Honesty time. Writing has long been an outlet for me, and I feel it's time to get some of this down. Maybe I'll hit "publish" now and maybe I won't. But I want to explore some honest and real feelings about my dad's death. This is more for my own processing, so don't feel that you need to read all this. But my situation is a bit unique, I want to share about my experience and my dad so others can have insight and also maybe something to which they can relate.
I have a lot of questions floating around in my head. Actually, I have a whole lot of stuff floating in there. It's kind of a circus right now.
I would never in a million years say that my experience is harder than that of others going through loss. But, my circumstances are a bit unusual, and I will say my experience is different - maybe it doesn't fit the mold so much. I will at least say that it's complicated.
My entire life changed in a single moment. I had no preparation, no pre-processing, no anticipation.
Everyone initially assumed that my 63-year-old father had a heart attack. That would have made sense. He was slightly overweight and under exercised. He was a bit of a weekend warrior - the kind who has heart attacks because they aren't prepared for the occasional exertion. Honestly, I assumed if Dad went early (and 63 is WAY WAY WAY early - his father died just last summer at 97.) it would be a heart attack or a car-bike crash. He had a history of bike crashes - and he was hit by a car a couple summers ago!
But my dad died, without warning (to me, at least), after taking an overdose of his medication. He swallowed all his pills and then laid down to sleep.
My family believes with all our hearts that his intention was not to die that day. Something in his OCD mind compelled him to do it, perhaps a panic attack, or perhaps confusion set in after he'd taken too much. We believe his death to be an unintentional overdose, rather than a pre-planned suicide.
Still, the outcome is the same. My father died about 20 years early because of mental illness.
If you haven't already, please consider reading my mom's post about Dad's illness. It helps explain what we know and what we believe about Dad's death. Click HERE to read it.
For as long as I can remember, I knew that Dad suffered from OCD. It was very easy to see in our every-day lives. We dealt with it by joking around about his over focusing - by lightening the mood and asking if he remembered to take his medicine (oh, the irony) or by trying to change the subject and move on from the over-focused topic.
A common example of this over focusing was that he might say something to one of us with a slightly harsh tone. We would call him out, and he would apologize. No harm, no fool... if you're not someone with massive OCD. Then 30 minutes later, when the subject had long since turned away, he would bring it up again, and apologize again. He'd been thinking about it that whole time, stewing and feeling bad. That happened A LOT.
We also joked about the minutia that became his focus when the big (and obvious-to-us) things seemed to slip through his perception. Dad was the king of minutia. He would latch on to small details and miss the point of the story or the point of the exchange or the actual thing that he was supposed to do or deal with or notice. It was strange, but that was just my quirky dad.
I also knew that he had some depressive tendencies, more so in the recent months after his father died. However, I had no idea the extent to which his depression and OCD gripped him. He consciously kept that fact from my sister and me, apparently wanting to shield us from this reality. It is only since his death that I became aware that these conditions were sometimes (oftentimes?) debilitating.
Part of me understands this decision. Part of me does not. Sometimes, he was kind of a jerk. Nothing major, but sometimes his actions and attitudes were less-than-pleasant. Looking back with this new knowledge, I see that it was his illness. Had I known then what I know now, I think (I hope!) that I would have been more understanding and compassionate about these episodes.
This is a source of guilt for me. I understand that guilt is a common part of grieving, especially in a suicide situation, but that simply means I'm "normal" in my processing. It doesn't not make it easier.
Also contributing to the guilt is the fact that I was having a wonderful day on Feb. 12. I sang joyfully throughout my morning routine and on my way to work. It was sunny and warm. I bought groceries on my lunch break and drove just a couple blocks from my parents' home on the way back to school, enjoying the sun and never sensing that Dad was dying nearby. I purchased Valentine sprinkles and was excited to bake holiday cookies for my students. After work, I had a cooking marathon and made several dishes for the week and for Brad's lunches. I also made fancy clam chowder for the next day's family dinner with my sister and parents. I sent a group text declaring that chowder was ready for Soup Tuesday. Then I posted to our "Workout Buddies" group: "What are we all doing today?" No one responded.
I was literally walking out the door to kickboxing when Mom texted me to come to Eryn's house because "we need to talk."
Productivity makes me happy. I was happy. I was getting stuff done and feeling good. I was on my way to a fun workout with friends. My father was dead a mile away, and I had no idea.
My head is swimming with questions.
Could I have done something to help?
Why didn't I "know" something was wrong that day?
Why didn't I text or call Dad?
Why didn't he reach out?
Did my words and actions contribute to Dad's issues and ultimate death?
Why was I so critical?
Why did I let the inconsequential bother me?
Why was I not good enough?
Why were we not good enough?
Did my recent decision to stop taking family vacations make him give up?
Why was he saddled with this life-long illness?
Why did he lose the fight, despite counseling and medication and a lifetime of trying so hard?
Why did this happen to my family?
Why didn't he tell us he was struggling so much?
What was going through his mind when he took all those pills?
What was he thinking?
What triggered it?
Did he really mean to die?
What was he trying to escape?
Did he know how much I love him?
Did my lack of empathy after Grandpa's death contribute to his depression?
Did he know how much I would miss him?
Why did he leave me?
How will I go on without him?
When will my physical pain go away?
Will my joy ever return?
What's the point of it all?
Lots of questions, all without answers.