With it being Suicide Prevention Day recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences surrounding that topic. It’s worse than an earworm of a bad/not bad song (Tom’s Diner anyone?) that you hear a small snippet of and sure enough, pretty soon all you keep hearing is the droning melody of all the events that have played out over the past 8 years. Yeah, you’ve dealt with it, and sure, those emotions are settled, but it sure as shit still feels like it just happened yesterday. This isn’t really about suicide prevention, because I don’t know how to stop it, and telling someone to “talk about it” is akin to telling an alcoholic to “just stop drinking…” This is me finally getting this story out to more than just a few close friends.
Disclaimer, there’s no PF spin or $ talk today, so feel free to delete and move on if you’re not interested, my feelings won’t be hurt a bit.
I was standing in my apartment when the phone rang. I was a bit out of it, because I’d put in a long night working on writing my master’s thesis and was just feeling spent. It was my sister’s boyfriend and I thought, “Why the hell is he calling me?” I picked it up figuring my sister had lost/broken/sold her phone and was using his to get in touch with me. I picked it up and asked, “Hey what’s up?” He replied, “Pat did it…” I said, “What?” He said, “He did it, he shot himself.” (He was referring to my dad)
I felt like a wooden 4×4 post just slammed into my chest, knocked a huge hole in it, took my breath away, and left me numb at the same time.
I just hung up. I didn’t have anything to say.
My first thought was that it wasn’t true, followed by, “no, it’s got to be true, I just don’t want to believe it.” I hadn’t ever expected my dad to actually kill himself. He always had a flair for the dramatic, and dealt with bipolar issues and alcoholism (fun times all around) so we knew it was possible, but he didn’t seem suicidal and I’d just talked with him a few nights previous and he sounded like his usual excited about life self. Maybe it was just because he was talking to me.
We spent a lot of time on the phone together, just talking about everything, nothing, and then some. We’d almost compete with each other as if we wouldn’t get a chance to talk over the other one and catch them up on what we had been up to before the other one would cut us off. It was almost comical how we’d cut each other off at times, just excited to talk about our day, or a fish I’d caught or a new gun he’d found, or a cool snowstorm I got caught in, or his latest find at the thrift store. Everything and nothing…
In an instant, that was gone. No one left to go back “home” to visit anymore. “Home” was a concept long gone by then, but he was the only reason I’d get back to my home town a few times a year. It was nice catching up with my siblings as well, but he was pretty much the glue that held the last shreds of our family together. (Since he passed, I’ve seen my brother 3x and my sister twice over 8 years)
There I was, just standing in my apartment, looking at the books he’d given me, and all the other trinkets he’d given me. I realized I’d just been standing there reliving all the memories I had of him like thumbing thru my brain’s rolodex tabbed “Dad memories”. Suddenly I was frightened that they weren’t enough, that I hadn’t remembered enough details, and what about things he couldn’t remind me about anymore? I don’t have him to reminisce with, tell stories with, and be reminded of stories past that I’ve forgotten, all that was gone. Just. Like. That.
Suddenly everything was loud again, and I hurt. A deep hurt, a hurt I hadn’t felt since losing a close friend in 6th grade and just like then, I felt helpless and alone, but I didn’t have dad to turn to this time. I started calling people, any people, anyone that could get me out of that apartment. I didn’t know where I wanted to be, but I knew I didn’t want to be alone. I wasn’t able to call Mrs. SSC yet, it was too fresh, too embarrassing, I couldn’t even bring myself to say it yet. It was only 10 minutes old, but it felt like I’d just lived and died 2 lifetimes. I felt old…
I never got anyone on the phone. I laughed to myself thinking I should just leave a message in a fake cheery voice, “Hey, my dad just killed himself and I was hoping we could hang out. Call me!” Haha, no such luck. I just sat alone. And cried. A lot. Hell, I didn’t even feel like drinking. I didn’t know what I felt like, except sad and broken.
I eventually got composed enough to call Mrs. SSC and tell her before breaking down again, and I finally answered one of my family’s calls, now that they deemed it worthy to talk to me and they’d let someone else break the news to me. Why the hell did I have to hear that from a stranger?! Where is common courtesy for God’s sake?! You can see why I don’t visit more often or at all anymore.
