Archives For Suicide

The other morning I saw MedFlight in the sky while I was driving to work.

It jogged my memory of when my dad was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery in July of 2014. Not because he had to be MedFlighted there, but because we got a special tour of the helicopter and landing pad on the roof of the hospital while he was recovering. He needed to get out of his room, so one of the RNs arranged the excursion. And of course he knew somebody who was part of the MedFlight team, too, so up we went.

It was pretty awesome. We were shown every nook and cranny, inside and out, and got to walk out on the helipad to look over the city.

helipad

The other morning, though, as I thought about it, other thoughts crept in. Did dad really think it was awesome to be up there on the roof in a wheelchair getting some fresh air? Or was he just acting like it so the rest of us would be ok? Was he struggling that far back with the perception of this new life he thought he’d entered? And then I started crying. Because I don’t know the answers to those questions and I never will.

About four months later – two years ago today – my dad committed suicide.

Life for the rest of us has moved on, but I still think about him a lot. I do believe he thought it was cool to be up there, too. I recall how desperately he wanted to be out of that god-damned recovery room. The morning they discharged him he called me and I could hear the relief in his quivering voice. “Ryan, they removed that damn thing from my arm and I just…I got all emotional. What the hell?” he confessed to me. I told him that was completely understandable; he’d been through a lot! Physically, emotionally, mentally…”feeling emotional” was an understatement as far as I was concerned. I’ll always treasure that moment we had.

I’m not sure if I’d say things are easier or better two years later, mostly just different.

I still get sad a lot and I’ll admit that sometimes I still get upset. Every time one of my kids has a birthday. Every gymnastics meet. My son Sam received his black belt in karate last weekend after working hard for more than four years and Papa wasn’t there to see it and to celebrate and to tell Sam how proud of him he is. That kills me. It kills me. And I know people mean well when they say things like, “Oh, he was there watching, too!” and “He IS so proud of Sam!” but the truth is, it’s not the same. It’s not the same at all. He should have been there smiling and clapping and shouting and cracking inappropriate jokes with me in the stands. He should have been there to shake Sam’s hand and give him a big hug and be in the picture pointing.

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My brother Joey got engaged last weekend, too. He NAILED the proposal. Had his friends hold homemade signs and play music at the Wisconsin Badger football game! Just perfect. Now, I’m not speaking for him because I know he handles this all in his own way, but for me…I’m devastated my dad isn’t here to congratulate Joe. I know he’d be proud of him. But, he won’t be at the wedding. And if they have kids, they’ll never meet him. It just sucks.

What’s so difficult about suicide is that the person is doing what they think is going to help everyone. My dad wasn’t trying to hurt us. He apologized and still did it. It was the only other solution he could come up with that made any sense…to him. In so doing, though, he left a hurt in everyone who loved him. And a lot of people loved him. That wasn’t his intention, but it was the result.

On a personal level, his not being here is hard because I’m learning so many things about myself that I want to talk to him about. My parents divorced when I was four and the fact of the matter is that both his presence and his absence in my life while I was young had a profound impact on who I am today.

Years ago a homeless friend of mine, Al, told me his story about his relationship with his dad. Al’s life crashed and burned because of his addiction to alcohol. One day he got a call that his dad was dying and he should come right away. Instead, he went on a week-long bender and never got to say goodbye to his dad, even though he had the chance. “If your dad is alive, talk to him. If there’s stuff you’re afraid to talk to him about, talk to him about it anyway,” he told me. I vowed I would and to a certain extent I did, but there’s so much more I know now that I want to talk to him about than I even knew back then. And trying to figure it out without him is hard.

So, what now?

Sure, there are times that are more difficult than others and grief still sits for spell, but by and large life goes on with only his memory now. Julie and I are both busy with the things we’re passionate about and the kids are probably busier than we are. We work, we relax, we do our best to focus on the future and the good things lying in wait for us there. It sucks that he won’t be here to see what happens next, but that’s the reality.

Dad, I miss you. I love you. That won’t ever change.

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, please get help immediately. Call 911, contact a counselor, contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline, call a friend…I know you might not believe it, but people love you and are there to help. There are other options.

If you’ve experienced loss, you probably already know this, but the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a wonderful resource to help us heal.

I went to see my counselor the other day.

I had been struggling with the fact that the one year anniversary of my dad’s death was coming up and I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly…whatever that means. Should I go to the cemetery at sunrise? Or dusk? Should we hold some sort of vigil or remembrance service? Should I cry? How much is too much? Or should I laugh and smile, remembering the good times? What should that balance look like? Should I talk about it with the kids? Should I treat it like any other day? I don’t want to ruin the day by overthinking what I’m going to do or how I’m going to feel!

This is why I went to see my counselor.

