I grew up in a small town in Tennessee and as I look back now there isn't anything I would change about my childhood. I am an only child and was always very close to my parents. I eventually left Tennessee and moved to Illinois where I met my husband. Leaving Tennessee and my family was by far one of the most difficult things I had ever done. Even though we were miles apart my parents and I remained close.
In August 2000 my husband and I were married and about a year later we welcomed our first child into the world: a beautiful baby girl. What should have been some of the happiest times of my life soon became the worst. Suicide had been the topic of conversation plenty of times in our family. My grandfather—my dad's father—had taken his life at the age of 32. Along with my grandfather there were uncles and cousins that had taken their lives as well. Despite the family history of suicide in my dad's family, depression had never been an issue in our home. Now all of sudden out of nowhere it seemed to consume my dad. He was no longer the same person that had taken me to church on Sundays, or the one who taught me how to drive on those warm summer days. He became someone who saw himself as worthless and unlovable. He saw no hope, no light at the end of the tunnel.
In April 2003 my dad tried for the first time to take his life. After a few weeks in the hospital he came home and pretended to be okay. He did eventually get back into life somewhat but was never the same. The next year was like a roller coaster. There were good days and promises that he would never try to take his life again, but when you looked in his eyes they told a different story. Mentally and physically he was tired. There was a war going on inside him and he refused to let anyone help. He argued that he was okay and that he didn't need medication or counseling. When someone you love is hurting you want to do everything you can to help them and not being allowed to is very frustrating. Along with extreme frustration came confusion. I was confused about how and when this whole thing started. Why was depression a problem for him now when it had never been one before? Would he keep his promise or would he try again to leave this world by his own hands? Not knowing and always wondering was the worst. All we could do was hope that he was sincere about his will to live and that he could overcome this disease that had taken us all by surprise.
There were good days and promises that he would never try to take his life again, but when you looked in his eyes they told a different story. Mentally and physically he was tired."
Despite all the craziness going on in our world God blessed us with another daughter in April 2004. Becoming a grandfather again seemed to bring life into my dad again and that was a good thing. Before returning back to work from my maternity leave I visited my parents early in the summer that year. My dad was more like himself that he had been in a long time. It was good to see him that way again. I was more hopeful than ever that maybe this whole thing was behind us. All too soon it was time to go back home and back to work. In the airport that day as we said our goodbyes, I never gave it a second thought that I might not ever see him again, but now I wish I had. On Thursday, Sept. 2, I left work and headed home to pick up our daughters from day care. Even though they were only in day care two days a week, I was having a hard time with it. For some reason that day was especially difficult for me. I called my dad hoping to hear some encouraging words.
As soon as I heard his voice I began to cry and express the feelings I had about the girls being in day care. We talked for about half an hour that day and after talking to him for only a few minutes I began to feel better. I don't remember everything we talked about but I do remember him saying some things toward the end of our conversation that didn't make sense to me. When I questioned him so that I could understand he became very short with me. I don't know exactly when it happened but his mood had changed. He seemed distant. We ended our conversation with I love you's and that was the last time I spoke with my dad.
After hearing of my dad's suicide his words from just a few hours before flooded my mind and now they made sense. I was angry with him for choosing to leave us and at myself for not picking up on the clues that I felt I'd missed in our conversation. I was torn between my anger and my guilt. Why did he feel that suicide was the only way out? How could he be so selfish? Why didn't he let us help him? Didn't he know how much we loved him? As I began to consider these questions I quickly realized that I may never have the answers but only guesses.
It has been more than five years now since that life changing day and our family has had to create a new normal for ourselves, one without my dad. Over the years my frustration and anger has subsided. I no longer feel that urgent need to have all my questions answered. Now I feel sadness. I'm sad because I miss him so much and wish that with all my heart he was still here enjoying life with us. I wish that he knew his grandchildren and how much his grandchildren want to know him.
I can't change the decision my dad made that day but I can visit as often as I want the place that brings him back to life—my memory. God has blessed me with many wonderful things and the memories of my dad are some of the ones most treasured.
Tina lives in McHenry, Ill.