“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
- Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid
Today, I remember as the day my father died.
At the time I was told that he died of a heart attack; my mother made that decision.
Later, during a confrontation about…guns, I was told that he committed suicide.
After losing his entire family in the Jone’s Town mass-suicide/murder, his life was full of suffering. We knew that he fought demons he would never slay, and wrestled with understanding of a senseless act that was incomprehensible.
He earned psychological diagnoses that ranged from bi-polar depression to schizophrenia. And near the end of his life he believed that he was God.
I did not have an easy childhood, before or after his death. And as a young adult I struggled to understand “why”…even searching his medical records to see if something else could have been done, something that may have saved him. Indeed my choice to become a mental health worker was entirely due to this loss as was the desire to work to remove the stigma of mental illness that our society has worked so hard to sustain over centuries.
This year as I reflect on my father, his death, and my own life…I also think of the recent tragedy in Sandy Hook Connecticut and of the man who committed this atrocity. He too was mentally ill. He too was armed with a gun. And while mental illness is pertinent to his story, I think it’s important to know it is not the entire story…the majority of mentally ill people are not violent towards others. It is my hope that as a knee jerk reaction we do not allow our mentality about mental illness to revert back to the middle ages, labeling and discarding those who are suffering, out of fear; rather, I hope that we will search for understanding and therefore strengthen the responsibility that we have as a society to all people.
No one act stands alone…it’s consequences are far reaching and meaningful…it’s up to us to make that meaning.
For me, my father’s suicide served to allow me to create a more meaningful life…which I imagine would make him very proud. Rest…I know you are now at peace, Dad.