Bud - 'Loss and Guilt, and Love: A Father's Story'

by Bud Pazur

Bud - 'Loss and Guilt, and Love: A Father's Story'

Bud and Denise Pazur with their son, Steve.

Our son, our only child, took his life on September 27, 2000, about two months after his 18th birthday. He had just entered his senior year in high school.

Based on what I've read, the suicide and the circumstances leading up to it were typical of other teenage boys and young men who do this. Steve suffered from clinical depression, which escalated rapidly a year or so before. At the end, there was a series of disappointments, culminating in final situations from which he could see no way out.

My wife and I are left with a constant, at times unbearable sense of loss. In addition, I particularly suffer from strong feelings of guilt. But our lives go on. We manage. We've kept our jobs, our marriage is still intact. We do things with each other, family and friends. I've learned how to act like I'm 'doing OK,' but I'm not. I think of him constantly.

I would glance at him over the years, the little boy, then the pre-teen, and finally the teenager and young man. And I would be so proud of the child for whom I had waited so long, a handsome son, full of energy, laughter, caring and promise. And I loved him so much.

But over the years, clouds would increasingly appear over his bright brow. At first I thought it was adolescence, and that he would someday outgrow this moodiness. But the clouds broke into showers, then thundershowers, and then storms. We tried to help him, tried in so many ways to help him, to get him help. But in the end no one could help him. No one could stop the rain. And then one strong squall swept him away.

Our baby, toddler, and pre-schooler was normal, bright, and happy. My wife was a stay-at-home mom for the first 12 years of his life. Small signs and problems began to appear in grade school. There was some acting out in classes. We had him tested for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). As he entered adolescence he began experiencing depression, and there was the first mention of suicide. We visited psychologists, psychiatrists. He was diagnosed with clinical depression with suicidal ideation at age 12. Anti-depressants were described but for whatever reasons weren't effective.

High school brought experimentation with marijuana and other drugs. Steve was very popular with both girls and guys. He was a friend to everyone; he could be counted on for a smile, a joke, a story, or help with a problem. But there was deterioration with grades, and problems with teachers. Steve had been an A student in grade school, and all his testing scores and his pre-ACTs were high. I had envisioned college and scholarships. But the problems at school just kept getting worse. And there was increasing rebellion at home.

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For 18 years I watched him grow—from strollers to bicycles, skateboards to cars, Thundercats to Nirvana.

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We went for more counseling, as a family. We went through various approaches to discipline, and there were the inevitable disagreements between my wife and I, although we tried our best to maintain a united front. There were groundings over curfew violations, allowances were taken away. There was another mention of suicide. He spent a few days in an adolescent in-patient mental health unit at a local hospital.

During his junior year some people thought he was doing better. There were no overt mentions of suicide. But the constant rebellion continued. He began talking about leaving home when he turned 18. That summer after his junior year he didn't hold jobs for very long. I thought he just wanted to party. He was becoming deeply depressed, although we did not realize the full extent of that depression until afterward. We saw a teenage son who was becoming terribly distant from and angry with us, especially after we took his car away for two months. But I loved him more than anything in my life, and I thought that someday, miraculously, we would be close again. Because that is what happened between my father and me.

His 18th birthday was, as he said in his journal, awkward. We gave him gifts based on the assumption that he would be moving out soon—he was looking at apartments in town. I didn't know how he would accomplish this with his spotty employment record and lack of savings. Steve started his senior year distracted and confused.

By late September, feelings of hopelessness overwhelmed Steve. He had been refused several apartments, and finally one that he had become very excited about. His dream of greater freedom was slipping away. Then, two days later, he was implicated for the first time ever in a legal issue, and there was an overt threat of jail by a sheriff's detective. This was to Steve the imminent, total loss of all freedom. And in his deep depression he could see only one solution to these insurmountable problems. He spent the last two days of his life in his bedroom. When my wife and I got home from work on that second day, he was gone. That evening I now remember in horrible detail every day of my life.

He left a journal, notes to my wife and I, and to close friends, and a half hour tape that he recorded just before. He said several times that we were good parents, and that we shouldn't blame ourselves. From these, I realize just how very depressed, self-medicated and confused he had been for a long time. He knew that he was losing his grasp on life, but didn't know what to do about it. And he asked no one for help -- he hid the worst from both his friends and us. Now I constantly think of those journal entries and tape, and of the things I asked or demanded of him that he was incapable of handling. And I think of the signs I missed, for quite a long time, but especially just prior to that last day.

I live with the loss and guilt every hour of my waking life. I rely on habit, and keeping busy, because that's all there is. I tell people, when they ask me how I'm doing, that I'm doing OK. I've found that if I tell them how I really feel, they get acutely uncomfortable, or try to fix me. I've listened patiently to so many people tell me about God and heaven and peace, but I have my own thoughts about that. For some of these thoughts and beliefs I would be viewed as embittered, even by some who have had a personal experience of this kind of tragedy.

I've read some of the books about other young men like Steve. These seem to be written mostly by women. And women may have a different point of view. Some say that we must make something positive come out of this tragedy -- my wife is trying to do that. But such a concept is simply beyond my capability to comprehend. Nothing positive can ever come out of losing my only child, my son, the way I did. But the outlook of these other people does give them some reason to live, something I still struggle with. My wife roams the Internet, reading articles and papers on the subject of suicide and depression, trying to understand the mental health aspects, the psychology involved. This is one of her ways of dealing with what happened. I am not interested -- none of the professionals helped us, as far as I am concerned.

To help myself survive, I have attempted to reconstruct Steve as a virtual son on his own website (www.stevepazur.net). My wife is using the site to post depression/suicide resource listings. I've kept a journal, addressed to Steve. I continue to pray the secret irrational prayers that will never be answered. I call his name, visualize and talk to him everywhere, everyday.

For 18 years I watched him grow—from strollers to bicycles, skateboards to cars, Thundercats to Nirvana. From birthday parties to bonfires, frogs to earrings. He was the artist, the dreamer, and later the budding iconoclast. I could relate to all of them. There was a lot of me in him. He was my son. And there were ways in which we were very different. He was always endlessly fascinating for me to observe. Because he was an only child, and I loved being with him, we spent countless hours together playing, reading, drawing and working.

I wanted most for him to be happy doing something he loved. Over the years I tried to give him experiences, tools, knowledge, skills—to introduce him to as many things as I could, to give him the best chance to live a life feeling good about himself and others. When near the end he lost interest in everything, I again hoped it was temporary. I hoped that something deep inside himself would pull him through. That he would learn to live with the demon, and find some contentment as an adult.

But it wasn't temporary. He will never use those tools and skills. We will not play a game together, share any more experiences, or talk about the times we had. For me there is only the present and memories. And the horror that, in spite of everything that I did—or that I tried to do for him—I might not have done the one thing that could have kept him here. But what I am sure of is this: I will always love him, and I'll remember everything about him for as long as I live. And hope to see him again after that.