Six years ago I answered the phone at work to hear a frantic voice shouting "he's dead, he did it, can you come, they need you." The voice was a neighbor of my in-laws and the dead one was Pat, their son.
Pat was the baby in this family of five. He was the good son, in contrast to Glenda's in-your-face hostility and Mike's hippie wanderings. Pat moved from Wyoming to attend Oklahoma Baptist University. He wanted to be a minister, studied theology, psychology.
One of his classes took a trip to the adult mental institution in Craig County. Pat's world shifted when he saw the inmates claiming to be Jesus, God, Moses, screaming their fear of satan. The scrawlings on the walls, the artwork, so much of it depicting the agonies and fires of hell, somehow convinced him there was no God and his beliefs were foolish.
He dropped the theology, became a committed atheist. In every way but that, he was my kind of man: activist, vegetarian (I'm not, alas, but I want to be), environmentalist, angry about social injustice. He cared. He cared and it hurt him. He agonized over conditions in third world countries. He raged against whaling, against destruction of the rain forests, the absurdity of cutting the last old growth redwoods.
Pat's first suicide attempt came in early December after we returned from a trip to the wilds of New Mexico. There are few states I love more, and the mountains around Taos are a spiritual touchstone for me. Mike and I were spiritually inspired by the evidence of ancient cultures, by the glory of the wildness and Pat seemed so too. We got back on Sunday. On Tuesday, Pat's coworker called to say he had not come to work.
My husband and his sister, Mike and Glenda, struggled with what to do. They debated whether he had the right to follow his own path. While this telephone debate was going on I was screaming GET OFF THE FUCKING PHONE I'M CALLING THE POLICE GET OFF GET OFF GET OFF!! Calling the police had not entered into their minds. They would never rat on their brother, never call "the man" to deal with this thing. Never.
Sometimes I think that nothing I do is authentic to the moment, everything is influenced by past events, by old feelings. My mother attempted suicide when I was a child, passing out at the table while my sister and I ate our bean soup, and I remember being absolutely frozen in that moment. My eight year old self did not know what to do and my racing heart and screaming brain were trapped in an immobile shell of a body. I couldn't act, I didn't, and someone else effected the rescue.
So with Pat the act was clear. I loved him very much, but some of the detachment that comes with not my kin, not really
let me act while Mike and Glenda debated. I don't blame them for their inaction and I'm not criticizing, but get out of my fucking way I'm not just going to dick around while he dies. That was my thought. I called the cops.
Very long story short, the cops came, an ambulance, he pulled a gun on me, Glenda assaulted a reporter, Pat was wild-eyed and incoherent with the overdose he'd taken to do himself in. Locked up briefly, raging against us; Mike and I got nervous enough to get the pistols off the shelves and out of the cabinets where they're tucked around the house (a Wyoming love turned me into a gun moll) and keep them handy. Pat was not himself in any way.
But he got over it and meds were adjusted and on and on. Two years later, night before Thanksgiving and a frantic call from the mother-in-law: "Pat left a note on the table while we were gone, he's going to kill himself and the SWAT team's here can you come??" The SWAT team was indeed there, made up of my coworkers among the detectives at the Justice Center and a few others I did not know.
I made an effort to keep my self
out of it and to rebuke the feelings of humiliation at having my family become the Client
and God bless those cops, they were so kind. Same routine, short hospitalization, release, changing meds, blah blah blah nothing changed.
Twice we interrupted Pat's plans; I suspect there were others we never knew about. He wanted to die, he said so, he told us we could not, ultimately, stop him. The night of our Christmas open house while we were laughing and enjoying life with 150 of our friends and family, Pat swallowed two bottles full of his meds and a pint of vodka. While we were having a lovely evening full of joy and friendship and warmth he was dying alone.
It was Tuesday before Jack became suspicious and, using his key, went to check on Pat, finding him curled up on his bed, a puddle of fluid beneath his head, absolutely cold and finally dead. Jack never got over it. I believe it was this horror, of finding his beloved child in this way, that started the events that led to Jack's death three months later. Another long and sad story and this one is long and sad enough.
I'm not even sure why I'm telling it except to say that Pat and my mother were very much alike. Both intelligent, strong, educated, willful beings who were convinced there was nothing wrong with them. My mother was convinced she did not need lithium; Pat was convinced that medication alone would fix him when the evidence so clearly indicated it would not. I begged him to get counseling and he briefly met with a therapist and actually improved. That's a slow process, though, and painful. Something in him rebelled against the idea of confronting his feelings with another and he quit shortly before his death.
This is a blue time of year for so many and I see it in the eyes of folks everywhere. This day is the anniversary of Pat's death and another couple of days will be 37 years since my mother vanished. I am not blue, though I'd be just as happy if it were January and we could skip all this.
But if this is a blue time of year for you
, please take care of yourself. Life can get better. This will be the longest night of the year and from this day forward the days will be growing longer with the return of the sun. The light is
returning to our world and if you're missing a light in your soul, know that it, too, can come back. Just don't give up. This is a hard time of year but it will pass. Don't quit on your life the day before it starts to get better. If you've tried everything, ask for the strength to try again, but please don't quit.
And so my holiday wish for everyone is joy, peace and love for all and if you just can't get there, adequate help to make it so and the fortitude to stick with it and keep trying. Love to all of you.
Labels: addiction, bad behavior, mental illness, suicide