Anniversary of my son's suicide
Nine years ago on Thanksgiving Eve my son decided that he couldn't tolerate which ever demons were occupying his mind any longer so he committed suicide. My wife and I were on our way from St. Louis to Michigan for the holiday when this occured. We had been holding hands as we drove along and had expressed to each other how happy we were to be together and how we were looking forward to the holiday. As melodramatic as this may sound, I had told her how we should enjoy moments like this because something could happen that could change it all. How very right I was. We arrived in Michigan very late at night and went to bed. The next morning I called my son at his apartment in California. "Hi Handsome!" I said when he answered the phone. The muffled reply suggested that I had woken him up which is what I had planned on doing. I wanted to tease him a bit. "What's up buddy?" I asked. Again a muffled reply. I started to get mildly concerned."Tommy What's going on?" I asked. "This isn't Tommy." The muffled voice replied. "It's Brian. (He was Tommy's life long friend.) "Tommy shot himself last night!" I froze. Surely I didn't hear him right! Surely this was a sick joke. "Brian?" I said. "What's going on?!" "Tommy killed himself last night Mr. Neiger. I'm so sorry. We didn't know where to call anybody!" I turned to my wife who was his step mother and said," Tommy killed himself last night. I couldn't believe what was coming out of my mouth. My wife, sister, and brother-in-law froze. I started shaking. They tried to take the phone from me and I wouldn't let them. I immediatley got the details from Brian. Tommy had known that Brian kept his guns locked in a cabinet and that the combination was Brian's birth date. He had gotten the gun and gone back to his apartment. He had dressed himself in his karate gear, taken his bible, climbed into the bath tub,( so there wouldn't be a mess) stuck the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. I was numb and shaking all over. Brian felt guilty. I assured him that it wasn't his fault and got phone numbers where he could be reached. I told my wife and sister what had happened and they lost control but I knew that they were more worried about me than themselves. They wanted me to sit down, but I wouldn't do it. "His mother and sister's have to be told." I said. "Let us do it." My sister said. "No! I need to do it." I stated. It was unbelievably hard to get in touch with everyone because no one was home. They were all on their way to someone elses house to celebrateThanksgiving . I became aware of how important it is to have good contacts. I never gave up trying to contact people until the job was complete several hours later, and then I collapsed into a chair. My sister is a nurse and she contacted her doctor who recommended tranquilizers which I agreed to take. They did help. Thanksgiving dinner was at my step daughter's house which was just down the street. We all went down there strictly because it had been prepared. No one ate much. The next days were a blur. We couldn't get his body out of California. Most of the coroner's staff had the holiday weekend off. I slept great at night which was probably due to the tranquillizers. Our minister flew in from Virginia to be with us and to perform the funeral. Friends would come by each day to see how we were doing. I mostly sat in a chair for the next five days in a vegatative state. I would look at my watch and it might say 8:00A.M.. I would look at it again in what seemed like an hour later and it might say 1:00P.M. Hours just flew by. Shock and grief are two very powerful forces. I had never known this intense grief before. The body arrived six days later and was picked up by the funeral director who prepared it for viewing. Walking into that funeral parlor was one of the hardest things that I ever had to do. The funeral parlor had done the best that they could, but it certainly wasn't very pretty. Head wounds are hard to disguise. I broke down and stayed that way for quite a while. Seeing his body laying there confirmed his death. The night mare was real! Tommy had been a fifth degree black belt and taught children as well as adults. He was well loved. I will never forget one of his young students, probably about ten years old, standing by the casket and crying. He, like the rest of us, just didn't understand how Tommy could have done this to himself. It went against everything that he believed and everything that he taught. We had his body cremated and his mother took the ashes with her. Pat and I drove to our home in Virginia. I completely lost control when we got home and remained a wreck for several days. I simply cried for hours. I thought that going back to work might be the answer and we flew back to St. Louis after a week at home. I walked into work the night after we arrived, and it was like I didn't even have a clue as to what I should be doing there. I walked out after an hour or so and we booked a flight back to Virginia where I lost control again for another week. We lived in a very rural part of Virginia. Our property was bordered by the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. I went for a walk one morning about a week after returning home. I had felt absolutely nothing but grief since the funeral, but on this particular morning I noticed how beautiful the Loblolly pines were against the blue sky, and I felt the briefest hint of joy. At this time I knew that I would get through this, and I did. It took me about five years during which time I blamed myself for not being the father that I should have been. Scenes kept replaying through my mind where I might have over reacted with punishment at different times as he was growing up. I thought of oppurtunities that I had missed because of something that I had thought more important. This is what suicide does to the survivors. Everyone thinks that they should have been the one to prevent it. Everyone feels guilty for various reasons. Either because of things that they did or because of things that they didn't do. We now realize that Tommy most likely was bipolar. We have several resons to believe this. I won't go into them here, but we are pretty sure that he was bipolar. I find now that I can not go to a funeral and keep control of my emotions no matter how much I steel myself before walking into the parlor. I can handle the death of an elderly person who has died of natural causes, but still can not deal with a tragic death. I don't believe that I will ever be able to handle these situations. I empathize way too much. Tommy had been dead about six years and I thought that perhaps Pat and I could find a suicide survivors group where we could go and possibly help new members, of this macabre club, adjust. We found a group in Newport News. We walked into the meeting where a group of hollow eyed people sat around a large table. Most of them weren't fully present. The meeting was facilitated by a counselor who was well aquainted with the subject of suicide. We listened as people began to share. I couldn't handle it. Here I thought that I was mostly over the ordeal and found that I could empathize way to much. I shared the best that I could how we had gotten through and told people that I felt that there was hope and that Pat and I had made much progress, which we had. I asked Pat on the way home if I had had that hollow eyed look on my face and she stated that I had had it for a long time. It has been nine years now and I have realized that I will never get over his suicide. I can live with it. I live a happy life. But I will always be a suicide survivor. I have never ever written about this before anywhere. It has been a cathartic experience. Many tears were shed, but I felt a great need tonight to write about it.
I was at a party last week and was conversing with a woman who was sitting next to me. Somehow she mentioned that it was the anniversay of her son's death. I asked her how he had died and she said in a very low voice. "He took his own life!" I felt an immediate bonding as I told her that my son had taken his life too. We are members of a very intimatate club where the admission fee is outragiously high. I pray that we get few new members.
The Ol' Curmudgeon