselling on the internet and how lazy some of the people were that worked for him. There was the Poland Springs gig, which had something to do with the actual filling of the water bottles, because I remember a story he told me about how the plastic bottles are blown up from the inside and how the refrigeration coolers were so cold that he wore the fuzzy winter hat I bought him in Iceland. There were others, but I couldn’t tell you today what they were because I didn’t always ask and I didn’t understand anymore why he couldn’t keep a job, outside of the fact that I’m sure it had something to do with his paranoia, the fact everyone was out to get him and that I know he threatened to choke at least two of his bosses in my lifetime.
“It’ll be alright, Dad, just hang in there,” I said, dismissing most of his problems, knowing they’d come up again next phone call, and I told him a stupid story about work that made him laugh but it wasn’t enough. It distracted him. It didn’t fix him.
We ended the call so I could get back to work. I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me and that he was proud of me. He always told me that, though, even on the days that I didn’t deserve it. That day, considering it was the last time I’d ever speak to him, I didn’t do enough to deserve that.
Two days later, my father left a letter, walked into the woods and shot himself.
I never saw the letter. I never saw his body. He never said goodbye or acknowledged leaving, leaving me, or what or what he had done or why. He was just gone, and he has been, for 2231 days. (now quite longer, having three more years that have passed)
I don’t claim to understand everyone’s mental illness or why they choose suicide in the end. I know for my father, his pain and his sickness was just too much for him. He had lost his will to live and the way he was living, over-medicating and in a world that alternated between paranoia and anger and elation, extremes from high to low depending on the day, it was all aging him and he hated it. I know he felt like he had disappointed his family and that he was tired and he wanted it all just to stop. I take the slightest bit of relief in knowing that in his eyes, ending his life was his choice, his way to find peace, and it was what he wanted, or at least he’d claim that, as I’ve never questioned that he knew exactly what he was doing. I’ve wanted to tell him for six years that he quit, though. He quit and he was an asshole and a coward for quitting and what he did went against every lesson he ever taught me, but that’s the child in me, angry and missing my father.
It’s selfish to want him to know how him leaving me has ruined a part of me that I can never get back. It’s awful to want him to know exactly the times and moments that it crushes me to think he’s not a phone call or visit away. It’s horrible to want him back so that I can scream in his face and list of things he’s missed and make him look at me, crying and angry and helpless, and demand to know if he’d do it again after watching me cry so hard I can’t speak.
But he should know. He should know that the leaves are changing and the smell of them makes me sick because walking with him in the woods in the fall and smelling the wet and changing leaves is something I have always, always loved. He should know that I can’t hear a football whistle without tensing up because I heard him blow his for many years during his coaching years, and sometimes now it sets me off. He should know that birthdays are ruined and I don’t know which Christmas traditions to carry on and when my husband grills in the winter it makes me want to lie face down on the couch and remember all the times I stood outside while it snowed to keep him company while he grilled in January. He should know that I’m having his grandson and that miracles apparently really do happen and that I can’t decide which member of his family to name my son after because what if I pick his grandfather’s name like I want to without realizing that no one even liked that grandfather and maybe he was a raging dick and if my father was alive, I could ask him and we’d have it clear within seconds whether he was an asshole or not. He should know that my sister is having a baby, too, and that his wife is going to be a grandmother alone when they could have been together and we could still be visiting on Christmas or watching the Pats almost lose to the pathetic Bills together, screaming at the TV about the defense being a bunch of bums while we slam back ginger ales and cheese and crackers. He should know that these are the things we needed him for, the things he’s missing, the things he would have loved the most.
And he should know that I love him and I miss him and most of all, that I wish I could have helped him.
It was three years ago this week that I wrote the above, and I only had to edit ten words to be able to repost today. While I spend the next few days creating new words of wisdom, and write new stories to explain the tragedy of suicide, I ask that you think of your people. Think of who needs you, who needs someone. Think of how one conversation, one personal interaction can make a difference in the life of someone who is barely holding on.
Spend time. Wipe tears. Give hope to the helpless. Listen. Use words. Reach out. Validate others. Make eye contact. Give people a reason not to give up. Hold hands. Just. Be. Kind.
Be someone’s person. In the end, it just might save a life.