Suicide ~ such a final word. It sends shivers through me. While I have battled intermittent depression at times I never had suicidal thoughts. I suffered unspeakable abuse as a young child but to take my own life would give my abusers power over me and I refused to do that. They had often broken me physically and mentally but I would never let them rob me of growing up, becoming a woman, a wife, a mother ~ or something in that order.
Now I am struggling in the wake of our dear friends death; brought on by his own hand. Death is never easy but when it’s involves suicide a stark reality hits and makes us painfully aware of the black grip of depression that encircles a person with clinging tentacles. Some are able to escape, some hang on to the edge of the dark abysses by their fingertips. Tragically, many lose their hold and depression claims another life; another statistic . My dear friend is now one of those statistics.
It was common for a week to go by without hearing from him but as it entered the second week and both calls and email unanswered I began to worry. My German Shepherd had been undergoing serious medical issues and treatment which required me to spend a lot of time several hours from home. Still, his emails should have appeared on my iPhone. I had my husband and daughter go to his house and check on him the morning of April 29, something we had done several times over the years when we didn’t hear from him. He suffered from depression and lived alone by choice in a cabin in the woods and except for rare peripheral contact with family in the next state, we were his family. We were his means of transportation, we shared holidays together at my house, I did his laundry, we exchanged canning jars and books and he helped with anything and everything as he was truly a jack of all trades. I loved him like the brother I’d always longed for. When I heard my daughter’s voice on the other end of the phone, I knew by the way she said “Mom” that he was dead. I never dreamed however of the nightmare that would follow. When my family arrived on April 29 to check on him, they discovered his landlady of 20+ years present with a neighbor and another person, throwing my friends “life possessions” out of windows and doors. The landlady owned several cabins in a rural, heavily wooded area with my friend living at the end of the road. The neighbor was actually another long-term tenant whom the landlady had designated as “caretaker” for her empire of sticks. In reality, he is a foul-mouthed little man who would enter my friend’s home while he was out shopping. I know this because I watched as my friend set a string type trap on the door and sure as bugs come out in May, when we returned from shopping the string would be broken. During the winter months the caretaker refused to plow the end of the road where my friend’s cabin was but never one to advocate or fight for himself, my friend chose to use his snowblower to clear the road. As my husband and daughter stood shocked while this trio of bandits reduced my dear friends life to piles on the grass, my daughter continued to talk to me on the cellphone. I told her to enter the house and if still there, take his computer, modem, family pictures, wallet, checkbook and anything that his family might want. My daughter watched as the landlady exited the cabin with a gun in her hand, walk to her car and place it in her trunk. She and the “caretaker” were discussing what they could sell for money and what needed to be trashed. My family went inside but were only able to salvage a few things: his computer and modem, military and other family pictures, and a few treasured books. They couldn’t find his wallet, checkbook or keys. This is how I learned that someone I loved dearly, who was part of our little self-made family, was no more. My husband found his Purple Heart lying on the ground under a pile of rain-soaked books, clothing and empty dresser drawers that the third person was heaving from the upstairs window. The landlady got on the phone with me and asked if I knew who the next of kin was. At this point I was crying hysterically but something in the back of my mind told me not to give her the information even though I knew who his family was. I told her I would have to look it up as it was on my laptop. She said the State Police didn’t know so she gave me her address and asked that when I found the name on my computer, pleased send it to her so she could inform them. She handed the phone back to my daughter and she and her cohorts resumed their conversation of what to sell, what to toss, how to access his bank account etc. The caretaker and landlady began putting items in her car they deemed sellable and at this point my family, horrified, left. From home I immediately contacted the State Police dispatch center and was told that the officer who was present the night my friend took his life and subsequently handling the case was due on at 4 PM that day and dispatch would have him contact me. It was 1:15 PM. Within minutes my phone rang; the investigating officer was on the other end. He said they had not been able to notify family as they couldn’t find next of kin. I told him the same thing I told the landlady, that I needed to get it off my laptop when in reality it was right in front of me. I couldn’t think. I simply could not think. He asked me how long it would take for me to get the information and I said “one hour”. He said he’d call back and on the dot he did. I gave him the names of my friends two brothers but made a point of telling him that the brother who lived locally had been estranged from his entire family for over 30 years so to please notify the other brother who only lived a few hours away in the next state. I asked for details surrounding my friend’s suicide but since I wasn’t family he couldn’t share them with me. I kept at it because I wanted to know what happened, how our friend died. Through a game of verbal cat & mouse it was soon established that my friend had used a gun. Therein is the problem as my friend didn’t own a gun ~ at least I never knew he did. Only a crossbow. He was not a hunter and I always believed he only had the crossbow in case of an errant bear. He was a nature and animal lover so hunting wasn’t part of his world.
