Mental health

A Suicide Survivor Story – Part II

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Trigger Warning- The following tale is a suicide survivor story. It makes mention of gun violence, suicide, grief and trauma. If this will upset you, please do not read it. If you or someone you love needs assistance, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Disclaimer- I am not a licensed therapist. A suicide survivor is someone who has survived the loss of a friend or loved one to suicide, not to be confused with surviving an attempt.

PART TWO

Dear Readers,

If you are reading this and have not read Part I of this series, please go back and start there so the following post is in context.

The following morning, April 8th, 2009 the phone rings again- this time it is my mother. She tells me to wake my father. My father worked the night shift so I was cautious about her request, but she insisted. So, I knocked on my father’s door to wake him. I told him my mother was on the line insisting she speak to him. Bear in mind my father and I were still reeling with the tears and sleeplessness of Bob’s passing just one day prior. I exited the room and pressed my ear to the door when I heard my father gasp. Turning around, I went back to that same patio and lit a cigarette while weighing all the possibilities in my mind.

Someone was hurt.

Someone was dead.

Someone had cancer.

Who could it be?

What could it be?

Why could it be?

My father appeared in the doorway. Saying nothing, he passed me the phone. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he lifted one of the chairs and placed it next to mine. I held the phone to my ear and heard my mother’s words. “He did it,” she said.

My mother’s father, Lyle Montgomery, had died early that morning from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. He was 62 years old.

gpa

I was in shock, complete and utter disbelief. How could this be? How could my entire family be shattered by suicide in less than twenty-four hours? My father and I cried relentlessly for hours. I could not stop even long enough to pee. Grief is a very strange thing. While sitting on the toilet I saw my dad emerge in the hallway and said, “We have to do something. We have to get out of here.” He agreed. So that very day we packed up and headed to Galveston Island. It is difficult to recall the details in a state of shock, but all we knew was that we needed to be together, and we needed a change of environment.

We decided to do our best to honor these losses by making an attempt to indulge in all of the things these men no longer could. Nature, wine, laughter, food, good company music, shelter and sea. With sand in our toes we cried into our champagne together, nearly taking out a seagull in the process. Being that we both survived this life on the value of good humor, we made what room we could for healing and joy. We vowed to one another that day to never choose suicide as a viable option – no matter what. Some say happiness is only real when shared, but I think the same can be said of grief.

My grandfather, Lyle, had spoken openly about suicide in the years prior. He had health conditions that caused him a great deal of pain and limited ability, exacerbating his suicidal ideation. This was not a weak man. He was a tough well-worn American businessman who loved the outdoors. He was a concrete cornerstone, the very foundation of our family. He loved his family and took pride in his home. He took great effort to make the holidays special and record home videos. He demanded togetherness, good food, and entertainment – even if it wasn’t all together functional. Like anyone, he had his own history including the abandonment of his mother, the casting away of his siblings, and the fact that he was a recovered alcoholic. He hadn’t always been the best father or husband, and viewed his grandchildren as a second chance to love well. Our family was fairly well-known in the town where I grew up. My grandfather owned his own business and participated in local sports while my grandmother was a nurse at the very same hospital I was born in. She also filled a leadership role in the church.

Toward the end, my grandpa Lyle was diagnosed with a benign cyst that was located on that back of his neck near his spine. Here was this man, this almighty superhero of a man in the eyes of his grandchildren, a man I had never seen frightened of anything in my life – and he was scared. He was scared of surgery. He was scared of pain. He was scared of living if it meant the quality of his life would change. Here was this man who hadn’t attended church in forty years who was now attending church, and people were noticing. I can say that I was not entirely surprised by the fact that he took his own life, even though my mother resents me for it. In fact, I resent him for taking my mother from me, but that’s a tale for another day.

After his surgery nothing was the same. His mobility lessened – a significant loss to an otherwise healthy, active, hard-working man. He soon became over-medicated, falling asleep at the dinner table with lit cigarettes in his hand – towels laid out to catch the ashes and spills. This highly opinionated leader and conversationalist became reduced to narcotic-saturated slurring and sadness.

