28 May

I know I’m supposed to start sharing tales from the Epic Homeless Vagabond Couch-Surfing Across the USA Road Trip, but you’re going to have to wait another day. Something came up. The tales are disrupted even before they’ve begun. Sorry. #notwhatiplanned, but shit happens.

Last night a good, caring friend (one of my bike buddies who also happens to be a USC Occupational Therapy graduate) took me through a set of “disruption therapy” exercises designed to refine my still-jacked-up depth perception, which hopefully will improve my mountain biking skills (among other things). My brain-bashing happened nearly 4 years ago and my 3D-space-processing difficulties persist. The only way to ameliorate the situation is to disrupt my current processing and behavior patterns. The work we did last night reminded me that disruption, while challenging, also can be beneficial.

But this post isn’t about *that* disruption (I’ll circle back to it in a couple weeks, though, in connection with my 4-year Not Dead Yet anniversary).

No, this post is about a much bigger, way more influential disruption.

This post is about suicide.

Specifically, my father’s suicide, which happened 20 years ago today.

A couple years ago I wrote a post, “The Gift of My Father’s Suicide,” which has become quite the hit-sensation in the blog-o-sphere. A couple weeks ago, a friend shared a #TBT memory + photo collage about her brother who committed suicide a decade ago, which she paired with a lovely reminder of the importance of speaking openly about mental health. I responded by thanking her for sharing her/her brother’s story and then I posted a link to my above-mentioned 2013 blog post– sort of as a symbol of solidarity.

AFTER I shared the blog link (which my friend and others called “powerful” — an adjective that took me by surprise), I figured I ought to re-read it. Upon doing so, I flushed with embarrassment and immediately offered the following FB Comment:

You know what? I just re-read it myself (for the first time in over a year) and, guess what? I was right … “the narrative will shift again 2, 10, and 15 years hence…” It’s been 2 years since I wrote that piece and the message has, indeed, shifted in a subtle but important way. Stay tuned for an update after I complete my road trip… Thank you, again, for the inspiration and the prompt.

On Monday, while Coach and I tackled the long drive home from Colorado, we happened to listen to a This American Life podcast that featured suicide–specifically parental suicide–as one of its episodes. The car grew quiet. A contemplative, nearly-but-not-quite comfortable, somberness settled upon us.

Eventually Coach broached the silence. He knew my dad had killed himself, but we’d never really talked about it plus he doesn’t ever read this blog, so he really had no idea where my head and heart were/are on the topic. So….

I brought him up to speed on how angry I was when it happened and how angry I continue to remain at the therapist who told me: You are EXACTLY like your father.

I shared with him the struggles I’ve had with depression, even (or especially) suicidal depression, especially after my brain-bashing. He knew about some of that, but I don’t think he previously appreciated how grave things might have been. And then I reminded him that, true to my nature, I had looked for (and found) the “bright side” to my father’s suicide.

I confirmed to him that the two main punchlines from my 2013 blog-post rumination remain true:

  • My father’s death is what has allowed me to fully live;” and
  • Whenever I think of [my dad], I thank him for showing me what path to take — It’s always the one that he didn’t take. It’s always the one that says: Keep going.

So — What is the “subtle but important” shift in the narrative that I mentioned in response to my friend’s #TBT FB posting?

I would re-write the paragraph that starts with an F-bomb.

(Don’t worry, I’d keep the F-bomb, for sure. That part hasn’t changed one bit!)

What I would change is how I closed that thought-stream.

I stand by my statement that “My dad was funny and smart and charming and determined and adventurous and stubborn and I love that I inherited all of those genes from him.”

In fact, I’d like to amplify that concept visually:

dadThe dude was fun.

He was the life of the party.

Everybody loved him.

He would persist in being utterly and completely and fully himself, even when it was not really in his best interest and regardless of what others might have felt.

He put on one helluva public show (and was a genius at masking his private turmoil).

I get that.

I *am* that (mostly).

So where’s is my “subtle but important” shift in thoughts?

Here: In 2013 I said ” ... he is also, and forevermore will be known as, a quitter and a coward.” When I wrote that, it was to indicate that I thought he was a “quitter and a coward” BECAUSE he killed himself.

Now, I would drop the “quitter” part entirely. I have come to appreciate that killing yourself is not “quitting.” It’s actually doing the best you can given the resources you have at hand…

The “coward” piece is more challenging. Up until last week, when I gathered all of these pictures at mom’s house, I was still willing to use the coward label for dad. In the updated blog post that I was drafting in my head, however, I had planned to use the word “coward” in a slightly different manner.

In 2013, I thought that he was a coward for killing himself. Over the course of time, however, I came to think that he was a coward for not admitting his vulnerability and seeking help. For continuing to put on his show and not letting anyone peak behind the curtain. For not letting anyone into his darkness to help guide him back to the light.

As I went through the photos with mom, however, I heard–for the first time ever–that he DID admit his vulnerability at one point. Sort of. In an oblique way. In a way that only mom understood, actually, and she did her best to translate his veiled threat/cry for help into a real request for assistance and resources.

Alas, the folks who could have–and should have–done something with this information instead swept it under the rug saying: John’s fine. He’s always happy. He’s doing great at work.

[We believe the show. We don’t want to look behind the curtain. Why do you want to make a scene? Everything is fine.]

Apparently about a year before he killed himself, after he had moved out of our family home and into his parents’ house in a somewhat ham-handed, misguided effort to attain sobriety (not easy to do in that house!), dad told mom:

If I wanted to kill myself, I could do it in a way that wouldn’t be detected and you could still get the insurance payment. I would just use [name of drug withheld for safety reasons]. No one would test for that. No one would know. It would show up as a heart attack.

My father was a very competent, highly regarded, exceptionally skillful pharmacist who often served as an expert witness on murder trials. Dude knew what the fuck he was talking about and he knew that it would work.

Mom knew that, too. She knew that this wasn’t just idle talk. She knew that she could do nothing, herself, to prevent this but she hoped that the pharmacy where he worked would listen to her, believe her, and take steps to keep dad away from the drug that he would, in fact, ultimately use to kill himself.

They didn’t listen.

They didn’t believe.

Dad was no dummy. He knew he couldn’t share his suicide plan with anyone at the hospital, directly. Doing that would endanger more than “just” his life.

He did the best he could with the resources he had at hand. Mom did the best she could with the very thin bit of a hint that he gave her. The resources did not appear.

We all do the best we can with the resources we have.

Some of us, the brave among us, try to cobble together additional resources to help sustain ourselves.

Not enough of us rally together to help each other create sustainable, meaningful, necessary resources for people who are suffering.

Too many of us are ashamed to talk openly about mental health concerns.

I am not afraid and I *will* keep going–for myself, and for you, Dear Reader.

And for you, too, dad.

Thank you for continuing to teach me important lessons about life, 20 years after you killed yourself.

Carry on

4 Responses to “Disruption”

  1. Carissa Barker May 28, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    It’s so true – how I reflect on and assess major events in my life does change from year to year. Great post.


  1. The more things change, the more they are the same | JustAdventures - June 9, 2015

    […] sought (and had forgotten all about) during law school in connection with the aftermath of my dad’s suicide. Jeez. Wow. Did I really do that? […]

  2. The Gift of my Father’s Suicide | JustAdventures - June 21, 2015

    […] I think this difference is important and influential — for myself and for others. Please read THIS POST to see where my thinking has lead me today, […]

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