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.
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.
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.
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**
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!