My father committed suicide in 1992 after a long struggle with mental illness, he was 52 years old. This post isn’t about how to prevent suicide, or that it’s preventable, this post is about what is left behind after a person commits suicide.
September is Suicide Prevention Month and I’ve struggled with what to write. I do believe strongly that as a society we have to talk about suicide. As much as I advocate for everything I believe in suicide is something so personal to me that it’s different. It’s not the stigma, I don’t care what anyone thinks about my father’s death. It’s that in order to prevent suicide you have to start so far in advance of the person wanting to commit suicide.
My father abused me and we were estranged from the time I was a teenager. When I lived with my father I knew he was emotionally unstable but I was a kid and had my own problems. After 14 years my father calls me and starts talking about suicide. About how he can’t work, how he doesn’t have any money, and on and on.
The daughter and human in me responded, I was heartbroken, in shock, felt responsible and started paying his bills, sending him money and we talked all the time. He constantly talked about people bugging his phone, and people following him. I didn’t realize at the time my father was delusional.
I continued to beg him every time we talked to not kill himself, to think about my granny, his mother who would be devastated. I talked and pleaded for months. Begged him to go to the doctor. I did what I could.
I got a call late one Sunday saying “your father did away with himself” from my gramps. I was in such shock I called right back and asked was he dead or on the way to the hospital. No, he’s dead.
Here are a few things I learned after my father died.
He had been in a downward spiral for years by looking at his living conditions. He had boxes and boxes of cassette tapes by his bed, recordings he had made. I remember him talking about someone bugging his phone so I listened to every one of those tapes several times. There was nothing on most of them, some were recordings of my father talking on the phone. Some were just noise or his breathing. My father was delusional.
I could go on and on but there are a few takeaways.
One of the most difficult things you have to deal with in a suicide death is a closed casket funeral. You can’t see their face and say goodbye so there is an unmet emotional void that never goes away.
I did everything within my power, my dad was a grown man. A man with his own free will. I could not make him go to the doctor for help. There wasn’t a Gun Law in Texas where you could call the police and they would come out to take away a gun. There may not be one now.
I felt unbearable guilt, the pressure of the weight of thinking I could have prevented my granny’s pain was so much I drank myself crazy.
What I did learn from his death as we had the same mental illness, Bipolar Disorder, and was 75% more likely to commit suicide because my father had. I took that information and I found the best Psychiatrist I could. He is still my doctor today and has saved my life many times.
You can’t stop someone from killing themselves if they are determined. They will find a way now or later.
What we can do is look for signs early in life and during a crisis to see if a person needs help and guide them in that direction. If you’re a parent you have much more control when your child is younger.
The key to preventing suicide is to bring all the emotional damage to the surface to be dealt with and treat mental illnesses in a responsible manner the best we can. I will also add that if you’re inclined you can push for laws that allow the police to be called and for them to take the gun away for some period of time. Each state is different. You can also push for stronger gun laws if that is your wish.