It is my hope that by sharing my experience of suicide my story may somehow help someone else who is trying to sift through and understand their own grief. If my story helps even one person, my mission will not be in vain.
It sounds selfish, right? I mean HE was the one who was so sad, so distraught and hopeless that he felt the need to take his own life. What do I have to gripe about? I’m still here, alive and breathing. Yes, breathing – one breath at a time.
Addressing what he was going through and why he did what he did I haven’t written about yet. One day I will, possibly, if I can face my own demons. For now I will write about how his act, his death, affected me. It was three years ago and only now can I bring myself to revisit the hours and days following, but first I must go back to two months prior to his death.
My 14 year old daughter had just lost a close friend to suicide. Her friend was only 14 years old. The hardest thing a mother can go through is to see her child in horrendous pain and not be able to do anything to stop that pain. How could I begin to explain a fourteen year old taking his own life when I was struggling to understand it myself? All I could do was hold her while she cried herself to sleep in exhaustion only to have her wake up hours later and start the same process over again. My dad, her grandfather, saw the pain she was in. The pain this single act had created for her…. his granddaughter. Yet somehow only two months later he would choose the same path.
I remember vividly, like a scene in a movie that you’ve seen 100 times. I was in a meeting at my church. It was a frigid Tuesday morning in January, shortly after 10:00 a.m. My phone rang- I turned the volume down but it began to vibrate only minutes later. Everyone who knew me knew that I was in a meeting. Who would possibly call and text me repeatedly? I excused myself to take a peak to see who had been calling. It was my uncle from California, my brother from Indiana- both numerous times. I felt like someone hit me in the stomach because I instinctively knew that my worst nightmare was about to be confirmed. Part of my world was to be destroyed. I hesitated briefly before dialing my uncle. Would it be news that I would be able to bear? His phone barely rang and he asked “Why haven’t you answered your phone? Have you talked to your dad?”
BACK STORY: My mother had passed away 21 years prior and my dad now lived alone. It was our routine that he called me everyday, no later than 9:30 a.m. to let me know he was okay.
I explained to my uncle that the day before I had told my dad that I would be in a meeting at my church and I would call and check on him when I got out or by noon. My uncle then asked me if I had read the email from my dad- He sounded so frantic. Evidently, my dad had written his “good-byes” and sent it out to my uncle, myself and my siblings, via email. I remember running out of the church to get in my car and make the 30 minute trip to my dad’s house. I couldn’t open my car…. my purse, it was still in the church. I had an odd sensation that my brain was floating. I felt confused, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breath. As I ran back into the church I tried to remember how to get to the home that I grew up in, the house that I had driven to countless times. Why couldn’t I remember?
Ultimately, the 30 minute trip took me almost an hour. I realized that I couldn’t do this on my own. I remember praying “God, help me find the way.” After 30 minutes I finally found my way to the expressway. Then it dawned on me. What if I walked in to something that I just couldn’t process? I quickly dialed 911. I don’t know exactly what I said but I did ask them to meet me there. The response was that there was already officers “on the scene.” What?? What did that mean? I called my brother and told him to stay on the phone with me. I felt so alone. I couldn’t do THIS alone. I pulled into the sub that I had grown up in. I tried to calm my breathing. My brother told me that the police said there had been a note on the door, it said, “Wendy, don’t come in, call 911.”
As I pulled in the drive I saw two officers and a neighbor. Were they waiting for me? I was still in a cloud of confusion, yet I knew. I opened the car door and stumbled out. The officer asked if I am Wendy…I say yes and begin to tell him about the email but he cut me off. He tells me that my father has been shot. I fell, to the ground, in the snow. I heard someone screaming No! – and realize that it is me. A voice is telling me that the ambulance just left and that he was still alive when he left. Yet, I could see it in the officers eyes. He knew. We both knew.
