Goodbye, old friend

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Up until recently, my life has only been affected by suicide through other people’s losses.  In high school, a good friend’s mother took her own life.  I was young enough to understand the tragic impact, but was far enough removed from the long lasting effects.  As a teacher, I have had students whose parents or siblings have committed suicide. That is very difficult because I always want to be sensitive to their emotions with the literature I teach.  All of these untimely deaths affected me in that I felt sympathy for the families and tried to support my friend and students the best I could at the time.
A good friend of mine, who was also a colleague, recently committed suicide.  He and I were VERY close about ten years ago.  I considered him one of my best friends at that time and we joked that I was his “work wife”.  After my divorce, we had a very short-lived romantic affair, but ultimately decided we were better off as friends.  Over the years, he got married and I got involved in a long-term relationship.  He was moved to another classroom on the other side of the school and we just gradually grew apart.  But, it was always fun to run into him in the hallway from time to time (we have a VERY large school building).  We always maintained a funny, flirty friendship.  He was the most self-deprecating person I ever met.  He was by far the most hilarious person I have ever known.  He also had a very sweet side.  After getting divorced, I was crying to him about never going on a date again because I didn’t know “how” to date.  He said, “I will pick you up tomorrow at 7:00pm”.  He arrived at my house, all dressed up, with flowers, and took me out to dinner.  He opened the car door for me, he treated me to a meal and then he drove me home.  Afterwards, he walked me to my front door, kissed my cheek like a gentleman and said, “now you don’t need to be nervous because you know what a date is like.”  This will always be my favorite memory of him.
A few months ago he was out of work for several weeks.  At first I didn’t even know because I do not see him at school regularly.  Then other teachers started asking me if he was okay.  I texted him and got no response.  Overlapping his absence, I was out for three weeks on FMLA when my boyfriend was in ICU.  During my last week out of work, he returned to school and texted me.  He said he heard I was out and asked if I needed anything.  This led to a lengthy text conversation about what we both had been going through.  Looking back on it now, I realize he was lying to me about why the reason he was out, but it doesn’t matter because I will always be grateful for that last communication we had.  Once I returned to work, I was so busy getting caught up, I never had an opportunity to go see him in his classroom.
I awoke on a Sunday morning to a mass email to all of the teachers from our principal.  He stated we had suddenly and tragically lost a member of our staff and I had to read it over and over to make sure that I was seeing the name correctly.  I immediately felt sick to my stomach.  How? How could he be gone? The email was very vague and did not mention the cause of death, but I just instinctively knew it was suicide.  I contacted his best friend, another colleague, who confirmed this to be true.
The loss was overwhelming.  He was so full of life.  But he was always a sad clown…he used humor to cover up anything that hurt him.  When he got divorced years after I did, he even acted like it was a joke.  I tried to get him to talk seriously about it, but it was his form of a coping mechanism.
I think when someone commits suicide, the first thing people do is think about what they “could have done”.  I know that there was probably nothing I could have done to save him.  I didn’t even really know how bad things were for him.  I just wish I had seen him one more time.  One more hug.  One more joke.
Something weird has been happening to me.  I will be walking in the hall and I will think I see him out of the corner of my eye.  I will jerk my head to look and instead it is a tall, lanky student.  Or I will be pulling out of the parking lot and will see a small, white car and will glance at the driver to see if it’s him.  I am just so heartbroken- for myself and his other friends and colleagues, for his family, for his exwife and current fiancee, and for his students.  We had a memorial at school and it was so nice to hear former students explain how much he impacted their lives.  I wish there was a way for him to have known how much he would be missed and how many people would grieve for him.  I know he must have been in so much pain- that’s the most heartbreaking part of it.  His particular method of suicide was so devastating…I just cannot imagine how hopeless and helpless he must have felt.
I still feel frightened that my exboyfriend could make the same tragic, horrible decision.  My world was turned upside down when my friend died- I did not see it coming at all.  Everyone, including my therapist, tells me that I am not responsible for what my ex does, but that is easy for people to say.  If he ever did something to hurt himself, I don’t know what I would do.