Everyone who spoke to him in his last days said that he was not in his right mind. I remember our last phone call. He was angry with me for moving away. He viewed my leaving as abandonment. Respectfully, we disagreed. He could hardly speak and when he did he spoke openly of an indifference toward life. I told him I loved him. I reassured him. I told him he needed to travel more, to get out of Minnesota where the cold sucks the life from your bones. He agreed and we hung up. That was the last time I heard his voice.

So, why am I telling you all of this? I am telling you this to teach you three things:

1.) Suicide can happen to ANYONE .
2.) There are warning signs, but not always, and they can vary considerably.
3.) We never truly let go of suicide loss. We are changed forever by our grief, and simply learn to carry it.

The most meaningful revelation in my healing came five agonizing alcoholic years after this tragedy fractured my family. It seemed so simple, almost trivial. I was driving down Main Street in a small mountain town in Colorado where I lived at the time when a Pearl Jam song came over the radio. The sun was shining in through the windows on a beautiful day when suddenly it occurred to me that they were dead and I am alive. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.

I knew then that neither one of these men would want me wallowing forever in grief. In that moment I realized that this was a choice they had made completely independent of my ability to help them. I realized I was not responsible, that I could not have done anything differently, that THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE, and that perhaps the outcome would have been the same regardless. More than that, I was going to use my pain to help others, to educate and dismantle stigma and say these things out loud, to enlighten those who may consider suicide and share the burden of suicide survival.

I still cry when April rolls around each year and I consider that my children will never have the joy of knowing these men, but I have not walked away entirely empty handed. Suicide has taught me how even in the pinnacle of pain we can be made better for it, how the aftermath of trauma affords us the opportunity to grow, how a shared sense of community grants us sanctuary in an often isolating grief, and to take nothing for granted.

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Mental health

A Suicide Survivor Story – Part I

21359134569473D72C
Trigger Warning- The following tale is a suicide survivor story. It makes mention of gun violence, suicide, grief and trauma. If this will upset you, please do not read it. If you or someone you love needs assistance, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Disclaimer- I am not a licensed therapist. A suicide survivor is someone who has survived the loss of a friend or loved one to suicide, not to be confused with surviving an attempt.

PART ONE

Dear Readers,

It took me two days to write this because I want to get it right. I want to be sure to demonstrate how much love was given, shared, and lost. I want to honor my loved ones without becoming engulfed in the grief I have dedicated my life to working through. I have done a great deal of healing over the years, and yet some forms of anguish and human suffering are so surreal they never quite leave us. It’s been a while since I walked through the timeline and emotions of these events, so I took pause to embrace some self examination and consider the truth that there remains an abundance of grief in the re-telling. So, rather than flailing to avoid it, I am allowing myself to feel these things again in the spirit of helping even just one person.

It’s been nine years, and I can still remember my father walking toward me. I didn’t know it then, but his eyes fought to guard the knowledge he had received in attempt to shield me for a few more hours. I thought it strange that he had visited me at work that day, and yet my adolescent self could not step outside herself long enough to realize something wasn’t quite right. With those sad eyes my father said, “Call me when you get home.” A dutiful daughter, I finished my shift and returned home. By this time, my father had already left for his night shift and I was home alone. I dropped my things and exited the back door to our patio. I sat in my father’s chair with my dated flip phone in one hand, and a lit cigarette in the other. When the lines connected my father’s voice was heavy with sadness.

“We lost Bob,” he said. “What?” I replied, my voice breaking in shock.

Robert J. Jeske was my father’s childhood friend. Over the years and relocations we lost touch, but we had rekindled our familial relationship in the recent months. Uncle Bob was one of the many crew members who accompanied my father through the untimely passing of his mother, and the adolescent unplanned pregnancy with me. My father suffered a great deal of loss at a very early age, and was surrounded by a large group of loving friends who became chosen family. This brood of teenage boys was responsible for some of my fondest memories as a child, and I remain close to many of them today. Our family has always been unconventional, but big-hearted nonetheless.

I can’t recall the date now, but I know it was winter when I flew back to my home-state of Minnesota. Uncle Bob demanded that he take me to dinner. He wore his Vikings leather jacket that night, the very same one that he would later be seen wearing as he lay dead in an alley. He requested a steak and beer from our waitress, and missed no chance to make fun of me for ordering a salad. Bob dedicated an entire evening to traveling through time with me, revisiting old memories around the city of Minneapolis, and sharing with me all his life had become up until that point. After dinner, he insisted I see the studio where he recorded his music. I was more than happy to accompany him in his sketchy van, completely indicative and stereotypical of a struggling musician.

