A special note about this novel:
Quite frankly, this scares me. Telling my own story. I wrote a book that basically told my story, but it was a novel, a work of fiction. I created a fictional character and gave her all my emotions. That was easy.
This is hard. Being real. In the interest of being real, I want you to know that for the most part I don’t suffer from any mental illness. I’ve dealt with mild depression and anxiety in the past, but nothing major. This is a story about being left behind.
Four years ago I got a call from my step-mother. I don’t remember that call. Not really. I don’t know if it was in the middle of the day or the middle of the night. I don’t remember where I was when I got it. But I remember the words.
“Kim, your dad is missing.”
She explained that she had been on business trip and when she arrived home she found my dad’s car still at home, but his phone and wallet were missing. The dishwasher had been left open. That was so unlike my dad. He was usually OCD about those kinds of things. The dishwasher being left open was a big deal.
I didn’t know quite what to think. The police were no help, even when she explained that he suffered from severe depression. They just sort of shrugged and told her it hadn’t been long enough to worry. So she gathered up neighbors and started searching the woods around the house.
It was strange for me, because I was halfway across the country. I had a job. A family. I debated whether I should fly out right away or wait a couple of days. My stepmom told me to wait, that there really wasn’t much I could do. But I gave my boss a heads up and sat in my house and worried. There were so many possibilities, none of which were good. I remember that I hoped he’d just gotten fed up with life and hopped on a plane to Jamaica and didn’t bother to tell anyone. He loved the Caribbean islands and the idea that he would escape from life that way wasn’t that farfetched. But I knew that wasn’t really what happened.
Three weeks before he went missing, he came to visit me. He played with my kids and took us all camping. We’d just finished building our house and he bought us a new patio set. He became my son’s favorite grandpa. It was so strange because his behavior that week wasn’t normal for him. He was never crazy about kids and he was always super uptight about money. When I asked my stepmom about it later, she told me that was part of his therapy and that he had been getting better. Part of his trip to my house was to help him grow closer to his family. But I didn’t buy that. He had come to say goodbye. I knew it then. Worried about it for days after he left.
My dad has always been very open with me about his depression. We talked about his therapy and medications. I had suffered from post-partum depression with both of my children so we were able to discuss different meds and coping techniques. I honestly believe that God gave me depression at that time so that I could help my dad. So that he could have someone who understood. I discovered later that aside from me and my stepmother, no one else knew.
The day of the phone call I went to bed worried. I wondered where he was or what he was doing. But in my heart I knew he was dead.
The next morning I got another call from my stepmom. She wasn’t very coherent. She said, “Kim, they found your dad and it’s not good.”
The day he died, he took a walk out to the woods with a backpack and some rope. It was a walk he’d taken many times. There were paths all around his house and he loved exploring the woods. When I visited him the year before he’d taken me on a walk everyday. I wonder if that whole time he’d been searching for the best place to die. How many times had he walked by the very tree where he would take his own life?
He’d tried twice before to end his life. Once with pills and once in a garage with the car running. I’m eternally grateful that those early attempts were not successful because that means that I got to keep him around for a little longer. I wish everyday that he hadn’t succeeded. I often wonder if in those moments just before he died if he had regrets. Did he think of me? I was his only child. Did he panic in the last seconds? Did he wish he could live?
I can’t imagine the kind of pain he was in to have gone that far. I’m sure he knew I loved him. He never questioned that. But I know he often lived with emotional pain that I couldn’t comprehend. Pain that no matter how hard he tried, never went away.
I know the fight is hard. I understand that sometimes things just get so hard and to find happiness you feel like you have scale mountains and even then you might not find it. But it’s worth fighting. There is life and love and happiness somewhere on the other side of those mountains and you will find it.
My dad lost his battle with depression. My hope is that if you are battling depression that you will win. Win the fight so that your children, grandchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, spouses, partners, and friends will be able to love you a little longer.
Thank you for listening to my story. Hugs to all of you.