Father Flashback

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I have been having a really hard time lately.  My father had a hip replacement two weeks ago.  After the operation, he was very confused for several days.  The doctors assured us that it was an effect of the anesthesia.  My mom insisted my sister and I should not come because the hospital was an hour away.  For the first week, he had no idea where he was most of the time (he thought he was at Taco Bell, the airport, home, etc).  What was even worse was that he was mean.  He yelled and screamed at my mother when she would visit daily.  He was a very difficult patient- he kept trying to get up and fell once and pulled all of his various tubes out.  Towards the end of the week, he was hostile and tried to hit a female nurse.  The hospital had to call security and sedate him.  Throughout the week, I was very concerned about his behavior because he has not really acted like that since his drinking days.  I was worried about the stress it was taking on my mom.  Finally by the first weekend, he seemed to be more “normal” (we loosely use that word in my family).  He knew where he was and seemed to have calmed down a bit, although he was giving her a hard time about wanting to get cigarettes (he was on a nebulizer in the hospital and has sleep apnea so she refused to bring him any).

My sister and I decided to go visit him after he was moved to a physical rehabilitation center closer to where we live.  My mom had been there earlier in the day and said he was still cranky and difficult, but she felt it might do him good to see us.  My sister and I walked into his room and he instantly started screaming at us.  He told us if we didn’t have cigarettes that we should just leave.  He looked like a madman- he was screaming through gritted teeth and his eyes looked crazy.  He yelled that we are “fucking liars” and said not to come back until we had cigarettes.  I was literally shaking, but I asked him calmly whether he would rather have his daughters there visiting him or cigarettes…let’s just say he really wanted cigarettes.

We were literally there for like six minutes.  I started shaking and crying as soon as we walked back into the hall.  I was so shocked and startled.  I knew he wasn’t in a great place, but I was not expecting that.  I honestly think that while I was standing at the end of his hospital bed, I had a flashback to my childhood and teenage years.  My dad used to yell and scream at us like that every, single day while he was drinking (he drank every day from the time I was 12 until he had a stroke a year and a half ago).  For days after seeing him, I was so upset and angry that he treated us like that, but was also disgusted about how much it negatively affected me.  Looking back on it now, I don’t know how I lived through being treated like that all the time.  It was so horrible back then and this was a rude awakening I wasn’t expecting.  Over the past year, I have been very leery of getting used to my new “normal” dad and I guess I let my guard down.

Another week passed and my mom continued to visit him, but my sister and I never went back.  My mom said that he didn’t really mention it and I am not even sure if he remembers we were there.  We finally just saw him again for the first time over this past weekend.  My mom picked him up at the physical rehabilitation center and we met them for lunch.  He seemed a lot better, but definitely was still off and was not exactly nice.  Nothing was mentioned about our visit, which isn’t surprising- that is how we have always dealt with problems in our family (ignoring them) and there is never an apology.

But I feel differently now.  I felt so much closer to my dad right before his surgery than I had in 25 years.  I made time to call him a few times a week and I really put a lot of effort into our relationship.  I feel so let down and disappointed.  Even if he wasn’t of complete sound mind when he acted like that it still really hurts.  I felt uncomfortable around him when I saw him and afterwards I was in a bad mood for the rest of the day.   Growing up, we got so used to how he acted that it was so easy to shrug off how he acted or pretend like it didn’t affect us.  I don’t know how to do that anymore and I’m not sure I want to.

Thankful…

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Things have been a little crazy lately.  My boyfriend and I definitely hit a rough patch and the holidays are always a little stressful.  On top of that, I am traveling to D.C. next week, which is triggering A LOT of travel anxiety.  It is so easy to get disheartened by the negative things, but I am really making an effort to look at the positive things in life.  My friend is having a baby girl, my dad is still doing pretty well, I have really nice students this year, things with my boyfriend are looking up.  I do have a lot to be thankful for this year.

