It's that time of year. That time when I reflect on a certain moment in my life that things changed forever. It was pivotal, a time when change didn't happen immediately that I could recognize the extent of, but as the years passed, it crept up on me and constantly reminded me of what could have been.
I have to admit, I'm a creature who tends to dwell on things a lot sometimes, but only things that are important to me that have been taken away. Be they innocence, people, relationships... they always involve people. I get past most of them, but never forget. You can't forget some things.
One of those things that happened was my dad's passing, back in February, 1978. Dad didn't have great relations with his kids, and there were seven of us. Although my memories of Dad were mostly good ones. I wonder sometimes if he saw my birth as a chance at redemption for how he was with the other kids. That's the lighter side of how I look back at it. There is a very, very dark side.
Life with Dad was tumultuous, to say the least. He drank every day except on Sundays, and of course, that altered his personality considerably. On the day he died, Mom found him in bed not breathing, and there were the three of us kids still left living in the small house we had at the time. Ricky and Cindy were with Mom, I think, as she was in hysterics, beside herself with shock. I was puzzled as to what was going on, it wasn't yet clear. I went downstairs from my bedroom to Dad's room, to find him lying there. I went to his bedside and shook him. "...Dad?" He wouldn't wake up. I left the room and didn't want to go back in. I remember watching the medics wheel Dad's covered body out on a stretcher and that's when the cold reality settled in on my brain. My father was gone forever.
There was an eerie calm that descended upon the house around those days after Dad died. He used to sing old war songs at 3 o'clock in the morning a lot, keeping us kids awake, and we'd go to school literally dazed and confused. None of us had real good grades, maybe mostly because of that. After a period of adjustment, we accustomed ourselves to life without a father, mainly myself, because I was the youngest, and no one else in the family would go through their teen years fatherless. That's not to say they didn't have their fair share of trying times. More than their fair share.
Years went by, and one day Mom confessed something very odd to me. She told me that she feared that Dad committed suicide. He was only 57 after all, and all the events leading up to his passing seemed to indicate that he knew something that the rest of us didn't. Without going too much into detail, Dad's job at the CN Shops was threatened because of his drinking, and the day he came home from work before he died, he was seen sitting on the curb at the corner of Brady and Limerick Streets, practically in the back yard of where we live at this moment. This is uncharacteristic of Dad, like he was pondering. Upon hearing Mom's thoughts, it made me think. And think too much.
In all likelihood, in retrospect, I think Dad maybe did kill himself. My uncle Jack forbid an autopsy being performed on my father's body, perhaps fearing what they'd find and the effect it would have on his sister and her kids. See, I just stopped this moment while typing this to reflect again, which shows how much this all means even thirty some odd years later.
What did that mean to me? What it meant was too much introspection. Over the years past the late 80's, especially, I stopped to think of when Dad might've started abusing his drinking. I was born in 1965. All I could really deduce was that my mom was 40-ish, my dad in his mid 40's, and along I came. I can imagine the stress that might cause a couple struggling to get by as it is with six kids already. I thought, I must have been the turning point that pushed Dad over the edge. In essence, to shorten it up, I was responsible for my father's death.
To most people, that would sound preposterous. But for anyone who would like to actually place themselves in the same position I was in, maybe not so much. I'd suffered a multitude of head injuries up to that point that compromised my emotional stability as it is. This actually caused me to begin hating myself, with more intensity as the years went on, and I didn't even really realize it. What could make a person feel more guilty than the loss of someone close to them, when they feel they could have changed it? This led to a lot of self doubt and self abuse in the 90's. Self inflicted concussions, bruises, wounds, etc. When I say that Janice is the reason I'm alive today, I mean it. She came into my life and brought me stability and equilibrium when I'd lost it. When she gave me Alexandra, it was a positive turning point, a gift from God that told me I had to straighten things out.
I did straighten out; I went to the doctor and discussed my issues. I was prescribed Zoloft, and told I may have to take it the rest of my life because of my history, but if it meant any improvement in my quality of life I was up for it. It made me a brand new person. I felt normal again for the first time in many, many years. Episodes flared up over the years from time to time since, but I've gotten a handle on them all, thanks to the two main ladies in my life.
But that doesn't mean that the struggle is over. There will always be a glint of darkness in me that believes that I played a part in Dad's mindset when he died. My brother Peter assured me recently that Dad's problems surfaced long before I came along, which offered a lot of reassurance. It was a definite awakening to my soul, one that I think I very much needed. But it didn't completely vanquish my doubts. The idea that my dad probably committed suicide is a dark spot on my soul that won't go away. It's something I must cope with.
