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When You Can't Save Your Dad From Suicide

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I am not sure how much I believed he would actually kill himself.

I had just arrived at my dad’s house with my newborn son and my Bar-bri books, smelling of leaking breast milk and feeling torn about being away from my 3 and 5 year olds all day to study.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

My sister Robyn was throwing her bag in her mom’s silver Lexus SUV and juggling a few photo albums. She was a budding photographer. So at first all the photo albums didn’t seem weird. But she wasn’t her usual chipper self.

When I got inside, my stepmom, Bonnie, was on the phone. She said, “Hang on a second” to the person on the phone and asked me, “Do you want to come with us? We are leaving in a few minutes?” Her nickname was Termite because she never sat still, and this day was no exception.

“What? Where are y’all going? Where’s my dad?,” I asked while taking Clay from his car seat to snuggle and smell his newborn baby powder smell.

“He took off and hasn’t been answering his phone. He finally picked up and told me, ‘goodbye.’ Oh, and that he was in Destin. But he won’t tell me where. So Robyn and I are just going to drive to every condo we have ever visited there until we find his car.” I snuggled Clay closer for comfort.

Robyn piped in, “And I am going to show him all the reasons he shouldn’t kill himself. I am putting together a scrapbook on the way down. You can help me, come on.”

I grew up in Florida and didn’t know he was bipolar when I visited as a kid. But now that I lived near my dad in Tennessee, Bonnie and Robyn couldn’t cover for him anymore. Bonnie even enlisted me in the battle to help keep him alive. One time I had to go make sure he wasn’t dead in his houseboat. Another time I called the police to stop him at a hotel. I even bought him a “Bee Happy” knick knack he kept on his big, huge whirlpool bathtub.

“If only it were as simple as just Bee Happy! Nobody would tell a cancer patient to just be cured!,” he laughed.

There is no way I can go. But Bonnie and Robyn are offering me to be a part of my dad’s family. Insider status. Getting to know my dad is the only reason I live in Nashville at all.

I reached out to my best law school friends, “My dad is suicidal. I feel so guilty not dropping everything to help stop him. I can’t concentrate and I don’t know how I am going to do this.”

They universally responded with some variation of, “I know it’s tough but you have to study for that bar exam. You owe it to your calling as a lawyer and to your three boys, your wonderful husband, this earth and God’s mission for you.” No pressure.

The dad I knew was 6’4” with a larger than life personality. He once rode his motorcycle for 14 hours to visit me. And traded it in because I teased him about the skinny front tire. He even took bartending classes so he could say he passed the bar exam before me.

But there was zero way I could go with Bonnie and Robyn that day. I had three sons and a bar exam in 10 days that would determine if we could all afford to eat. I am sure I will be an outsider forever now.

That day the words on my note cards swam in my eyes. Clay and I nursed and listened to Bar-bri on tape and accomplished nothing.

They finally found his car in a parking lot of a condo on Holiday Isle, and Robyn’s scrapbook was enough to convince him to come home.

Back home, he looked me in the eye and said, “I won’t do it before your test. I would hate to mess that up for you.”

I cried and said, “You better never do it!” and handed him Clay to sleep on his chest. Surely a new baby is enough to keep him here.

Fast forward to October, months after the bar exam on the day the results were going to be released. That day in the office I was a complete wreck and I let everyone know it. My boss finally came out of his office exasperated and said, “Have you ever failed a test in your entire life?”

When I found my name posted on a glass window wall a few blocks from our offices, I was twirling in the street. I was literally screaming with joy and making a fool of myself. I floated back to the office.

That night my dad gave me a cartoon congratulations card about him being “jealous as hell” signed:

“Love, Dad

The test is over!”

At the swearing in ceremony, he said, “You earned the right to be cocky for one day kiddo!” We posed for a picture together on the steps of the state capitol, both of us dressed up in blue suits.

Maybe days like these are enough to tether him to the earth.

Sadly, the next time I would see him in a suit was in his coffin when he finally did lose his battle with bipolar disorder 15 months later.

I know now no rescue road trip I did or did not go on would have saved him in the end. Neither would anything I accomplished make him stay. I will never have an answer to why he left me. Again.

I still can’t believe the earth spins without him, but I don’t regret choosing my little family over his.

Original photo via contributor

Originally published: June 30, 2021
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