Over this past weekend, I met a girl at a party.  We had talked very briefly once before, we are about the same age and I knew she was a teacher, so I figured we had some things in common.  We ended up talking in the corner for over an hour and I confided things in her that I normally would never tell a stranger- she also is divorced, so she understood things that many other people do not in my life.  She was so sweet and easy to talk to and we had a very similar history as far as the timeline of our marriages and divorces go.  This girl is now engaged (her fiancé is actually my boyfriend’s best friend’s good friend, which is how I happened to meet her).  It really surprised me how open I was with her.  I guess at this point I don’t have anything to hide and I am not ashamed by anything that I have experienced.  It was just really nice to talk to someone with a different perspective, who could still really relate to my life.  The only thing that made me kind of upset was how excited she is to get married again and how happy she kept saying she is.  I don’t know if I really feel that way…I mean, I don’t know if I would ever want to get married again and the fact that she is so eager to marry her fiancé made me question whether I would want to get married if I was with “the right person”.  I’m not saying my boyfriend isn’t that person- he is so supportive of me, but we definitely have problems and her relationship just seems…easy.  Now I have definitely learned not to take other people’s lives and relationships at face value, but she genuinely seemed so happy and in love and kept saying what a nice guy her fiancé is.  I feel like I was so traumatized by my divorce that I don’t know if I would ever risk having to go through that again.  But one thing we both said is that we both saw red flags going into our first marriages (and ignored them, obviously).  She clearly sees no red flags now with her new husband, but I feel like I see some in my relationship now that would make me a little hesitant to make that commitment again.  Meeting her just made me think about how much my life has changed in the past ten years and how I really don’t know what is going to happen and maybe I just have to be okay with that right now.  I mean, I never, ever thought my father would go this long without drinking, so it just goes to show you that life has a way of throwing curveballs.

So, I am going focus on being thankful this Thanksgiving.  Instead of being too scared to travel, I am going to try to remember how lucky I am to be able to go to D.C. with my boyfriend (who I know will help me get through my anxiety to get there) and his family, who has embraced me in so many ways.

Falling from grace

My paternal grandmother (my last surviving grandparent) has been ill lately and I just found out yesterday that she fell on Tuesday evening and was not found until yesterday afternoon. She lives six hours away from me and I feel very helpless. I have a very small family. On my dad’s side, there is only my grandma, uncle (dad’s brother), aunt (his wife) and two cousins (their children). They live in Maine, my grandmother in Cape Cod and my family is all in NJ.

For many, many years, my family has been distant- literally and figuratively- from my uncle’s family due to my father’s behavior. I resent him for this because I care about them a lot and feel like I am missing out on seeing my cousins grow up. I was very close with my aunt especially growing up. In fact, for the past few years, even my contact with my grandma has been limited because she has a clear preference for my uncle’s family and I don’t blame her. My father has ruined many occasions and his behavior must be very upsetting for my grandmother and uncle (my grandfather was a raging alcoholic before he died in 1990, so my father must be a great disappointment to them).

Throughout these past few months that my grandmother has been falling, ill and in and out of the hospital, there have been email chains going including all members of the family, including my dad and uncle’s first cousin, who thankfully lives by my grandma and has been instrumental in her care. Whereas everyone else’s emails have centered on my grandmother and what can be done to best assist her, my father’s emails have been batshit crazy insane. He writes nasty things, talks about irrelevant topics and focuses on himself and his problems predominantly. Finally my mother had to call my uncle to apologize and explain that my father’s alcoholism has increasingly become worse since the two brothers last saw each other.

My mother has always been the heart of our family and it is unfortunate that so many other relationships had to suffer because of my father. People didn’t want to be bothered with him, and that trickled down to include my mother, my sister and me. I don’t take it personally because if I was in their position, I would feel the same way. But it makes me very angry with my father, not only for destroying family ties, but also because he is not doing anything to help his own mother. When my maternal grandparents both passed away a couple of years ago, my mom was back and forth from NJ to FL constantly and we all got involved in helping them and being there for them in anyway.

So when my mother tried calling my grandma to check on her (my grandma adores my mom), she got no answer and was worried. She called my dad’s aunt who rushed over and found her on the floor, completely disoriented and she was rushed to the hospital, where she still is now. Most of the communication of all this was on email and between my mom, the cousin and my uncle. My father was specifially left off of the email and was the last to know that his mother had fallen. This makes me so sad and angry and left wondering why my family is so freaking dysfunctional. Most of my friends have normal families with normal relationships (not perfect, obviously, but in the norm). It upsets me so much that because of my father, I have limited contact with his whole side of the family (and my family all around is extremely small…on my mom’s side there is only my aunt, cousin and her kids). I just feel sad today. Sad for my grandma, who will most likely die without seeing her eldest son again (my dad) and who must feel heartbroken that he turned out the way he did.