Trigger Warning: Graphic and emotional content.
In a span of about three years (October 2010 to June 2013) I had to deal with a lot of death. Pop (Grandfather), Spike (my cat), and then a neighbor. Pop and the neighbor were both gun suicides.
I’ll never forget October 10, 2010. My dad called me late at night, which I immediately knew meant there was trouble. My father and I are not close. We speak on holidays and see each other maybe every five years. The reasons behind that are stories for another day though. At the time when this call occurred, I was living with my mom and in the final stages of interviews for a job. When I answered the phone, my dad’s sobs could be heard. And he told me Pop had killed himself, just three days after his 66th birthday.
I was shocked and confused. I had worried about certain people in my life doing something like this, but Pop was never on that list. Admittedly I hadn’t seen him in many years, but he never struck me as the type to take his life (a lot of suicide survivors say that though). The circumstances around his death were horribly sad. He and my Mim (Grandmother) were still together, but she had begun to suffer from severe dementia. Pop never put her in a home and took care of her all by his lonesome, sometimes with help from my dad, because he had promised her he would never abandon her like that. As her dementia got worse, she started to run away from home. Apparently this had happened other times before and the police would find her wandering the desert. Pop just couldn’t watch her every single second. Groceries needed obtaining, food needed cooking, pets needed care, and so on.
The day of Pop’s death Mim had run away again while he was busy elsewhere. The police found her wandering, took her to the hospital, and called Pop from there telling him they had her. And this is when the straw that broke my Pop’s back, the snowflake that caused the avalanche, was added to the pile. The police told him that if they found her wandering again they would press charges on him for neglect and that he really needed to put her in a home. He calmly informed them that he was going to kill himself because he couldn’t bear to to do that or face those type of criminal charges. He’d made promises to her. He didn’t fear they would be able to stop him by telling them what he was about to do. Their home is way out in the middle of a sparsely populated area just like my dad’s, who at the time lived about seven miles away. Pop hung up on the police and immediately called my father. He told him what was going on, where Mim was, asked him to take care of her and get her in a home, thanked him for all his love, told him how proud he was of him, what he was about to do, that he had informed the police already, and to please let the police find him so that my father didn’t have to see. He hung up, walked into his room, took a .357 magnum out of his safe, and shot himself through the roof of his mouth.
Although I hadn’t seen him in a long time, I was absolutely devastated by the news. My Pop was part of the few wonderful memories I have from childhood. He taught me how to use a computer (it was one of those old monsters with the black and orange monitor, probably a 386) when I was somewhere around three or four years old. He and my mom taught me how to do long division and multiplication. I was reading on a sixth grade level by the time I started kindergarten. That knowledge put me years ahead of anyone else my age and it was a good thing, too because I would miss most of school over kindergarten and first grade, which is something else I will explain at a later time.
My father paid to fly me down and put me up in a hotel to help handle things and go to the funeral. I told the new employer what was going on and that I would have to delay my start date, which they were fine with considering the circumstances. Before I had flown down I had done some research on biohazard cleanup and what are called aftermath services so that I and my father didn’t have to see the mess left by his suicide. I gave him phone numbers, prices, locations, services available, and so on. And my father never did anything with that information to get that mess cleaned up. Nothing. In fact, I found out later he didn’t do it for almost a fucking month after the suicide.
I was the one that had to clean out Pop’s room surrounded by his things and coagulated blood and brain matter all over. There was one spot on the floor, where I believe Pop fell, that had a huge pool of partially coagulated blood. Someone had tossed a small bath towel over the spot, but it in no way covered or concealed the mess. When I was there it was still obviously wet and there were flies everywhere. I remember having to step across this each time I entered the room and swatting at the flies buzzing around. It was horrifying. I remember being in a sort of daze, but most, if not all the details are terribly clear in my memory. There was the horrible stench of dog urine throughout the large house, the mountains of crap Mim had hoarded, the small path that ran from room to room between the walls of boxes and junk, how Pop’s room was the only area with any relative organization or neatness minus the obvious mess, the gigantic safe in Pop’s tiny bedroom and how it had been absentmindedly left open, and also in Pop’s tiny bedroom the setup of a few computers along one wall opposite the tiny single bed. My dad couldn’t handle being in that room. I was the only one with the constitution to do it. I didn’t want to, but I did. The legacy that experience has left me with is one that I didn’t want. Ever since then I have been obsessed with understanding suicide methods, signs of a suicidal person, those at risk for suicide, the psychology of mental illness and suicidality, the psychological aftermath and complex grieving associated with it, and everything else I can about suicide. Not because I’ve ever wanted to do it, but because I need to understand what happened. And my hope is that if I know as much as I can about it that I can help prevent it from happening to anyone else I know or meet.
I am glad that I am strong person because I know I could be much worse considering what I saw and experienced. However, the fragility of my psychological stability was exacerbated by the death of my soul mate kitty Spike in the summer of 2011 (yet another story for later). To put Spike’s death in perspective, it was more difficult than when I got divorced and relocated without notice or planning from Arizona to Nevada. Death was everywhere it seemed. I thought that I shouldn’t have to worry about suicide touching me again, although I had learned that my family was at a far greater risk for more of them after Pop. My father hopefully has enough of a religious bug to keep him from doing it even though he moved into the house where Pop killed himself, which admittedly worries me and I’ve told him so. My mother wouldn’t do it to me, at least I believe that as much as I can. We’ve discussed it. She has been depressed, especially when she relocated to Nevada for her job in 2003 and was essentially all alone until I moved here four years later. For the most part my friends are healthy and happy. I never imaged it would be almost a complete stranger that struck that chord in me.
Continued in next entry.