My stepdad committed suicide yesterday morning.

I got the call from my mom yesterday afternoon.  She asked if I was sitting down, and I told her I was.  I expected to hear that one of the dogs had died, or that one of her elderly friends was suffering from cancer or something, but she said that she came home from exercise class and was surprised by some notes Stepdad had left for her, then she went into the garage and found him dead from a gunshot wound.  None of us had any reason to see this coming.

He’d been suffering from a subtle chemical imbalance for three decades, and it had been well-managed the whole time, but his illness had taken a turn for the worse during the last couple of years, and he’d been unable to slough off his hopeless and obsessive thoughts.  He would sit listlessly in a chair, with a book in his lap, and stare off into space.  It was heartbreaking to see him at such a low ebb. He felt guilty for things he’d done, and for things he’d left undone, and for things that were outside of his control.  A year or so ago, his doctor had found a medication that seemed to work, at least for a while, but for the last few months, none of the various medications had taken hold.  Two weeks ago, the doctors discovered that he had low levels of testosterone, so they added some new medications to the anti-depressants they’d already prescribed.

I have to be honest; our relationship was challenging and difficult, even in the best of times.  We were about as opposite as it’s possible for two people to be.  When I was in high school and college, we could barely speak to each other without arguing.  Once, he even pushed me backwards down the hallway after a particularly ridiculous argument.  When I walked out the door that day, I knew I was saying the harshest and most shocking words his conservative Christian ears could hear:  “Go to hell.”

Over the last ten years, things have been much better.  He and I have mellowed with time and age, and my mom has been very good about creating bonds, as well as family events and traditions, and Stepdad and I became much closer.  But, as is the case with so many families, it’s never been easy.  That being said, he’s made great strides (and so have the rest of us) and I would say that this branch of our strange family tree is definitely the better for it.  He was the strong, silent type; always quick to help in whatever way he could.  He could fix absolutely anything, and he had an uncanny intuition for the way things worked, even if he’d never set eyes on them before.  It didn’t matter whether the things were cars, washing machines, or fruit trees; he somehow knew exactly what it took to make them flourish or perform at their best, which is an amazing gift.

I can’t help but think that the solution to his chemical imbalance was a mere week or two away, and that if he’d been able to hold on for a short time longer (or if he’d used pills instead of a gun) he’d still be here, and we’d all have that much more time together to sort out the medical issues.  For the last few months, he was gamely going along with the regimen of pills, and checkups, and everything that goes along with that sort of thing.  The e-mails and phone calls from my mom have been hopeful and promising.

I don’t know what else to say.  I can’t imagine what my mom must be going through.  I’ve had a couple of friends who have attempted suicide (both of whom are thriving now, thankfully), but Mom and Stepdad were married for almost twenty-five years, and they have countless links and ties to each others’ lives.  Luckily, Mom has people she can turn to for support during this terrible time, and she has a close friend who’s staying with her until my brother and I can get up there and be with her too.  Brother is heading over tonight, and I’m going tomorrow. Sister-in-Law and Niece will be joining us later in the week for the funeral service.

Please send some good thoughts (it’s too soon for phone calls) in my mom’s direction; she’ll be needing them.  And for God’s sake, if there’s someone in your life that you appreciate, do them a favor and let them know it.