It's been a few days now and I've had a chance to process and talk to a few good friends. I'm going to talk about this, not because I want to claim victim-hood but because I think I should and there may be someone else out there who has had the same experience who might benefit from what I'm going to say.This is a very long post.
My mother committed suicide. There, I said it.
If you've been here for a while you know that she was diagnosed with late stage, terminal lung cancer in January of 2011. Lung cancer is a painful and protracted way to die. Not that any terminal disease is pleasant, I'm just setting the stage here. She decided not to pursue aggressive treatments. She did start taking Erlotinib for a short while but stopped when the side effects became worse than the disease. She refused to quit smoking. That's important because it shows so clearly that she had given up. She made up her living will and put Lu in charge of pretty much everything. She and I had a long conversation relatively recently where she actually apologized for surviving so long. It was just after that, when I chastised her and assured her we were all better off with her still in our lives, that she began the Erlotinib routine. Again, clues to her mindset.
10 days ago the local PD came knocking. There were two officers and by their looks and given what I knew and expected I was pretty sure I knew why they were there. I was wrong.
"Is there anyone else here?" A bad sign. I didn't even ask. I just got on the phone, called Lu and asked her to come home immediately. They were relieved and stayed until she arrived.
"We got a call from the Sheriff's Department. Your mom shot herself."
I wish I could say I was stunned but I wasn't. Surprised but not stunned. Lu and I had a conversation once about this very thing. I knew she was capable but I thought, I was so sure, that she wouldn't simply because she had to know how her police officer son was going to take that. I missed or ignored the clues she'd left me because I trusted her not to hurt me.
"Gunshot wound to the head?" I hated myself for asking that but I had to know. The police officer in me was now front and center, taking charge, making decisions and judgements and doing all the talking.
"Yes. She's still alive and being Life Flighted to Las Vegas UMC Trauma."
The officers were gracious and solicitous. I pitied them. I've done that duty so many times and it's always painful and troubling. This one must have been particularly bad because they know me, know what I did and must have felt like they were delivering the news to a close friend. A brother. They gave me contact info for the detective working the case.
I called the detective who gave me the news. She'd called 911, announced her intentions and hung up. By the time a deputy arrived it was done. They found her slumped on the couch with a gunshot to the head. She still had vitals so they ordered in Life Flight and had her transported. Exactly what they're trained to do and should have done. He gave me all the info I needed, including contact names and numbers at the hospital. He was a good man, professional and gracious. He did a good investigation and treated me with concern and care.
Lu and I loaded up and headed south but I also had notifications to do and I had to do them myself. I had to call my little brother and the rest of the family.
"Hey little bro. Mom shot herself."
Unpleasant doesn't begin to describe that conversation. I won't go into details but he's much less emotionally able to handle the news than someone to whom such was a fact of everyday life for 24 years. My uncle took it well and volunteered to contact the rest of the family and let them know. Good, one less burden and now I can concentrate on the present.
I called the Trauma Center and spoke with one of their Councillors. Good folks and a great idea. She kept me updated and even let me speak to the trauma surgeon who was working on her. He gave me the grim details. "Non Survivable. I am so sorry. We did all we could."
I let him off the hook. "I'm retired PD Doc. I know the score. Thanks for trying."
Then it was the silence of the drive. Nothing more to do than drive and think and wonder. Will she survive until we arrive? Will I have to make the call? She had a NR order in her will. Technically I should have stopped them immediately. But I didn't. I knew I would if I had to but I admit it, I prayed for that decision to be taken from me. So did Lu. And no, I do not feel one bit guilty about that. It wasn't my choice, I had no say in the outcome and no son should be asked to do that. Ever. We got another call from the hospital about 20 minutes out. "How long to get here? The Coroner is asking." The Coroner? Not good.
"Coroner? She's passed then?"
"Yes, she's passed. We're so sorry."
I wanted to point out to her that this was info I'd have appreciated prior to being told the Coroner was waiting but decided that was simply hitting on my part and unworthy of the moment. "We'll be there in 20 minutes."
"Ok, He'll be standing by." She gave me his contact info and just like that it was done. My mother was gone.
I turned to Lu. "She's passed." We both cried a little but we were still on The Mission and tears would have to wait.
UMC is dirty, a bit run down, big but with limited parking. I found a spot on the street and in we went. I didn't know exactly where I was going but after a few questions and some directions we made our way to Trauma. As we were arriving the Coroner Investigator called my cellphone. I told him we were in the lobby and he told us to sit tight, he'd be right there.
Whatever their other faults may be, the Clark County Coroner's office is first rate. The Investigator was polite, professional and empathetic. he asked if I wanted to see her.
"No. I have too many ghosts as it is. I do not need to add my mother to that list."
