When I worked at Newington Veteran’s Hospital as a psychiatric nurse, one of my duties was to teach classes on suicide to medical personnel—nurses, interns, aides, and students. I informed them that those who were serious about ending their lives were often secretive about their intent. And that the male’s method of suicide was usually more lethal than the female’s. Guns or hanging vs. drugs or self-mutilation. I advised them of warning signs: withdrawal, change in personality, loss of interest in most activities, looking depressed, poor work or school performance, change in sleep patterns, alcohol/drug abuse, talking about death or suicide, careless in appearance.
Then my husband and I retired and moved from Connecticut to Missouri. Chris had separated from the navy, was married, living in Texas; Scott, divorced, was in the Air Force in California; Ken was working at a television station in Connecticut and John, married, a recent survivor of Hodgkin’s disease, was working as a computer analyst in Connecticut. Separated and scattered, we were all involved in our own interests. We communicated by phone, internet and regular mail.I took my retirement as an opportunity to seriously follow my life’s dream—writing. I took a few creative writing classes at a local university and then some online.After Scott separated from the Air Force, he lived with Forrest and me while pursuing a degree in computer science. Forrest became a master gardener and his interest turned to our yard. I spent my time writing poems. After graduation, Scott took a job at Hallmark in Kansas City.
About that time, a few physical problems I had worsened and I began thinking about the uncertainty of life. I started a memoir about me and our family for my sons to read after my death. I always regretted that I hadn’t asked my parents for more information about themselves. I know very little about my ancestors. A bonus, for me, in the writing was that going back and looking at my life in retrospect changed my perspective about me, the family and life in general.
I was involved in my writing project and welcoming John and his family who’d just arrived from Connecticut for a visit when a call came from Scott. He’d driven himself to a hospital in K C because he was suicidal. I knew he’d been depressed and had even overdosed (that’s another story for another time). A few months before his call, we’d brought him to Springfield and admitted him to a hospital here. He was discharged after a few days. Forrest, Scott and I then looked for a house for him here. I wanted him close so I could keep an eye on him. I gave earnest money on a house he liked, but he went back to KC and as far as I knew, he was doing fine. I was keeping in contact with him closely by email and by phone and had no idea he was suicidal.
After the call came, Forrest and I drove to KC to see Scott in the hospital. We boarded his cats and took care of some other business for him, stayed overnight and saw him again next morning before returning to Springfield to be with John and his family. I’d planned on returning to KC after John left, but a few days later, Scott was discharged from the hospital and went back to work. I thought he was doing fine. Two days before he shot himself, he talked to me about plans he had for buying a house and the new vet he’d found for his cats.
Thirteen years later, I still can’t watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Scott’s favorite Christmas holiday movie, look at his photos, or think about him for too long. I haven’t come to grips with the fact that I, who should have known, did not recognize the warning signs that my son was in trouble. I should have been more alert, not so distracted by my writing and other things that were going on. I’ve learned, too late, to treat each moment as if it was the only moment, and to give it all I have.
After Scott’s death, my heart couldn’t finish my memoir. Sadly, instead, I published a memoir in memory of Scott, and, later, one for John who died of colon cancer.
How beautiful and sacred life is! And how fragile! We can’t afford to be careless. I must live with my inattention for the rest of my life and suffer the resulting heartache.