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.