The thing is, Dad had issues of his own in his life. He'd lost his beloved brother and best friend, Peter (whom his first born was named after) to sniper fire in World War II. He was super close to his mother, and I think that losing her is something he didn't quite recover from, or get treatment for for his massive grief, combined with the loss of his brother. Many other things happened. Perhaps Dad was susceptible to depression because of his bloodlines, which might explain me. My point is, I believe Dad suffered from mental illness of his own, compounded by his alcohol abuse, which is likely brought on by depression as it is; the irony being that alcohol itself is a depressant. This would make any kind of loss harder and harder to deal with, to the point he couldn't take it anymore. When his job appeared to be slipping away, his way of life as he knew it, he couldn't sort it out in his mind.
I have a friend I won't name in this blog, who I'll call 'Brad', that I once worked with a few years ago. When I changed jobs at one point in my life, I worked in a plant that dealt with a lot of accounts that required more than one person in my particular department. I did have a partner when I was hired, but he didn't last, and Brad came in and replaced him. Brad was an instantly friendly, personable guy. In fact, I don't know many who are more generous than he is. He laughed all the time, was good for a joke, and was good natured in his demeanor. He still is, in fact, as I'm still friends with him today.
But only a couple of months into the job, Brad's wife committed suicide. I don't know how he was able to get through it, but he did, and I'm so glad. I was one of many who supported him, going to his wife's visitation and funeral, and just being understanding in general, knowing there were going to be days where he was 'off'. My God, who wouldn't be? But Brad struggled and struggled from the time of this event onward, and still does today. He wonders what he could have done, what he could have changed, all of the same stuff that I wondered about my dad that could have prevented that horrible time from actually happening. He copes with it today, but it's always with him.
His wife, however, like my Dad as I had suspected, had her own emotional and mental problems. She was finding it hard to get a grasp on her own matters of the heart, and just came to that point where she didn't want to cope anymore. She sought help from medical professionals for these problems, but not everyone knows what they're doing in that field of medicine. Brad is rightly suspicious of her practitoner for the events that led up to her passing. The fact is, there was nothing that Brad could have done that he didn't already do. She needed assistance from the right people, and people to actually listen to her, for her medical professionals to wake up to her. Brad's sister is just as torn about her passing, she was a very, very close friend and still grieves to this day, like Brad. When one decides to take it upon themselves to leave this world, it leaves a constant wave of aftershocks well after the initial earthquake is over and haunts the lives of those they leave behind forever.
Now just recently, this past Christmas Day, another young man has left us by his own choice. I'll call him 'Mark'. Like Brad's wife, I never personally knew Mark, I only knew he was a very close friend of someone I, myself, was once close to. I'd come to learn through my relationship with 'Brooke' that Mark was someone with a history himself of depression issues. He had trouble in some of his relationships because of it, and was finding it difficult to cope with it. There were people pulling him in different directions telling him what to do about it, which makes a man such as himself having trouble focusing only have a harder time dealing with his problems. I know Brooke went to bat for Mark on several occasions to fight his battles when it seemed he needed an extra soldier on his side. Alas, unless you're a professional with genuine concern about the patient's well-being in a case like this, there's only so much you can do.
Mark's passing leaves behind an immense number of people all wondering what they could have done to stop this from happening, like Brad and his wife, and me and my father. The big red flag is the very word "Depression". If someone is suffering from it, it can not be taken lightly. If someone wants to talk, they need someone to listen. And suicide victims don't have to have said what their plans were before they carried them out. If I understand correctly, many proclaim their intentions but most don't follow through, although those that do state their intentions MUST be taken seriously. I'm so sick to my stomach of hearing about people who have left us due to committing suicide. It is indeed time to awaken to those around us who are crying out for help in their own ways.
And let me make one most important thing clear: I don't place blame on suicide victims themselves, or on those around them. Their cause of death to me is obvious: Due to complications of depressive behavior. In fact, that terminology ought to replace 'suicide', so as to place the onus on the importance of the psychiatric health of the individual dealing with mental and emotional illness. "He or she will get over it" is not a good enough diagnosis.
I hope anybody who reads this will find it in their hearts to expand their capacity to love those around them who are finding life hard to deal with. All you have to do is provide a listening ear, and a caring heart. Let your soul carry you the rest of the way, perhaps it will help lead you to getting the help someone very desperately needs, more than you will ever know.
God bless you.