When facing the loss of a loved one to suicide, I’ve observed two camps of survivors – those who want to try and understand every detail surrounding the final act, and those who never want to know those details. I happen to fall into the former category.
In the hours following my dad’s death, I became desperate for answers. He never clued us in that anything was wrong or that suicide was something he’d ever entertained. What I knew right away were the basic facts – he shot himself in a local park at some point after work. This was all my mom and brother cared to know. But, for some reason, that wasn’t enough for me. As terrible as the details would be, I needed to know all of them because, maybe then, this inconceivable news would begin to make sense. It would be like piecing together a puzzle with the clear picture revealed once I finished. (However, I would later learn that even with all of the details I was able uncover, the puzzle of suicide will never be completed.)
This hunt for answers consumed me at first. I wanted to know how long he had been thinking about this, specifically where in the park it happened, what minute it happened, whether or not he left a note, whether or not he took his glasses off first, etc. When I arrived in my hometown, I began searching his home office for clues – but there were none. My next idea was to go to his workplace to see how he left his desk. Knowing that was the last place he had been, surely there had to be some clues there. In the next couple of days, I went there with my mom but was completely devastated when I arrived. His desk was empty. His office staff thought they were doing us a favor by packing up his things. I nearly collapsed into a chair when it hit me that my opportunity to “feel” him through the last place he was had evaporated. I wanted to sit in his chair and take in everything in the room – were there any telltale signs? Through my sobs, I asked one of his colleagues if she noticed anything out of the ordinary while cleaning his desk. She commented that there was a piece of paper with some irrational scribbles about whether or not he should take his life, which they turned over to authorities. It didn’t seem to be a note he intended to share and none of the reasons made sense. Given that, I was a bit surprised he left it out in the open but realized by that point he was definitely not thinking clearly. She also mentioned that he seemed a bit despondent and stepped out for what they thought was a meal or a break. But, he never returned. While I was infuriated and obviously distraught about his death, these small revelations brought me small shreds of comfort. My curiosity piqued, I needed to continue stringing these final moments together. The large park where he died was several miles away. I don’t know if he went straight there, but I decided to drive there after leaving his office. I kept thinking along the way that I can’t believe he drove that far, with such committed intentions. He made way through the winding, tree-lined path and past softball diamonds where both he and I played games over the years, to his final living place on this earth. When I arrived, there was a police car parked near where he and his vehicle were found. I don’t know if that was a coincidence or not. It didn’t stop me. I parked my car and proceeded to walk along the neighboring riverfront. I felt like I needed to physically see evidence of this act to believe it actually happened. I scoured the area but found nothing. In the back of my mind, I wondered if the police knew who I was and what I was doing there.
Over the next several days, more details began to surface as colleagues, friends and family began to compare notes. Each new revelation felt like a punch in the gut and a sigh of relief at the same time. I’d want to stop digging after each one but something in me still yearned for more. I finally arrived at a place in my grief where I found enough to visualize how the last few days unfolded. And, through his poorly-written desk note, I accepted that he got to a point where he rationalized a decision the majority of people find highly illogical. These details point to signs of depression he worked very hard to brush under the rug. They say hindsight is 20/20, but even with these details, no one would have ever anticipated suicide was on my dad’s mind. This is why I say the puzzle will never be completed – at least in our family. Not having closure is very uncomfortable, but it’s part of the baggage of suicide. I now know enough to understand he wasn’t thinking clearly (even though he thought he made perfect sense) but I will never, ever have a completed puzzle. I’m missing those key pieces here and there that only he could answer.
With the passage of time, I have shifted gears to try and collect as many memories and untold stories about my dad’s life as possible. That seemed to become more important in the long run.
Have you found yourself digging for details around a loved one’s suicide?