September 28, 2017

This blog post is part of the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month blog tour in partnership with Debt Drop. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.

Melanie’s note: This post is from my mom, who lost her father to suicide. 

This is a story that I’ve told to very few.  This is a story that if I told, it was typically only in terms of the highlights and typically only to those I trusted. This is a story that my own daughter only heard two years ago.  This is a story that is long overdue in the telling.

My story took place in June 1962.  Tuesday, June 12th to be precise; five days before Father’s Day.  In 1962, I was a five-year-old kindergartner and the youngest of six children.  On this particular day, I was home sick from school with an ear infection.  This was in the day when school started just after Labor Day and ended in mid-June.

At home with me was my mom and my dad.  My mom was a traditional housewife and my dad worked as a bank guard.

Since it was June and close to Father’s Day, my kindergarten class had been working on special cards to give to our Father’s on Father’s Day.  The card was made of heavy cardboard and cut in the shape of a man’s dress shirt.  The shirt was white and had a striped tie.

I remember how hard it was as a five-year-old to keep a secret but I was bound and determined to keep the Father’s Day card a secret until Father’s Day.  However, that didn’t mean that I was not going to drop hints to my daddy about it.

I remember being in my daddy’s bedroom (yes, they did have separate bedrooms) and I was teasing him about a surprise that I had for him and telling him he was going to have to wait until Sunday to receive this surprise.

He kept trying to get me to show him the surprise then and there but being bound and determined to keep this a surprise until Sunday, I didn’t immediately give in.  He kept urging me to give him the surprise now and stated that “he might not be here on Sunday”.

After a few rounds of this conversation, I reluctantly retrieved the card out of its hiding place and gave it to him.  I know he liked the card and thereafter urged me to go downstairs and help my mom with lunch as my older siblings would soon be home for their lunch break.

Although I was mad at myself for not keeping the surprise a secret, I did as I was told and went downstairs to help my mom.  She was in the midst of opening a can of soup (Campbell’s Chicken Noodle) and I told her that I had given daddy his Father’s Day card.

Suddenly, we heard a noise like a loud door banging shut.  Something about the sound stirred my mom to action and she ran to the bottom of the stairs and yelled out my dad’s name a few times and when he didn’t respond she rushed up the stairs.

Something told me that something scary was going on and I remained rooted at the bottom of the stairs.  Not more than a minute went by and my mom seem to fly down the stairs.  She ran past me and out the front door to the neighbor’s house.

Something again told me that something awfully scary was happening and I wasn’t far behind her although I didn’t really know what was going on.

My next memory is of being sequestered at the neighbor’s house while a lot of activity was going on at my home.  I was able to look out the window and see a lot of people arrive including my great Aunt Elma; people from my dad’s work and the police.

I also remember seeing my brother B.D. (who had just celebrated his 12th birthday the day before) sobbing while standing with his arms folded on a metal fence with his face resting on his arms.  I still did not have a clue what had occurred.

I don’t remember much about the next few hours other than someone took me to the doctor so I could receive medication for my ear infection.  I also vaguely remember hearing about my other siblings arriving home from school and how they learned the news of what happened at my home on that afternoon.

To this day, I can’t believe kids can be so cruel. I also remember hearing that my Aunt Elma in a misguided effort to be helpful, swept up evidence in my daddy’s bedroom before the policy had a chance to thoroughly investigate.

I don’t remember what was actually told to me about what happened.  I do remember the next few days were a blur of activity.  Someone bought me a really pretty dress to wear to the funeral and a lot of people were paying attention to my mom and family.

My Father’s Day card was propped up on my daddy’s coffin and was buried with him.

This is not something that has been an open discussion topic my entire life.  For those that I’ve given the highlights to here are answers to the questions I’ve typically been asked:

— I don’t know when I first actually heard the word “suicide”.
— I don’t know how my mom explained to me how my daddy had taken his life with a bullet to the brain.
— He didn’t leave a note so I don’t really know why he did it.  My mom always alluded to him having a terminal illness but to my knowledge, this has never been verified.  A few years back my sister C.M. heard from a family member that he had gambling debts that lead to this action.  I don’t know if this is true.
— I do remember hearing (but not sure I’ve ever seen) that he touched a calendar or a picture of Jesus with his bloody hand.
— I do know my mom did not kill my dad – despite the cruel statement a neighbor boy relayed to my sister B.J. on that fateful day
— My mom would never, ever discuss this.  If this was ever brought up, even years later, she would tear up.  The only time she ever voluntarily brought this up was in a card to me when I was in my 20’s when she spoke of us being together for a “mutual sorrow”

Here’s how my five-year-old self-interpreted this event:

— The initial attention was overwhelming yet exciting.  A lot of people made promises (most unkept) to my mom about things they would do for her or for us.
— My new party dress was pretty even if it was intended to wear at a funeral
— I used to think that if only my card had been good enough……he would not have taken his own life

Here’s how I’ve handled this most of my life:

— It’s very rare that I disclose this to anyone and if I do it’s typically only the highlights
— For those I do tell, there is often a “judgment” passed (or at least this is what I perceive) not only on his actions but also on the probability of me leaning toward that action as well.  When Robin Williams took his life a few years ago, it was a topic of conversation at work.  I was just about ready to confide my history to someone but stopped myself when I heard someone discuss the probability of Robin’s children doing the same action he did.