He basically reiterated what my friend Cabell told me, which was, “Just do whatever you want, even if it’s nothing.” There’s no “right way,” which is difficult for someone like me who always needs to know exactly how to do something. Like, when the LEGO blocks come out, I’m the one asking for the instruction booklet. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.

This groundwork in place, he asked me, “As it relates to the memory of your father, what would bring you joy?” I just sat there for a bit, trying to wrap my mind around the question. “Can you give me an example?” I asked. I really did. Eventually I said that I’d like to be able to remember times we had together that made me laugh and the times my kids had with him. Then I started saying how it’s hard to divorce the fact that he was such a great dad and grandfather, “but he killed himself” and my counselor stopped me and said, “Not but, and.” I asked him to explain.

“When you say but, you essentially negate everything before it, which I know is not your intention. What you mean to say is, ‘He was a great man and he killed himself.’ Both are true and one doesn’t negate the other,” he said.

Words are incredible. Exchange three letters for three others and suddenly the whole message is different.

Knowing my love for words, he then made this suggestion: “I’d like for you to write a poem for your dad.”

And I broke.

Well, I swore and then I broke.

“Perhaps this is something you could do every year. Maybe it becomes a tradition. Or maybe not. It’s up to you,” he said.

It’s a brilliant idea. I love poetry. In fact, years ago I won a contest to study poetry with Sage Cohen and it was amazing. So, I left my counselor’s office and I began to think about what I’d write. I searched for memories I had with my dad that made me happy. I started writing them down and, well, there were many. “This is going to be a long poem,” I thought. Instead of getting overwhelmed, though, I started with just one memory. I’m sure I’ll write the other ones and maybe they’ll become a collection or something, but for now, I just want to share this one.

It Was Magic

You had me fooled for years

in that old car.

“Just snap your fingers,” you said,

then you snapped and smiled,

and on came the high beams.

You were a magician!

Snap.

On.

Snap.

Off.

You told me to try, so I did

and just like you said they would,

the high beams turned on and off

when I snapped my

little fingers.

I was a magician, too!

Not until years later did you

reveal your secret.

That button on the floor you

pressed with your foot each time

either of us snapped was what

really turned them on and off.

“But, dad,” I argued,

“They even turned on when I

snapped quietly, just to test it!”

And I know you said you

heard me even then,

but part of me

still thinks

it was

magic.

 

So, today, on the one year anniversary of your death, dad, I remember you. I remember the times in that car when you made me feel like magic was real. I remember that you loved making me smile and laugh and I know I inherited the desire to do the same for others from you. Thank you. I miss you every day and I’m continuing to learn how to live my life without you here. Sometimes I get angry and oftentimes I’m sad, but I’ll never stop loving you. Julie misses you and the kids miss their Papa terribly, but we’ll do our best to remember the things that make us smile. I know you’d want us to do that.

Love you, dad

Red Huffy and High Socks.

A year ago today I saw my dad alive for the last time.

I knew this day was coming and I’ve done my best to prepare, but I’m honestly still not sure how the day’s going to to go.

As with any loss, but especially suicide, there are things I wish I could have done differently a year ago. Like, I wish I would have visited again before he took his life a couple weeks later. Things I wish I would have noticed. Like how he chose to stay behind and make the pizzas instead of going door-to-door with the kids. But, I fully realize that wishing I could have done things differently doesn’t change how they actually went and it doesn’t help. I also know it’s natural to feel these things, though.

The truth is, everything that happened that Halloween day in 2014 was totally normal. We went over to Papa and Donna’s, the kids went door-to-door with Julie and Donna, Dad and I stayed back to make pizzas and handout candy, we took pictures and then we went home. Pretty much exactly the same as we’d done the past ten years.

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

For a while I was actually kind of mad about the fact that the last time my dad saw my kids, Claire was dressed like a hotdog and Sam was wearing a friggin’ green morph suit. Over time, though, I’ve come to think it’s pretty funny. That’s who they are. And I remember my dad thinking it was so funny. I also remember handing out candy while he was in the dining room and knowing the mom of the very first kid that came to the door. “You knew her??” he asked me. “Yeah, we used to work together,” I answered. “Of course you did,” he said with a chuckle.

It was a running joke with my dad and I, ever since I was little. Wherever we went, I knew somebody or they knew me. He’d give me grief about it and shake his head, but the irony is that he was the same way! My dad knew everybody and everybody knew him. So, really, it was an inherited trait. One I’m grateful for.

So, today we’re going to celebrate Halloween like we always have. The kids will dress up and we’ll go over to Donna’s and trick-or-treat in their neighborhood and eat pumpkin-shaped pizza and handout candy to other kids. It might be hard. We might cry. But we can also talk about the happy memories we have about all the Halloweens we got to spend with Papa, too.

And there will be plenty of candy, I’m sure.

We love you, dad, and we miss you so much.

And I’ll think of you smiling every time I run into somebody I know today.

Happy Halloween.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.