In hindsight if I had not been crying hysterically my thought processes would have kicked in and I would not have mentioned the estranged brother because all it did was muddy the already dirty waters. When I called the out-of-state brother two days later to offer our condolences, I actually wound up telling him of his brother’s death. When I hung up the phone I was speechless as I couldn’t fathom why the State Police hadn’t made notification. Especially since my friend was still in the morgue nine days later. I tossed and turned that night, waffling between sobbing, pangs of guilt, and anger. Guilt for letting almost two weeks pass before checking on him, anger at my friend for cutting his life short, anger at the unscrupulous landlady and her “gang” and even anger at the State Trooper I had spoken to because of his careless, “easy come, easy go” attitude. As I struggled to sleep I suddenly had a gut feeling; I believed with all my heart that the trooper had indeed notified the brother – but the one who lived locally and was estranged from everyone for over a quarter of a century. I felt so strongly that I shared my theory with my family in the morning but they thought I was wrong.
On Sunday May 1, I received a phone call from my friend’s adult niece. As soon as she said her name I recognized it from conversations I’d had with him. My mind recalled that she was one of his favorite nieces, that they both loved cats and that she frequently sent him cute cat greeting cards or cat stories from the paper. She told me that she and her cousin (the daughter of the out-of-state brother I had spoken to) would be driving up in the morning. I asked if they had heard from the State Police and she said no, something which was now concerning all of us. I agreed to accompany her to my friend’s house but warned her it was in shambles from the landlady and gang. My husband asked if it was a good idea for me to go to the house as I hadn’t been there since learning of the suicide but I said I would be fine. Little did I know. He wanted to accompany me but I insisted he stay home to take care of our medically needy German Shepherd.
As I waited at a local coffee shop for the nieces to arrive, I decided to act on my gut feeling. I called the local brother, identified myself as the “lover” of the deceased brother, and asked if he had been “contacted by the State Police”. He seemed to think it was funny for he chuckled and said yes, he’d been notified on Thursday. I continued with the charade, saying that I knew there were family dynamics that occurred long before I came into the picture and that I didn’t want to be involved. I told him I simply wanted to know where his brother’s wallet and checkbook were. He continued to laugh, saying he had no idea as he’d never set foot on the property where his brother lived for over 20 years. I asked if he had contacted the Medical Examiner’s Office only to be met with another laugh and a firm “no”. I hung up without the slightest presence of manners for he was a revolting excuse for a human. The niece I had spoken to called me from the road saying they were about an hour out. She said she had called the State Police asking them to meet us at the house but they were reluctant to get involved in what they viewed as a civil matter i.e. landlord/tenant rights. I had another gut feeling that this was going to get worse before better. The niece asked me about the wallet and keys. I told her my family couldn’t find them but that her uncle always had his wallet in his pocket and a key ring attached to his belt which held among other keys, the one to his post office box. I told her that her uncle had alternative investments in precious metals, more specifically, silver coins. He was “silver savvy” with an impressive collection, a longtime member of ANA (American Numismatic Association). He would carefully show me his latest acquisition which in my coin ignorance I never fully grasped. He had mint sets, proof sets and slabs. He had a vast array of equipment such as gooseneck lamps, various microscopes, scales and coin holders. I can remember several times when he carefully handed me his extremely heavy collection because the “caretaker” had been out and about with more frequency. I urged him to get a safe deposit box but he refused. The coin collection was one of the