Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Only Solution Is To Move Forward

My eight-year-old daughter Dolly knows her uncle killed himself, but she doesn’t like to talk about it, at least not with me. She was with me when I got the phone call the morning that he died, so there was no time to break the news softly. How could I sugarcoat a suicide even if I’d wanted to? She understands that her uncle died of a disease of the mind, just as another could die of a disease of the body. In the days and weeks that followed, she talked to some of her friends about it, so she wasn’t in denial about what was happening. But whenever I try to talk to her about it, she says that the images it puts in her mind are too scary, so could we please talk about it later, like after Christmas, like after New Years, like in the spring?

Dolly writes songs for her rock band, The Silver Tigers, of which she is the lead singer. Here’s her latest song:

Dying isn’t a solution

The only solution is to move forward

Dying isn’t a solution

The only solution is to move forward

It’s my new earworm—a catchy tune with sage wisdom and after-school special simplicity.

But here’s the sticky part. For some period of time prior to the morning of December 5, 2009, Mike convinced himself, without anyone knowing, that dying was the only solution . Was there something I could have done that could have convinced him otherwise?

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are entering the era of guilt and regret.

Two nights before he died, Thursday, December 3, 2009, Mike called to talk to Dolly. He left two messages on my voicemail while Dolly was at her dance class. In the first message he said that he was having a hard time, and that talking to Dolly might help cheer him up. The second message said that he had hoped to talk to Dolly, but now he was going to bed, so we shouldn’t bother to call back. Virginia is three hours ahead of California. I remember thinking, “poor baby, he sounds so stressed. We’ll have to give him a call this weekend.”

The next day, Friday, December 4, 2009, I planned to send him a text message. As I headed into the office, I was composing something in my head (“hang in there, kid”), but work that day was an insane, adrenaline rush type of day with no break for lunch. I settled two of my cases that day, but never sent the text.

On Saturday, December 5, 2009, Dolly ran her first 5k in Golden Gate Park. As we walked to the park, I said to her, “We have to call your Uncle Mike when we get home because he called for you a couple of days ago.” She wanted to call and tell him about the race. Instead, we received the call from my parents. I was waiting at the finish line of the Lollipop Run (with some ass-hole yelling at me and threatening to sue me because Duncan’s dog was barking too loudly) when I learned that Mike was dead.

If we had called him back on Thursday, would it have made a difference? If I had sent that text or given him a call on Friday, would it have made a difference? I know he had already bought the gun when he called on Thursday. I had no way of knowing that he was calling to say good-bye. Even if I had talked to him, would I have known?

My regret goes beyond that phone call, of course. My brother was depressed and/or suicidal for at least 20 years. I wish I had been a better sister. I could have called him more often. I could have bought him a plane ticket to visit me. I could have invited him to come live with me. I thought there would be time.

Look, I realize these thoughts are self-indulgent. (Hello, it's a blog.) I do understand that his suicide was not about me at all. But I'm writing about suicide survival, and dealing with regret is part of it. I never said grief was rational.

Still, I won't wallow in regret for too long. The only solution is to move forward.

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