I hardly knew my father. But, I believe he found peace and tranquility out on the water. Fishing at our family cottage in Eagle River, is one of my earliest memories.
How would I describe my father? He was a successful corporate attorney, decorated World War II Veteran – “war hero”, father of 6 kids, and husband of 27 years to my mother.
I would give anything to have felt his pride when I received the MVP from my football team, and to have seen the joy in his eyes at the birth of his three awesome grandchildren. The afternoon before my father’s wake, my baseball coach carried me off the field on his shoulders as my team cheered me on. I had pitched my first no-hitter, and my father wasn’t there to see it.
I didn’t get to make these memories. The last memory I have of my father was on May 5th, 1978. I was in the 5th grade. I was just 10 years-old when my dad dropped me off at school, following what I remember to be an unusually quiet 1-mile ride. He was wearing a pair of blue jeans with an old flannel shirt, and I had no idea I’d be the last person to see him alive.
A Selfish Act?
I’m 49 today. I have 5 years, at best, of vague memories of my father and 39 more filled with pain and anger. These 39 years follow that one crystal clear day, when I was only 10 years-old. That was the day my father ended his life by suicide. The day that “selfish” act changed my life forever.
I know the statistics, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. They are 33% more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Adult veterans are 21% more likely to die by suicide than US civilian adults. My father did not have the odds in his favor. I know this.
Yet, in my heart, I still feel the pain and cannot grasp any true answer to why he did this. Maybe it wasn’t a selfish act, but the rest of my family was left behind to pick up the pieces. We lived our lives with guilt, anger, sadness, and shock.
I wish he had been able to reach out. We were not given the chance to help him. We were not given the opportunity to understand his pain. I was denied the chance to know my dad. Intellectually I may understand suicide; but psychologically I struggle with the reality.
A Personal Plea
I would like to make a personal plea to anyone considering suicide as a solution.
– Please do not give your friends and family a chance to identify your death as a selfish act! –
Selfishness is likely far from the truth. But, in my experience, the pain and the guilt and the loss felt by those left behind, leaves far more questions than answers. Please do not suffer in silence.
It wasn’t easy. When my father ended the most challenging struggle of his life, mine was just beginning. Above I talk about missing memories. These were times I would’ve loved to celebrate with my dad. But there were also times I just needed him too. It was the second month of my freshman year in high school. My best friend, a senior and life-long mentor to me, broke his neck in a football game. This was someone who carried me through those challenging years, and he’d never walk again. It’s possible this might have been more difficult for me than losing my father. When my mom and I walked into that hospital room, and I saw Steve lying there in pain, I really needed my dad.
After my father’s death, without the help of my mother, 5 siblings, and my friends, I might have fallen into a deep darkness. I am grateful to them. I also had sports as an outlet and very special coaches and teachers who took a personal interest in my success.
Suicide and mental illness should not be swept under the rug. Without their awareness, these “ordinary” people could not have become my “extraordinary” heroes. I don’t know where I’d be today without their compassion and support.
My choice to give back, making a conscious decision to be a kind and caring man, as well as doing my best to make ‘some’ sense over this tragedy has made me a stronger person and a better father to my 3 kids.
Suicide and mental illness are real problems with potentially permanent and devastating consequences. They should not be dismissed as “having a bad day” or treated with comments such as “just get over it already”. Today we are lucky to have organizations like LiFE OF HOPE that bring greater awareness, education, and support to people struggling with thoughts of suicide.
If my story can bring hope to another survivor of suicide, and better yet, prevent a suicide from happening, I would be overwhelmed with joy.
If you are struggling with suicide ideation, never be afraid to ask for help. I know it requires incredible courage to reach out, but the people who care about you, and I am one, will be eternally grateful.
Today my life is blessed. My wife Lisa and I have been married for 25 years. She’s given me love, support, and 3 beautiful children. My journey has taken me through some devastating lows as well as some amazing highs. Thank you, Lisa, for showing me just how brilliant those highs can be.
Written By Bob Jewel