Bob was famous for his luxuriously long hair, his ageless baby face, his lack of adequate height, his ability to abundantly love others without boundary, and an amazing knack for turning sound into music. He did it all. Despite Minnesota being well-known for her harsh winters, Bob and I ventured out that evening and were greeted by his band mates upon arrival. I recall the way it was too easy to become lost in the winding corridors of that studio building. Bob pulled up a stool for me to sit on and tossed me a Coors Light. “Don’t tell your Dad,” he laughed. Smiling, I sat back to enjoy the set. Not long after they started playing, I heard the familiar guitar pings of my favorite KoRn song. My eyes lit up and my mouth dropped open. Here was yet another shining example of how Bob took the time to think of others through a shared love of music. It wasn’t long before everyone was intoxicated, but not once was I made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe. No one should have been driving that night, but we knew we were running out of time before we would be expected to return to Ed’s apartment.

Considerably more responsible than the rest, Ed was another longtime loving brother of our family. We arrived not long before sunrise and Bob and I put off going inside for as long as possible. Our bond was evident as we shared stories of childhood, love, loss, culture, relationships, and the future. The windows began to fog over as the temperature outside continued to drop, and the little girl in me saw every opportunity to scribble a message in the condensation. So, I turned and wrote, “I love you, Uncle Bob” on the passenger side window. This warmed Bob greatly, and he would from then on refer to me as his “Babygirl.”

When it finally came time to venture inside, there was Ed atop the stairs clearly displaying his parental disapproval of my 3am arrival. These men held a deep respect for my father, and so I quickly became something of a precious gem. Bob laughed and leaned on me while slurring, “This isn’t the International House of Pancakes!” His humor kept him afloat despite the underpinning of excessive sadness in our parting. That is just the type of person Bob was. I was an extremely angry teenager back then, but his unconditional love for me cast a profound and warm light on my suffering. Even then, I knew there was something exceptionally unique and fleeting about our time together.

Of course, like any talented artist with a great capacity for feeling, Bob’s blessings were not without torment. He had endured the loss of his mother which many said left him never quite the same. Then, in the days leading up to his death he had missed the last phone call of a loved one just before she took her own life. The situational grief of losing his mother paired with the survivor’s guilt of that missed phone call proved too much for his lion heart to bear.

By this time I had returned to my father’s side in Texas. Bob and I continued to speak daily over the phone. Mostly our conversations consisted of music, relationships, and talk of him visiting Texas. Sadly, our conversations shifted after the suicide of his friend and his talk of the future would never come to pass. Instead, our shared love and laughter was replaced by my attempts to comfort him, begging him to seek the counsel of a therapist. Even then I knew his unbearable grief paired with his increasing alcoholism was not a sustainable condition.

By the first week of April our conversations were no longer reasonable. He would call me at all hours from the corner of the room and say nothing, he would just cry and sob and wail in agony. He would call me from the car to tell me the windows were fogging over, and he could still see the message I left behind for him. He would call and tell me he couldn’t do it anymore. These phone calls were the most painful part of losing him. I witnessed his emotional decline, and felt entirely powerless to stop it.

On the evening of Monday April 6th, 2009 at approximately 6:12pm, St. Paul authorities were alerted that a man with a handgun was drinking in the alley behind the 1500 block of E. Iowa Avenue. Two minutes later, as police were on the way, another call came in about shots being fired.

Robert J. Jeske was 34 years old.

bob

None of Bobby’s friends or family were prepared for this. His passing was and remains an extremely subtantial loss due to the nature of his sweetness and his ability to create. His death was later ruled a suicide-by-cop when investigators found apparent premeditated notes on his Myspace account expressing his love and apologies. I would never imagine speaking for her, but I know his sister Sarah was displeased with the rendition of events and the way Bob’s personality was portrayed by the local News at the time.

I received this news on April 7th, 2009. The following morning, April 8th, 2009 the phone rang again- this time it was my mother.

Read Part II

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!