He asked if I needed a ride to the hospital, if there was someone he could call for me. Who?? Who could he call for me that could un-do what had been done? Is there a person for that? I suddenly realize that I’m still on the ground, someone had their arms around me. It was the neighbor. All of a sudden I was so thankful to have another woman there. Someone who wasn’t staring down at me, unsure what to do or say. Reality seemed further away than the hospital yet I knew I would drive there alone. I had calls to make. My husband was waiting, my uncle and siblings waiting to find out what I knew. By the time I reached the hospital, two of my grown kids were there waiting for me in a room…THE ROOM where they bring a social worker in to talk to you. I wasn’t sure how my kids found out. Had I called them? I didn’t want to talk to a social worker. Yet I did and she confirmed what I had known in my heart. My dad was gone. Identification was discouraged.
When my siblings arrived that evening we met at my house. Together, we drove back to our childhood home the next day. As we pulled into the driveway the first thing I noticed was where my fallen body had left an imprint in the snow. It was like I was trying to wake up from a reoccurring nightmare. In my dream I could see a lady crying, humped over in the snow. She was in so much pain. Who was that lady? Was it me? I just wanted to wake up.
We needed to focus, to make arrangements. My dad however had been extremely organized in that he had made and paid for all of his final arrangements. We had nothing else to do except ask ourselves why. We all knew that dad had been depressed and on antidepressants since we were kids. His mom- my grandmother, once told my brother that my father was born angry. After my mom passed, his depression escalated. He had just recently had a surgery that he thought would greatly decrease some pain he had been experiencing. When his recovery wasn’t as quick as he had hoped, maybe it was too much and he decided to take his own life. We all could have been there more…should have been there more. Surely we had seen the signs. He told me that his meds made him feel “loopy.” I took him to his doctor and his medication was modified- but he still wasn’t okay – and now neither are we.
We all know that there are 5 stages of grief. The survivors of suicide loss know that there are more for us. For me, there were 8 stages- in no particular order.
Confusion, Denial, Anger, Guilt, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance and Feelings of Abandonment.
Confusion: People told me to “take one day at a time.” One day?? I couldn’t even breath- how could I possibly make it through a day? Then the voice inside me whom I call God said, “I know you can’t take one day at a time so just focus on breathing. One breath at a time.” This made sense. I could focus on a deep breath in and slowly letting it out. I remember just listening to myself breath. One breath turned into two and then minutes had passed, then hours. With practice, I learned to make it through a day.
Denial: There was no denying what he had done.
Anger: I grew up knowing that my dad was the strongest man, my protector and hero. He was the one person who would never do anything to hurt me. Yet, he did and it was the ultimate betrayal. I am also angry that he didn’t just hurt me but he knew how his granddaughter, my daughter was suffering from her friends suicide. How could he?
Guilt: Of course guilt. I still have my moments but deep inside, I know he fought depression his entire life. There was nothing I, or anyone else could do to stop what he had planned for years.
Bargaining: What he had done could not be reversed. I knew that.
Depression: I am still struggling but I won’t be like him. Everyday before I get out of bed I count my blessings. I choose to be happy.
Acceptance: You can’t fill a vessel that is broken. Happiness comes from within. My son pointed out a different perspective. My dad’s action had nothing to with me but only to do with him. He needed to escape HIS pain.
Feelings of abandonment: I won’t lie. Everyday I still wonder why I wasn’t enough. Wasn’t I worth it? When I start to feel like this, I remind myself of my son’s words…It was never about ME.
It was never about me or my siblings. It wasn’t the death of my mother, the loss of his status as a GM employee. It wasn’t about being raised by an alcoholic father. It wasn’t the lengthy recovery after his surgery. Life gives us all roadblocks. It is how we choose to get through these blocks. Will they make us stronger or weaker? His suicide is my roadblock, but I make the choice daily. I will be strong.
If you are having feelings of depression or suicide please know that there are people who can help.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Hot Line # 1-800-273-8255 or asap.org