Plans were made, a funeral was arranged and the fighting and bickering over dad’s “estate” was well under way, and he’d only been gone a whole day and a half…
I flew home. Mostly numb, wholly sober, not wanting to deal with the reality of it, or my immediate family, but stiff upper lip and all that. The funeral reception was nice, I was shocked that immediately there was a huge divide between his first kid, my older sister, and my side of the family. Literally, we stood at 2 different sides of the casket, and received 2 whole different sets of friends and extended family. And just like that. That family was broken too.
I was even more shocked by how much my brother and sister drank at the funeral, which just seemed so disrespectful especially because he’d struggled with alcohol so much, and how my mom all of a sudden seemed to give a shit about dad, and was up at his casket just beside herself over “the tragedy”. Like some kind of emotional hitch-hiker just soaking up all of the attention for someone she’d just as soon spit on than say hello to. I couldn’t wait to fly back to my home, my life, away from all this noise and soulless squabbling over stuff. Stuff. Just stuff.
It felt great getting dropped off at the airport in Nashville finally alone again. I sat at a bar and ordered a beer, and relieved by the removed weight of being around my “family” and realizing, this was probably my last trip back to my home town, I started crying again. Like for real, bawling type crying like a dam broke and I could finally have the emotional release I’d been holding in around my family.
A nice Mexican lady that was bussing tables noticed me crying and after looking at me and looking at me she finally asked if I was okay because “she knew in this country men aren’t supposed to cry like that.” (God bless her) I could only shake my head no, and she gave me a long hug and it was one of the best feelings I’d had since the whole thing started 5 days earlier.
It was hell getting back on track with life. Nobody gives a shit. Hell, most people didn’t even know it was suicide. I said it was a heart attack because that’s way more “acceptable” and way less embarrassing and shameful for me. Life goes on, everything moves on. Forward, always forward, no time for pause. I finished writing my thesis and defended it in the following 2 months. Moved to LA, started a new job, got married to Mrs. SSC, and I couldn’t share any of it with my dad. No crazy LA people stories to tell him, my new fishing/kayaking adventures, how the new job, house, marriage, life in general was going. Nothing. Just gone.
It took a lot of therapy to be able to accept that my dad killed himself. I am okay with it, I can even talk about it, but it doesn’t hurt any less. I don’t have the courage to go to a suicide survivors meeting yet, I may never. But all these feelings got brought back to the surface this weekend with the whole Suicide Prevention Day agenda. Quietly at first, but slowly building to an un-ignorable crescendo, the earworm that is the worst part of my life started playing and all of this got relived. and relived. and relived.
It makes me sad, and mad, but mostly I just miss him. I’m not mad at him anymore, I’m sometimes still mad at myself that I might not have been more supportive or more in touch, but those are things that can’t be changed so I just let them go like leaves in a stream. It just sucks. I can’t share anything about the kids with him, I can’t tell him how I now understand his temperament with me, now that I’m also raising a clone of myself. (side-note – omg it’s so frustrating at times trying to deal with a 5 yr old version of myself…) I can’t share anything about my daughter with him.
I just miss getting to talk to him. I miss getting to hear his voice, his laugh, his tone change when he’s excited about something, the way we’d cut each other off wanting to out talk the other one. Just everything. Everything and nothing.
I know there is nothing I could change to keep him from killing himself. I don’t know how you prevent it, I don’t know why he did it. These questions and more are what suicide survivors deal with everyday. You’re just left with so many questions, hurt feelings, raw emotions, and loneliness. All full well knowing it had absolutely nothing to do with you, except you’re just caught in the shit show of the aftermath.
All I can say is that it’s made me appreciate the time I have with people that are currently here. I try to smile more, I try to keep things relative, and I try to remember dad’s life with all the fun times, conversations, and memories we have and not his final act. It’s a hard shadow to get out from behind because it touches everything in my life in some way or another and that’s okay. It gets easier, it gets a lot easier, but 8 yrs later it hasn’t started hurting any less.
That’s what never ends, and that’s what suicide feels like for those left behind.