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Monday, June 2, 2008

Dying With Dignity

This was written on December 13, 2005, one year after my father's suicide (in 2004)...
The following is going to be me rambling on so there might be a lot of bouncing around as I try to get my thoughts out with no real continuity. I've been dreading this day for quite a while, trying to decide if I should blog this or not. Well, here's your answer. Just bear with me....

It was one year ago today that my dad was found dead in his condo, just two days after Jenna's first birthday party. He committed suicide with his shotgun that he methodically sawed off the barrel for the better part of 3 weeks. He was dying of lung cancer. He was 66, far too young. I only had 30 years with him.

I've been quiet all this time, telling people that my dad died of cancer, wanting to protect his dignity. And not wanting people to look at me differently because my dad killed himself. There is such a sigma that goes with suicide. We know why he did it. Everytime I saw him he was becoming more and more a ghost of himself and I know he saw that in my eyes. He was trying to protect us. He didn't want us to watch him waste away. He knew his time of independence was running out and he didn't want to be a burden. In his case suicide was a noble, yet cowardly, act. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. I didn't get a chance to tell him it was okay if he wanted to die. I was getting ready to.

My dad and I didn't have the greatest or closest relationship. My folks split when I was 8. Sure I saw him every other weekend, but it wasn't the same. I tried to distance myself from him, tried to convince myself I didn't need him. Case in point - my wedding 8 years ago. At the rehersal dinner dad presented me with our wedding gift and a manilla envelope. In the envelope were his funeral plans. The gift? The cordless phone we asked for. Ok fine. He signed his card, "Call me, Dad." Not "Congrats, Dad" or "I Love You, Dad" but "Call me, Dad." So those two things really set the tone in my head. Now comes my wedding. Here he wants my sister and I to sign onto his bank accounts should anything happen to him. For my sister, I could understand as she lives out of state. But wait a couple of weeks for me, this is my wedding!! His gift card was his idea of a very poor joke. He got us a phone so "call me." I didn't see the humor in it until much later. This was the way my dad was. Once he got an idea in his head, the blinders came on. He sense of timing was about as poor as his humor. This was when I started to back away and to distance myself from him. And this began the process of discovery as to why my parents split.

Then when I found out I was pregnant, I had mixed feelings. I knew my dad would be back in my life.

I had called in sick on the 13th after a mild bout with GI crud. My mom came over the night of the 13th to tell me dad had died, but didn't tell me how. My first thought was "My God, he died alone." Even though we weren't close, I didn't want him to die alone and afraid. I remember telling my mom that dad couldn't kill himself, that wasn't like him. She just looked at me. After asking her three times she finally told me how. I was in utter shock and disbelief. I still can't comprehend the desperation he must have felt. I'm sad that he felt he needed to do it this way. And that he was sucessful.

After a bit I went to email everyone that my dad had died. Many of you may remember that email. There was no mentioned of how he died. Most of you knew he had lung cancer, so I left it at that. Knowing I wasn't going to be at work the rest of the week I decided to change my voice mail message. There was one message on my phone. From dad. From the morning of the 13th at 1041.

"Kris, I want you to call the police. By the time you get this message I will have taken my life. You have no idea the pain I've been suffering. You have no idea what it is like to walk in my shoes. I'm so very sorry. Goodbye."

I have never made noises like that before. Steve came rushing downstairs to find me with the phone my hand, hyperventilating. That was his suicide note that the police couldn't find.

After going through his desktop calendar, he had written "Today" on the 13th.

What would have happened had I been at work and answered the phone? Or if I came back to my desk minutes after he called me?

I found out later that he bought a box of shotgun shells just before he went back into the hospital right before Thanksgiving and after he got out a receipt was found for a hacksaw. He was found in the bathtub in his underwear with the shower curtain closed, to minimize the scene. Unfortunately his girlfriend, Kay, saw enough to know what happened and called my mom after the police. Why her? Because Kay wasn't physically able to call me. I'm sure the police found that odd - the girlfriend and the ex-wife hugging and consoling at the crime scene.

He toughed it out until Jenna's birthday. It saddens me that with everything she accomplished in her first year, he wasn't here to see her second year.

I had his condo cleansed before we sold it. Even though his death was planned it was still tragic and often time spirits get caught in between here and there. I needed to make sure dad was where he needed to be. So with the help of my good friend, Dawn, she helped me release the energies of him. In his bedroom was a test shot from his gun into the outside wall.
Yet, I still feel that I didn't do enough for him, to visit him more, to go to his doctor's appointments. I should have done all these things instead of feeling obligated to be at work. Maybe he would have been on some better pain medication and he didn't have to resort to this.

I never liked his oncologist, Dr. Lemon, at Methodist. But my dad liked him and had his trust so I couldn't do or say anything to break his confidence. But at the same time my dad grew up at the time where you don't question what the doctor tells you. Hindsight is 20/20 and it blows.

His death certificate didn't say enough. "Cause of death: Shotgun wound to the head." It didn't say he was dying of cancer. It didn't say that his death was related to smoking, just that he died from a shotgun wound to the head.

I went through a period of deep guilt and had to go through counseling. I'm still not satisfied with my actions and I'm not sure if ever will be. It felt disrespectful to get on with my life after he died, like I was abandoning his memory. I feel that today, being here at work.

We had a memorial on December 18th. He final wishes were to be scattered in northern New Mexico along his favorite scenic train line, the Cumbres & Toltec out of Chama, NM. Dad would spend 1-2 weeks volunteering his time to help refurbish old train cars and restore the line to its Glory Days. I didn't appreciate his enthusiasm 10 years ago. Now I wished I had paid attention.

In August 2005 Steve and I met my sister and her BF in Chama to scatter him like he wished. I had been in contact with the train line as well as the volunteer organization, The Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec. Dad had a favorite engine, 488, that was being restored all the years he had gone down there. Turns out she came out of restoration this past spring and got her scheduled to pull our train up to Osier, CO.

The Sunday we were there Steve and I decided to walk to the yard to meet up with some people to finalize everything. We were coming down the driveway of the yard when I literally skidded onthe gravel. There, right before me, was 488 getting ready for her task in the morning. I've never seen her, other than in pictures and in pieces. I don't know why I didn't expect to see her there. I instantly teared up.

The morning of the ride we also got a paper cup and put some of dad's ashes in there, then tossed them into the firebox. What better tribute is there than to be blasted from the stack of your favorite engine up the valley? I tied on some roses to her as a tribute. It had been 20 years almost to the week since dad first brought me to Chama to ride the train.
It was a gorgeous day, sunny and 70s. Chama is usually dry in August, being of higher elevation. But there had been some recent rains and everything was green and blooming again. Cumbres Pass is a routine stop for water. We detrained to scatter his ashes with some wildflowers, then toasted him with Champagne. Joni and I tried to send him off the best way we knew how. At the half-way point we had lunch and the second train from Antonito CO, met us there. The two engines then swapped trains, so 488 kept on to Antonito and 487 took us back down to Chama. The last image of that day was seeing 488 across the valley steaming away, having done her job. It was one of the hardest, yet uplifting, days of my life. I've included some photos from the trip in the slideshow.

It's gotten a little easier, but there are days when it hits me out of no where. Dad has come to visit me at least once that I know of. He's visited Kay at least once and my mom about 5 times. Thank you for your time and for letting me get this out. And thank you for your understanding.

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