My dad passed away last week.
It feels misleading to say he “passed away” because that gives the perception of a serene slipping away. It’s not the same in my mind since he killed himself.
I have been on countless suicide scenes over my career and I find them to be so complex because those who find the victim are often the ones who loved them the most. I could never understand how a person could be so selfish to leave their family with that final memory and in the incidents where there was no note or warning, leave them wondering why.
The anger I have felt on behalf of family members has been real. And now I’m that family member attempting to get inside the head of a man who chose to leave this world without saying goodbye to his one and only child. I vacillate between profound sadness and wanting to beat my fists against his chest.
And then I think about the man who was my father and the demons he fought throughout his life. He was two people to me and I have mastered the art of compartmentalizing both.
He was a man with a very high IQ and my earliest memories are sitting on his lap watching television shows like Jacques Cousteau’s underwater exploration and Carl Sagan’s personal voyage through the cosmos. He read me works from the analytical psychologist, Carl Jung and I was bored by it but I pretended to love it because he did. He also exposed me to The Benny Hill Show and loved listening to his thunderous cackle even though I didn’t understand what was so funny. (I now realize allowing me to watch that show was mediocre parenting at best!)
He took things apart and put them back together and his degree from the DeVry Institute of Technology resulted in our garage being turned into a television repair shop. He was a police officer by trade but a technical hobbyist during his off-hours. I sat in his workshop with him and he let me melt spools of metal using the soldering gun (another example of mediocre parenting in hindsight.)
I didn’t realize until adulthood how much his curiosity about life was woven through the tapestry of me and how it’s manifested into my insatiable thirst for knowledge. He’s the reason I became a police officer and I’m blessed that his military and law enforcement service was instilled in me.
Then there was the other side of my father. I would often sneak into his liquor cabinet and pour bottle after bottle down the drain so he would stop drinking. His restless mind was likely the result of his addictive personality and I’m not sure he was ever able to quiet his thoughts — so he drank them away. I wrote him letters as a child and begged him to stop drinking. He never acknowledged me and continued to replace every bottle I washed away in the sink. He would leave work and go immediately to the social club (a.k.a. bar) and when he got home, I learned to tailor my behavior to his mood.
The demons of addiction took over his life and that became his script and downward spiral. He lost everything that was important to him but in my mind, it was his choice. My dad is the reason I thought everyone who had a cocktail in their own home was an alcoholic. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I finally understood that moderation and balance is the key to everything in life but I still find myself triggered by those who indulge to excess regularly. It’s part of the reason I grapple with understanding addiction because I have spent my entire life convinced it’s a choice. Those who are alcoholics and addicts choose their poison over their loved-ones. At least that’s what I used to believe.
He was only 70 years old when he decided he didn’t want to be here anymore. His disease of addiction caught up with him and he chose to leave this life using the weapon he carried on his side as a police officer. And now I’m left with remnants of his dual existence and I’ve been trying to make sense of it all by separating the darkness from the light.
Our parents and other influencers are fallible and imperfect and the way to peace is to recognize and embrace both their light and dark. I choose to cling to the angel memory of a man whose energy is making its way to Carl Sagan’s vast cosmos and I’m going to let go of the man with the demons.
My friend Jeff put it best: We must copy the angels and learn from the demons.