fist things I mentioned when I spoke to his out-of-state brother as my family had searched for it, knowing how much it meant to him. I was extremely relieved to learn that he had given it to his brother and sister-in-law towards the end of 2015. I also told his niece that in all the years I had known her uncle, he always wore a thick gold wedding band on his middle finger that was his late father’s.What I didn’t tell her was that I had called the Medical Examiner’s Office that morning, used another ruse, and learned that the gold ring was not on his hand nor in his possessions. While I waited for them to arrive Monday I walked to his bank and asked to speak to a supervisor or manager. A woman met with me and I explained the situation. Again I was told “I can only speak to family and only when they have the appropriate court documents and death certificate”. I told her I understood but perhaps she could simply unofficially flag his account because his wallet, debit card and checkbook were missing. She said she couldn’t so I thanked her then stopped to ask for her card. I smiled and said I wanted a name to give the family when this went to court as I’m sure it would when his funds came up missing.. She flagged the account – unofficially. About 15 minutes later the two nieces arrived and followed my daughter and me to our friend’s cabin (it was the first time either of them had been there). When we pulled into the driveway I realized I should have listened to my husband. I’m usually a rational person but as I exited my daughter’s truck and walked into the back yard I began to scream. The entire scene was so surreal that it took a moment to register that the screams were coming from me. All I could do was walk around in horror, looking at the rain-soaked remnants of his life scattered about and piled up. I kept screaming “His life mattered” over and over. I was bending over, clutching my thighs. The next day I noticed that I’d clutched my thighs so hard that I’d left bruised “fingerprints” on the skin. We entered the house and immediately my daughter (who had been in law enforcement for 12 years until sidelined by an assault) noticed that items that were there four days ago were now gone. His chain saws, toolbox, television, garden tools and collector type steins. The niece called the State Trooper who handled the case. He told her that there was only “junk” there that night. That the wallet was on the desk and after going through it and not finding an “In Case of Emergency” card, he left it on the desk. He said there were a lot of DVD’s on the desk as well and the only thing of any value was a snowblower. Then she asked where the gun was that her uncle used to commit suicide. He told her he put it inside the house that night before he left. The light went off at the same time in both my daughter and my head. We motioned for the niece to ask the type of gun and when he told her, we had our answer. The gun the landlady walked out with was the suicide weapon which the family believes belonged to my friend’s late father, similar to the gun I have mounted on the wall that belonged to my late father. Relics of the past but still capable of wreaking disaster. The niece called the trooper back and told him the snowblower, DVD’s, wallet and gun were all missing along with many other items. She began to tell him about everything that was missing, of how my family witnessed the landlady and “caretaker” removing items, that the landlady put the gun in her car along with items she said she could sell. At my urging the niece asked why the house was left unlocked/unsecured the night of April 21 to which he replied there were no valuables, not even money in his wallet. Value, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. I treasure a book while others treasure an e-reader. It’s all selective. A young trooper who was on duty that day reluctantly came to the house at our request and as I repeatedly ticked off the missing items, he kept mentioning landlord rights. Finally one of the nieces told him that she had quickly researched the laws in our state and that a landlord has to give the family (14) days to go though the deceased’s belongings yet this landlady was seen removing items before the family was even told. The young trooper brought up that the police did not know who the next of