Do Not Die Before I Stop Talking! My 47-year-old father’s death crushed me harder than anything I went through while I was in Vietnam.
Cemeteries are the landlords of our lifeless bodies. Inside each casket, you will find a lifetime of memories, if only the residents could talk. For many of us, they also contain the answers to many unspoken questions.
You can stroll through any of these in the daytime and find them nearly empty of human visitors. I have always thought it was because we who mourn them must go on with our lives.
Death is no stranger to any of us. We have all lost someone who was near and dear to us to that faceless, scythe-carrying ghost, the Grim Reaper. It seems to be a haphazard canvassing of a variety of ages, skin colors, rich, and indigent ” luck of the draw” that has no set qualifications and no defined boundaries.
I wasn’t finished talking with him!
In my 73-year life span, I have seen more than my fair share of death, and its consequences.
- When I was 6, I saw my father’s mother at the funeral home.
- When I was 12, and again at 14, I lost two uncles and two aunts, and a U.S. President was assassinated, leaving an entire nation in mourning.
- When I was 18, my one year of Vietnam Army experience saw us lose 134 Americans in one battle alone. In that same battle, the North Vietnamese Army lost over 1,400 additional souls.
- The one death that hurt the most happened when I was 25. My father committed suicide. This is the one death I still concentrate on every day of my life!
Beyond those already mentioned, I’ve seen countless relatives and friends pass through Heaven’s gates, my mother had arrived there 41 years after Dad.
A mere six years after I returned from Vietnam, Dad was gone! I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, and neither did anyone else in our family. He just got up one morning, went out to our garage and I’ve always imagined he bowed his head, said an “Our Father.” then hung himself. I wasn’t there that day, so I will never know. I pray it was painless for him.
What made this loss so poignant was the realization that he would never know the love of my wife and kids. I wouldn’t get married for another two years after he died. Three years after that, we would deliver our first child. Four years later, we would be gifted with our second child. He missed them both.
He would never be able to get Father’s Day gifts or any hand-made Christmas Cards from his grandbabies. He would never know how proud I was of the way he raised me.
Was it something I said?
At the time of his death, I was having trouble coping with the memories I brought home from Vietnam. I had just started to open up more and more, and then it was as if the door was slammed hard, right in front of my face. But, that is just one of the many occasions he and I wouldn’t be able to share. Needless to say, life moves on and I survived.
When someone as important as a father dies by suicide, the remaining loved ones go through every word they spoke to him leading up to his death. It is a torturous interrogation:
“Was it something I said?” “Was it something I did?” “Why couldn’t I see this coming?” “Did he say anything out of the ordinary that would have been a clue as to what he was planning to do?” “Why wasn’t I there?” “Could I have saved him?” And on and on and on!
These unanswered questions surrounded me and my mother, brother, and four sisters. They never left our sides! We each had to seek out grief counselors on our own. Those of us who had good insurance benefits were lucky and obtained professional help. But, several of us had to rely on close friends to act as our confidants in our search for answers.
None of us have ever discovered his reasons for committing such drastic action. Our most consistent conclusion, when we talk to each other about it, is that Dad was mentally unable to continue living, yet too proud to seek help.
Times were different back in the 1970s. But, by many measures, mental health is the same today as it was then. There is still a stigma surrounding seeking help for your thoughts. Perhaps that’s why he died — he didn’t want anyone associating him to a “shrink,” and couldn’t find the answers by himself.
Ironic, isn’t it? In some weird Freudian way, Dad did find help. Untimely as it was for us survivors, he found the peace he wanted and needed. From what or from whom, we will never know. But he left us the strength and wisdom to find answers for ourselves.
Suicide doesn’t subscribe to anyone’s rules. It welcomes those who knock on its doors, enticing their entry with an offer of “no pain.” Once inside, it embraces them with what little solace it can muster and restores their peace. After this rite of passing is complete, the Grim Reaper then steps back into the world of the living, searching for its next victim.
Death swipes its mighty scythe through a huge swath in the path of life each survivor must walk, creating a void that can’t be filled. I have yet to find any winners in the pomp and circumstance of this ceremony, but I will keep looking.
I miss you, Dad, and I’m sending you all my love because I know you aren’t alone anymore. You’re right where I’ve always pictured you: In Mom’s ever-loving arms.
Thanks for reading this!