Listening to the 911 tape brought me to tears. On the tape you can hear the woman saying he’s got a gun, he’s really mad. Then you hear the dull thud as he presses the barrel of the pistol to the back of her head and shoots her while she is talking to the 911 dispatcher. Then you hear a loud shot as he shoots himself in the head. Then you hear the screams of the two little boys who just witnessed all this. There was also a 9-month old in a crib in the next room. Later on one of the boys told investigators that the battery (the shell casing) from Daddy’s gun hit him. That’s how close these two boys were.
This tragedy was brought on because the man (a sailor) thought his wife had been cheating on him while he was out at sea. It truly was a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Not so long ago a woman called our 911 Center to report her husband missing. She said he was depressed and that he had a pistol with him when he left. His daughter found him in the woods about 50 yards from the road. He had put one bullet into his right temple. If it was not an instantaneous death it was at least mercifully quick. Not so for his daughter who is now left with memories of a sight that will never leave her. Everyone who loved him will wonder what else they could have done.
The innocent bystanders are the ones who really suffer in suicide cases. For the person who takes their own life their temporal misery is over. There are no more black days, there is no more pain. For the spouses, the children, the friends and the co-workers the pain only increases and often festers as guilt.
All that aside I can see how some people come to believe that death is better than another tomorrow. There was a time in my life when the consequences of a number of horrendous decisions descended on me all at once. My very public downfall reverberated through every aspect of my life, my family, my friends, my job and buried me in the deepest depression. They were my bad decisions and I made amends everywhere I could and tried to regain the trust I had so maliciously violated. Trapped in the throes of grief and shame I went shopping for a shotgun. It seemed at the time more like a backup plan if things got worse. Fortunately the thoughts quickly passed and I committed myself to a becoming the man I wanted to be. I began listening to my conscience. Over many years I have become the man I am today and repaired most of the damage I inflicted on so many innocent people. In the ensuing years I also encountered true unconditional love.
Part of my decision to step back from the brink was that I did not want to be remembered as a man who quit. I wanted to be remembered as a man who fought back and remade himself from the shattered shards of his former self. That sliver of hope, or grace if you will, was enough to work with.
I am not trying to imply that someone who takes their own life is weak or is a quitter. I believe that there are no suicide decisions that are entered into lightly. Perhaps it’s one too many days with no hope, or the discovery of a fatal disease, or perhaps it is simply too much shame to bear. There are many more suicides in our community than I would have imagined. There probably more in your community as well. Unless the suicide is particularly gruesome, or is a public figure or a murder suicide the media generally stays away.
Sadly, as we enter into the so called Holiday Season the number of suicides will increase. For some the memory of a loved one who died during this season will simply overwhelm them. For others perhaps the isolation from the allegedly merry world will simply be too much. Many people, myself included, often have a hard time feeling the unabashed merriment everyone else’s seems to be wallowing in. I have had too many grey Holiday Seasons for that.
What should be the season of The Nativity of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, will for most of us instead be a season trampled by materialism and over indulgence. For some it will be too much. So I will try to remember the lonely, the sad, and the outcasts, to reach out to them to assure them that another tomorrow is better than the alternative, that the light of hope and love still permeates our sometimes lonely and bleak world.
Note: I painted the image used in this post several years ago.