kin was. I didn’t respond to his comment but in my opinion it was all excuses. We live in a small, rural community where nothing is sacred. All it would have taken is a quick glance inside the local phone book where the estranged brother (who had the same last name) was listed. A simple carefully worded phone inquiry by the police to determine if he was related to my friend. I guess they didn’t think of that.The young trooper and my daughter eventually went down the lane to the “caretakers” house. I was not surprised to learn that this “caretaker” had several expensive items that belonged to my friend in his truck and on his property including the snowblower. The police helped my daughter load them into her vehicle and as she prepared to leave, something on the man’s truck seat caught her eye – it was my friends key ring that was always attached to his belt and included his PO box key. She took it and gave to his niece when she and the young trooper returned. The trooper said it was “ok” that the neighbor had my friends possessions because he might have been “protecting” them. When I protested and then brought up the gun removed by the landlady, he started telling me about “landlord rights”. I asked if that included selling a deceased tenants personal effects before the family had been notified? Or do landlord rights mean they can take ownership of a gun used in a suicide? I was then told ” You need to stop talking and be quiet”. I asked why? Was it because I was pointing out how poorly the scene was left by the police? That the police had a well documented record of the many, many times my friend had called them to complain that this “caretaker” had entered his cabin while he was out shopping. That I had been present when my friend set his little string traps and present when we returned and found them torn away. That just because he lived alone at the end of a dirt road on heavily wooded land his life mattered so why were they acting as if it didn’t? He never answered any of my questions. Before departing he told the niece that he had instructed the caretaker that he was not allowed on the property or allowed to remove anything for one week. That was on May 2, eleven days after my friend committed suicide. eight days after the wrong relative was notified, and three days after the correct relative was notified – by me. Perhaps I need a refresher course in math but somehow none of this adds up to a family being given two weeks to go through the deceased’s belongings. Before he left the niece asked that the gun be returned and he said he would “pass it along”. Because my friends key ring with his PO box key was found in the caretakers truck, I called the post office where my friend received his mail. I was told that it had been full “for a while but looks like he must have picked everything up”. I told the postal worker that he was deceased as of April 21 and no pick ups should be made until the family arrived with legal documents. My dear friend purchased DVD’s online and in March was excited because he’d just received the final DVD in the Star Wars saga. I remember it distinctly because my husband took him to the post office then they both came to my church’s Warming Center where they played checkers and chess and volunteered in the clean up process every week. My friend was so happy that day and I remember thinking how good it was to see him smile. I am not a Star Wars fan but believe it is an extensive collection yet not a single DVD of any type nor electronic device was found in the cabin. He had purchased a state of the art printer this spring – that too was missing.
A few days later I went to a local appointment. The person I had the appointment with asked why I looked so glum. I tried to hold back tears and said that a dear friend had committed suicide. Remember I mentioned in the last paragraph that we live in a small community? The person I had an appointment with not only knew of my friend’s suicide within days, but intimate details that could only have come from someone who had been present in an official capacity. Perhaps along with my math refresher course I need to brush up on confidentiality. To me, maintaining confidentiality, both casual and legal, is of paramount importance for varied reasons but then perhaps when it involves a suicide it ceases to exist.