Here’s how it’s impacted me:

— I grew up in a single parent household.  His action left a 38-year-old widow with 6 children ranging in age from 5 to 16
— I’ve always had difficulty “bonding” and getting close to people.  It took me a long time to figure out why but I believe it’s because I don’t want to bond because I fear that I’ll bond and have something taken away from me
— I don’t have a role model on how to interact w/ men either personally or professionally
— Since I was the last one to speak to him, my inner 5-year old in me still wonders if there was something I could have said to alter history

What I’d Like Others Suffering From Suicidal Thoughts to Know:

— Think about who you might be leaving behind and the hole you’ll be leaving in their lives
— Consider that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem
— Look back on your life and consider other problems you’ve had and how those have turned themselves around
There is no shame in seeking help

It’s been cathartic to write this and I sincerely hope my story helps others.

Melanie

Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com.

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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11 responses to “The Suicide’s Daughter”

  1. Mike Jones says:

    “We never know what someone else is going through, has been through,
    or is heading toward.”
    — Cheryll Duffie

  2. #5 says:

    Me, an older sib did not know some of these details. We all have a different story. It’s a dark prism.

    • #5 says:

      Well, to add to my previous comment. There was some good things that happened with this. ( And I believe God is in every story with a caring heart)
      I went to overnight camp for the first time that summer. Great time and a respite from our home in poverty.
      Extended family stepped up to fill the void and maybe had easier access due to only one parent to get permission.
      But, other side of extended family was absent. We did not know them for 30 years.
      And. We lived in a major city. For me, the school’s were very involved with us. I still value that involvement.
      Without the outright tragedy, we might have been overlooked.

  3. This is incredibly powerful. I’m so sorry you went through this and I can’t imagine how it must have affected the rest of your life. I like what you said about suicide being the permanent solution to a temporary problem. I think thats just hard for people who are “in it” to see, even though everyone else can see that for them. I have never had suicidal thoughts or have been chronically depressed, so this game me some more insight into what it must be like for someone who does, or a family member or loved one of someone who is suffering this way.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…The High Cost of FameMy Profile

  4. Holly says:

    What a story, my heart goes out to you, thank you for sharing it. It has given me a lot to think about. My father was an alcoholic and attempted suicide before my parents divorced, so I too come from a fatherless family. My older brother died suddenly in an accident when I was twelve. Growing up, it was difficult and with a fair amount of shame to be different. I can relate to so much about how your father’s suicide impacted your life, particularly the shying away from bonding and the lack of role models involving males. My version of the story has unconsciously affected my choices which in hindsight often seem to self-sabotage my happiness. My decisions have not always aligned with the best possible outcomes, or allowed me to be the best I can be, and ultimately to have a fulfilling and joyful life. I am working on this though.

  5. MARY ANN says:

    I applaud you, Melanie, for stepping out of your comfort zone to share this so that others may benefit.

    And I wrap my arms around the younger you who had to witness and internalize this at way too young of an age.

    And I pray that there is healing for you all from the lasting scars.

    xo

  6. Janet Fazio says:

    What a profound story. I’m so sorry for your Mom’s loss – not only of her father, but of her childhood. I have a dear friend who lost her daughter to suicide. The guilt, the blame, the what ifs are too real. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope it helps someone in need.

  7. Juice says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. My deepest condolences on your loss.

  8. Kim says:

    I am so sorry for this loss and how it has affected your life. This is the problem with suicide. When someone dies, anyone they will leave a skeleton in the closet. But they are gone and it is okay. They don’t deal with the skeleton. However when someone takes their own life that skeleton goes to the closet of the loved one left behind. Now it is in your closet to deal with and at the ripe old age of 5 you will just shut the door and not look at it because it scares you. By the way I am Kim Haverfield from out my window and I just received your special surprise e-mail and I am so touched.

  9. Chonce says:

    This breaks my heart to read. I’m so sorry to your mother that she had to go through that (as well as her family). I know this must have been hard to share, so thank you for doing it.
    Chonce recently posted…Staying Motivated During Your Debt Payoff JourneyMy Profile

  10. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing this. My husband lost his father to suicide when he was very young as well and it is a dark cloud over the family. They never speak about it. Ever. We have been together 15 years and he still has never told me the story of what happened and what he saw and felt. Reading this really helped me to put it into perspective and see how he may see/have seen things. thank you

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