Uncle Randy, one of my dad’s older brothers, fell into a deep well of depression and anxiety in the mid-80s that began with medication for high blood pressure. This condition went on for years before things got so bad that he checked himself in to a medical hospital during the fall of1992. There he was told that there was nothing they could do for him. The chemical balance in his brain had been permanently destroyed. Within a week of being discharged Uncle Randy took his own life.
After finding her husband’s body hanging in their garage across the street, Aunt Elaine called the ambulance and then called our house. Dad answered the phone. The panicky caller identified herself as Elaine and told him that she needed his help right away. Our backdoor neighbor’s name is Elaine. Dad dashed through our backyard and over the fence as quickly as he could. No one was home.
His eyes were full of alarm when he returned. My mom wondered out loud what he had been thinking, “Could it have been our Elaine?” I picked up the phone and called their number. Another woman answered and confirmed that Aunt Elaine needed my dad as quickly as possible. He immediately left in the truck having no idea what was headed his way.
After reading the faces and reactions of my parents, I realized that I was out of the loop regarding the seriousness of Uncle Randy’s condition. We all saw a change for the worse in his demeanor. His teasing went from fun to downright mean. I didn’t want to be around him if I didn’t have to be. I knew that Uncle Randy had checked himself into the hospital. We lived 45 minutes away from Conklin. For Aunt Elaine to call Dad so frantically, this had to be bad, really bad. Had he beaten Aunt Elaine and then run off? I can’t remember if we vocalized any possibilities. I do remember that we held hands in a circle and prayed the Our Father.
When Dad reached Uncle Randy’s house in Conklin, he learned what happened. Aunt Elaine asked that he go to the morgue to identify his body. She just couldn’t ask one of his sons to do that. After identifying the body, my father drove two hours up north with Uncle Rex to tell his parents what happened. Unfortunately and unintentionally, the day of the suicide was also Grandpa’s birthday. The mixture of seeing the rope burns around his brother’s neck, mourning the death himself, worrying that Grandpa would start drinking again, and bearing witness to his parent’s shock and bereavement did not lead to much sleep that night. After morning broke, Dad and Uncle Rex drove Grandma and Grandpa back to Grand Rapids.
I was the only one there when Dad got back home. I couldn’t imagine all of the details that occurred since the last time I saw him. By the look of him, I didn’t want to know. I told him to go to bed and get some rest. He couldn’t. He had to go to the florist and buy some flowers for the funeral. I offered to do it for him, but he said that this was something he needed to do. He didn’t fight me when I told him that I was driving.
When we arrived, he told the florist that he needed to buy an arrangement for a funeral. She asked him what type of arrangement he wanted. “I don’t know.” He tried to clear the lump from his throat. “I’ve never had a brother die before.”
I couldn’t stop the tears. In that moment, the shock of the situation wore off and turned into anger. I probably even used the word hate at some point though I never really felt that strongly. I just couldn’t believe that Uncle Randy would do this to his family. To this day, Grandpa still thinks that Uncle Randy did this to get back at him for some unnamed and perhaps unknown fault. Over time, I did forgive him, but I never understood why he would do that to his family ~ until one early morning in mid-December of 2004.
As Allison lay asleep on my shoulder after a middle of the night feeding, I begged God to let me die. I didn’t care how. I just couldn’t keep living this way. After weeping and rocking for what seemed like forever, I came to the realization that He would not fulfill my request. If I died, there would be no one else who would or could love and care for my baby. In the dark of my absolute hopelessness I thought of Uncle Randy. I knew why he killed himself. I wouldn’t have been able to bear the thought of living if I knew there was no hope of ever living another happy, carefree minute. After the fact, it scared me that I reached a point where I understood my uncle. In the moment, I felt more love and compassion for him than I ever did in the days after his death. I’d never felt closer to him in my whole life.
The family lived through and with the result of Randy’s suicide, but it wasn’t about us at all. After a long battle, he chose peace over despair and anxiety. Death was the only place he could find rest. Who among us could pass judgment on him for that?
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