Today is May 11. I called this afternoon and our friend is still in the morgue. His next of kin (brother) previously told me he can’t do anything because their computer is “on the fritz”. I cannot comprehend this on any level. Our friend, on several occasions, said that he wanted to be cremated to both me and then again to my husband. I informed his out-of-state brother of my friends end of life wishes. I also gave him the name and number of two local crematorium that I see used frequently. My friend did not want his ashes, interred. He did not want the VA involved in his end of life wishes, despite being in the USN with an honorable discharge. I never said he didn’t have quirks ~ who doesn’t? I gave all of this information to the next of kin, his out-of-state brother and his sister-in-law. They are somewhat “well off”, my dear friend wanted a very simple no fills cremation. In this state the average no frills cremation is $1,000. So again, why does my friends earthly body remain in a cold metal drawer nearly three weeks after his death? He had a notebook on his person which contained a generic suicide note. There is also a small sealed envelope that appears to have a paper inside. The envelope has my full legal name on the front but I am not allowed to have it as I am not family. I have the legal rights of a turnip. He was my friend. He was a good friend to my husband and a good friend to my daughter. He adored my animals as I did his. He was a kind but tortured soul, a gentle and loving man who had been misjudged and mistreated by society so he withdrew. Coming from the ashes of horrific childhood abuse, my primary coping mechanism is withdrawal. I take a step back from life for a few days, read a book or two, put my thoughts in perspective and rejoin the living. My friend did not come from an abusive childhood but had suffered in a way similar to me so we shared a common denominator. We were also both very passionate people who loved animals more than we did many people we met. We shared a voracious love of reading. He was never boring as he could carry a conversation in just about any subject. His intelligence never ceased to amaze me. He loved the outdoors, the beauty of a bird in flight or bee pollination. He treasured Mother Earth and all her splendors. He had a sarcastic wit that was as sharp as an ice forged German-made knife yet not a devious or dishonest bone in his body. I’m not sure if I can define the single event that started our friendship, but I will be forevermore changed because of it. My biggest regret is that I had not met him 20 years ago because he brought so much kindness, joy and compassion to my life. His chair at my dining room table will always be his. I will miss him until the day I die. I think of him constantly. The hauntingly beautiful wind chimes he gave me for my birthday last year have taken on a new meaning. I wish that I could talk to him again, to laugh at his emails about the government, listen to him speak softly in a misty voice about losing one of his precious girls. I’d give anything to wash his clothes one more time, or have him hand me some fresh produce he grew in his beautiful garden. And if I were to see him tomorrow, I wouldn’t ask him “why” but instead tell him how very loved he was and still is. To many it now appears he was just the odd man in the cabin at the end of the road but to my family he was so much more. I could write pages and more pages yet never capture the essence of this dear soul. He was a much-loved friend. His life had value and merit yet at this moment, I feel as if I am the only one who recognizes that. Tomorrow will be three weeks since his death and still no arrangements. The last I heard a nephew was reaching out to the VA to see if they would help contribute towards the cremation fee, even knowing that he expressed no involvement by the VA.
I’ve done the religious processing but it has not helped as I continue to flounder. I’m supposed to accept that his essence has departed this world and his earthly body is just a mere vessel. Why must we, as civilized people then, show no respect for these “earthly’ bodies?
This is tearing me apart and I am unable to process my grief in a constructive, healing way because I feel as if my friend’s life is being invalidated. He was a kind gentle person with a true love of animals. He was extremely intelligent and well read. He was a war hero. He was a son, a brother, an uncle and a beloved friend. Does none of that matter?
The aftermath of my friends suicide on April 21 has been marked by what I consider a complete lack of respect, compassion and authority. I’m at a pivotal point in life as a legal matter that started in 2012 is finally coming to trial in June yet at this moment, on this night, I can say without a doubt that I do not have the emotional stamina to endure it. Yet once again, we cannot get a continuance because he was not “family”. Even though his family in the legal sense had only seen him very briefly over the years with some never setting foot in his house. His out-of-state brother and sister-in-law told me they did not have his correct phone number. It was listed in the phone book! He spent holidays with us, movies, summer swimming and gardening, fall hikes, rescue trips out-of-state to pick up dogs transported up from southern kill shelters, He trusted me with his coins, his passwords, his mail. Yet I remain odd man out and I cannot seem to move forward. Even when my own parents died, a stark reminder of y early abuses, I handled the details with dignity because at the end of the day, I have to live with the consequence of my actions. Now, I cannot act, I have no legal say, the authorities won’t talk to me, so I suffer inside each day. I reached out to someone who specializes in grief support but the earliest appointment is the middle of June. The only thing I know for sure is that my friends tragic death on April 21 has been marked by what I consider a complete lack of respect, compassion and authority by nearly everyone involved and it’s killing me.
His life truly mattered…