My sweet dad took his life on Sunday.
As you can imagine, or may already know, when a loved one commits suicide you can’t help but run through all the possible “why’s”.
This tragedy has sent my family reeling. Did something in him snap? Was he severely depressed and we never knew? Did he feel worthless and unloved? Were we unaware of a terminal illness?
My family was very close with my dad. I was fortunate that he and my mom live just three miles up the road, and we saw them on a regular basis – meals out, family trips, several telephone conversations a week.
My dad suffered from several health issues, and I know he lived with daily pain and discomfort. CPAP machine, COPD, back troubles, bowel issues, hernias and failed mesh surgeries, diverticulitis, and even blindness due to ocular histoplasmosis and detached retina. He could see well enough to ambulate, but over twenty years ago this blindness stole his ability to drive so he was dependent upon my mom for transportation.
Despite all of this, rarely did he complain. Yes, he could have a short temper and would lose that temper over what others might consider trivial things, but he never took it out on his loved ones. I think it was just part of his way of expressing the frustration he must have felt from all his ailments.
But when I think of Dad, I just think of his big smile, his generosity, humor, compassion, zest for life, love of travel and food, his ongoing quest for knowledge, and his adoration for his family. Anyone who knew my dad loved him. He didn’t know a stranger because he sought to connect with others.
He told the same silly jokes over and over. “That sure was a good meal. The only bad thing about it was it ruined my appetite.” He liked to tell his loved ones how much we were his favorite. I am an only child, and he would often say, “Have I told you lately that you’re my favorite daughter?” Just as he would tell his only grandson, “You know you’re my favorite grandson, don’t you?” He loved to slip my kids twenty dollar “handshakes,” even now that my son is twenty-three years old.
Dad was a voracious reader who loved to learn. Throughout his life he read so many books on religion, philosophy, and history. Although his poor vision made it difficult for him (he used a magnifier), reading was most definitely his jam. He spent his career as a journeyman wireman, but his dream was to be a history teacher, and he would have been amazing. He so enjoyed telling us about his current read and what he was learning.
Dad knew how to make the most of his life, despite his physical difficulties, but a couple of years ago he started showing early signs of dementia. His short-term memory was taking a hit. Not surprising – he was seventy-six years old, but he stated how it frustrated him that he could remember things from thirty years ago, and not what someone told him five minutes ago. He had often told my mom that she didn’t understand what he was trying to tell her.
He watched his mother fall into severe dementia during her final year and had expressed that he would hate to go that way – that he would rather die. In fact, throughout his life he had commented from time to time that if he ever had any sort of lingering, irreversible illness that stole his quality of life, that was unacceptable to him and he would much rather end it.
When Dad took his life, I was in disbelief. He would never do such a thing, I thought. He wasn’t deteriorating from a terminal illness. He had a family who loved and cherished him. We still enjoyed so many things together. I lost my daughter to cancer almost twenty years ago. Surely, he wouldn’t do this knowing what it would do to me after losing her. Something inside him must have snapped. None of it made sense.
The day he died, while my mom slept, he wrote her a note telling her how much he loved us with no other explanation. He left the house, walked a couple blocks so he was no longer in a neighborhood, found a corner where there were no houses - only desert - and ended it.
The thought of him on that corner, all alone in his final moments, tortured me. What was going through his mind? Surely, he couldn’t have thought he was unloved or worthless. These thoughts plagued me. He was so very precious to our family.
But in the days following this tremendous loss, my mom, husband, and I talked about this a lot. The way he went was too planned out, too methodical. He did it the way he did so that Mom could still live in their home without the horrid memory of finding him. Even in his final moments, he thought of her.
I don’t think he snapped. Maybe he knew all along that this is how he wanted to go, and he was just waiting until he was ready. Mom said that morning he walked with a limp, which he never did in the mornings. She said he looked so old and tired.
Dad’s mind was such a vital part of his life. He often said to have your physical health but lose your faculties was no way to live. Maybe he worried he was heading down the same road as Grandma, and on top of all his physical issues, that was simply unacceptable to him. He was tired and needed to rest.
So, I have to get this dreaded thought out of my head that he was sad and hopeless when he died. Dad was a planner. He planned every aspect of his life. My mom is financially taken care of - he made sure of that. He knew that she has us and that we all have each other, and that we will eventually find a way to be okay without him. I believe he knew for some time that when he was ready to discard his broken-down shell, he would leave it on his own terms and no one else’s. And for that, I’m happy for him. He is free from all the pains and limitations of his physical body, and as a wise friend told me he is pure love now. Of course, we will never really know why he did it, but this is what makes the most sense to me.
Rest in peace and love, my sweet, wonderful Dad. Thank you for being my father. I will miss you more than you know.
Update 8/2/19: When my daughter Sydney died, I was in such unbearable grief that I don't think I was able to receive signs that she was still with me. After conversations with a dear friend (Cissy), I decided I'm going to be open to messages from Dad, and I am convinced he has been talking to me these past couple of days. I will continue to watch and listen for him, and hopefully share some of those messages in a future post. :)