Suicide is about pain. Sometimes physical pain, but mostly emotional. When researchers interviewed the few people who have survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, their feedback was very similar. They knew the second their foot left the ledge it was a mistake.
As I drove up to my dad's complex, I wondered if he had taken his foot off the ledge. When I opened my car door, I saw that Sadie (my sister) had gone anyway. My sister was barely standing. She was hysterical and made a howling cry I will never get out of my head. It’s the type of cry that comes out when a person’s soul is overflowing. Her sobs were loud, uncontrollable. She had gone against my wishes and come to check on him. My dad’s nurse caught Sadie as she was falling to her knees.
The nurse looked at me and said, “He’s gone.”
“Will, your dad is gone,” the nurse said.
“What did he do? What happened? Where is he?” I looked down at the ground, not sure how to react. She was calm.
“He decided it was his time. He shot himself.” This wasn’t the first time one of her patients with stage IV cancer committed suicide.
My first thought was how much fear Dad must have felt. He was alone, probably desperate, angry, and sad. My second thought was How did he find the guts to do it?
The police were investigating inside the apartment and wouldn’t let anyone enter. My sister’s sobs had slowed, and she asked if she could see him, but his nurse quickly responded that it was not a good idea.
Sadie continued begging, “Please! I just want to see him. Please, one more time. Please let me.”
“You’ll want to remember him as he was, not the way he is today. Trust me.” The hospice nurse was right. I turned around, grabbed my sister, and just held her. I had a feeling this day would eventually come. Once my dad had told me, off the cuff, “I’m going down with my boots on—going out in a flash.” Now I knew what he meant. He had told Sadie goodbye two days before. She mentioned it had been a great moment—a nice strong hug, eyes connected, and she had a warm feeling in her heart. I felt good knowing the last moments they’d experienced and the last months of time they spent together would outweigh today and the many earlier years of strain. I felt horrible not getting to say goodbye or to fix thirty-seven years of challenges. I should have tried harder, and I think he wanted to try harder too I wasn’t the kind of boy he wanted. He was into rocks, roughing camping, and astronomy. I only wanted to throw baseballs, run with footballs, or shoot basketballs. We just never connected.
The coroner approached me and my sister. “It appears that your father took his own life,” she said. “That’s the way it appears at this time, but we have to check to make sure the scene is not staged or that no one else was involved. This is standard procedure. I’ve seen several situations like this, and it does appear to be a suicide. I’m so very sorry for your loss.” The coroner tried to tell us with empathy, but we couldn’t hear it. Instead, the words just danced in the air like a cold, harsh, December wind. My emotions were raw, cold. I didn’t move—just stood there.
My dad was in extreme physical pain, but he leaving the world so abruptly is a shock I'll always live with.