Last week in my column, I wrote about how memories can be triggered by certain scents. All of the examples I gave were happy memories. Most of my memories are happy ones but, as we all know, life is not always pretty and perfect. I try to keep my unpleasant memories buried below the happy ones so that, if they do come to the surface, it takes a little longer for them to get there. Sometimes the unpleasant memories can rush to the surface so quickly that it takes your breath away.
Earlier this week when I learned of the untimely death of comedian and actor Robin Williams, that’s exactly what happened. We were in a restaurant when a friend texted me the news. In shock, I wrote back to make sure she was talking about the actor. Indeed she was and immediately my searches on the Internet made the shocking news even more accurately unbelievable.
Robin Williams took his own life. Hearing about a suicide always saddens and unnerves me because I know about its incredible darkness all too well. You see, my daddy committed suicide in 2002 as a result of depression.
Both depression and suicide are words that are usually only whispered. From the beginning, I chose to be upfront and vocal about Daddy’s death, using my platform to try to help others. I felt if I shared his story it would in some way help me heal by merely saying both words out loud. Doing so let everyone in my audiences who had ever gone through this horrendous act know they were not alone. When you find out you’re not alone, everyone’s journey becomes a little easier to bear.
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There is such a stigma attached to suicide that it makes the road to healing bumpy. Not only did I lose Daddy, but his “respectable” life was tarnished and branded with a big “S.” As much as we all tried to ignore those last few seconds of his life, the fact is they are there. When people hear that someone died from the disease of depression and suicide, they react differently.
I could see it in the eyes of everyone who attended Daddy’s visitation and funeral. Awkwardly and unsuccessfully grasping for the right word, many of the mourners tried to offer comfort. But surprisingly, judgments were still passed -- some straight to our faces. Sometimes the people you least expect are the first to judge and, within days of dealing with a death and a suicide, judgment is the last thing you need!
Daddy’s depression came on suddenly and without much warning. Like someone had grabbed him from behind in a strong headlock refusing to let go, he didn’t stand a chance. A fun-loving and happy man in the last quarter of his life, he suddenly had the gusto literally sucked from his core. A righteous, hard-working and loyal father, husband and friend became someone who I could barely recognize. When looking into his eyes, there was nothing there. Depression robbed him of the rest of his life!
My daddy had never fired a gun in his life. He didn’t even own a gun! How does someone come to grips with the fact their father got up one morning, dressed in an outfit we had given him for Father’s Day, fixed his breakfast, got in his truck, drove to a store, purchased a rifle, drove back to the house where my family lived for many years, went out on his front porch, put a rifle to his head and ended his life on a day that was supposed to be celebrated -- his birthday? Could someone in his or her right mind ever do this?
I certainly didn’t think in a million years my strong, loving and caring daddy could. But the fact was we began to lose him months before to the hideous grip of depression. With each day we saw a little bit more of Daddy leaving until there simply wasn’t anything left of him but a shell. Still, the act of suicide never crossed my mind until we were forced to deal with it unexpectedly and head on.
I wept after hearing the news about Robin Williams’ death. I did my best to suppress the memories of Daddy’s death from rushing up, but failed. As if it was yesterday, I relived that gruesome day that Daddy died all those years ago. I grieved because he could still be with us today, and I was still frustrated that, after all these years, I never got the answer to the question, why?
I felt the indescribable pain Robin Williams’ family was going through because I knew it all too well. But most of all, I hated the grips of depression even more. Depression has the ability to forever change not only its victim but also the loved ones left behind. We simply must be more understanding of this disease. Until the moment Daddy pulled the trigger, he lived an admirable life. I refuse to allow his last act to define him. Even though his death was at his own hand, it was not his fault.
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballardcox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.