Content note: This post contains themes of suicide, and may be triggering for some readers.
Sometime in the morning of May 15, 2009, my dad left my parents’ house for the last time. At noon my mother called me in a panic to tell me dad was gone.
I told her to call emergency, but I knew then we would never see him alive again. For more than 30 years, my dad had struggled with depression. I grew up prohibited from talking about his suicide attempts, his diagnosis or whether or not he was taking his medication.
Dad’s mental health was a forbidden topic.
My dad left. For two days, we called everywhere we could think of, searching. We finally thought to call the morgue.
My dad’s death by suicide is by far the worst thing I have ever lived through. He didn’t just die. He left us. He walked out the door and never came back. I felt betrayed, abandoned. It felt like a choice. Although, rationally, I understood it was not.
Did he go out the front door or the garage door? He had a picture of our family in his wallet when they found him. Did he look at it and have second thoughts? Was he scared?
I will never know the answer to any of these questions. These are the things I have thought about, for a long time obsessed over, during the last eight years. What if my mother hadn’t gone back to sleep after she got up in the morning? What if she’d been awake and thwarted his plans?
It was tempting to blame her. It was tempting to blame the friend who was visiting the month prior, who took my mum to a museum and gave my dad the opportunity to disappear and attempt suicide for the sixth time.
For years, I blamed myself. I should’ve been more vigilant. It was my responsibility to save him, and I failed. I’ve heard versions of this sentiment from people ranging from his dearest friends to colleagues he hadn’t seen in years. Over and over, people expressed the belief that they could have said or done something that would have saved him. My husband doesn’t think if only he had said or done the right thing it would’ve kept his father from dying of pancreatic cancer. His mother doesn’t think she could’ve prevented it.