"Good. I was going to try to talk you out of it if you had said yes."
He let me do the ID by her drivers license. He confirmed all that I had been told. He gave me the rundown on what was going to happen next. Coroner's Inquest. Release of her remains to our Mortuary, release of personal belongings and final determination by the Coroner. Case number, business card and were out the door and on the way to her house. Parking ticket on the windshield when we got out. Thanks Metro. I take back all the good things I said about you.
The local Sheriff's Department uses the County Administrator's Office in these cases, where there's no one immediately available to take responsibility for the scene. I called and talked to one of their volunteers, who had secured the scene. We went to their office (he stayed way late just so we could get keys and personal effects). I stepped out and while I was gone he apparently had a conversation with Lu about the scene. It must be pretty bad. A through and through head shot isn't pretty. The short version was "don't let him go in there." Lu told me not to, that this was exactly why Mom had placed her in charge. Car Guy called and basically ordered me to stay out, even if he had to drive straight through from New Mexico. I obeyed but here's the thing.
See, I don't need to go into the house to know exactly what the house looked like. I saw so many, how can I not have a vision
of exactly how the scene looked? I've seen men and women at the moment of death.
How can I not see the fatal shot? What it looked like. What she did and
how her body reacted. I've seen too much not to know and now I
can't get those images of her out of my head. No, I won't ever go back into that house but it's not to spare myself the sight, it's to spare those who love me from the idea that I have seen that sight.
My mother lived a hard and often brutal life. Starting with Polio as a child and the Polio Syndrome late in her life to marriage to a violent man, to scoliosis, to lung cancer that was eating her alive. I know she was in pain. Daily and horrible pain. I understand that, I really do. But she took away from me my ability to celebrate her life and her courage. How do I reconcile that strong woman I knew so well with the suicide who put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger? A gun I gave her by the way. She was a single woman living in the boondocks and about 10 years ago she asked me for a means of self defense. I gave it to her and she took her life with it.
So what am I left with? Where do I go now? I'll tell you.
Despair is never the answer. Never. I hate suicide, absolutely and with a great passion. I have seen way too many lives so lost to hold the practice in anything but contempt. But. We each live our lives separated from one another. We live our lives within our own bodies, our own minds. No one can know what another is experiencing. Not truly. Words always fail to convey the depths. I will not second guess my mother's final decision, no matter how wrong I personally consider it to be. She was proud and independent. Her biggest fear was losing that very independence, of having to live somewhere other than her home and be subject to anothers whim. A greater fear than dying as I now realize. She was in great pain. She'd often cry at not being able to find any relief. She yearned to be free from the pain and the coughing and the inability to breath and all the rest.
So be it. I will accept her answer as the best she could find with the wisdom she possessed. I will accept that I could not have altered this outcome no matter what. I will accept that even if I had taken away her gun she would have found another way. I will concede that it was her life to live and her life to take. I will try to understand though that may be long and difficult in coming. But I will accept that this was her choice, her final choice. I can even accept not getting a chance to say goodbye. Lu says that she couldn't because she knew I would have talked her out of it and she is right.
This is a first for me. Oh I had a step father who suicided decades ago but he was an evil man the world is better off without. I felt nothing unless it was disappointment that he met his end by his own hand and not mine. I've seen and handled many suicides in my life. But they were always held at arms length. An officer who cannot shut off his or her emotions is one who will soon find themselves on the wrong end of the suicide call if they're not careful. In those cases I was always left with more questions than answers. Why? Wasn't there another, a better way?
Police officers like to say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But what if the problem isn't temporary? What if you're dealing with temporary solutions to permanent problems? That was the case with my mother I think. She simply couldn't see a way out or find a better solution. I'm not Ok with it but I understand it and can handle it.
See, ultimately this isn't about me. Not at all. It's not about my brother nor her siblings nor anyone who was going to be affected by her choice. It's about her and her decision. I said it before. I am not a victim here. No matter how poor a choice I consider it to be, the decision mom made was hers and hers alone. I know she thought long and hard about it. It's clear to me now that she must have been planning this from the time she got her diagnosis a year and a half ago. She wasn't trying to get attention or sympathy. Frankly she liked her little life out in the sticks with her books and cats and crystals and baseball. She loved baseball. It was a love we shared and one I am going to still enjoy. Because I know she'd want me to. She didn't want to die but she also didn't want to live as she was. So she chose. Separate and apart from me. I am not to blame and I am not responsible. I will not take her decision away from her by feeling guilty, no matter how much I abhor that choice. I will respect her wishes and I will carry on.
Suicide is the ultimate in selfishness. Yes, I still believe that. But I wasn't in her skin so I don't know how bad it was. I like to consider myself a tough guy, one who is going to take it to the very end and experience and endure all life has to throw at me but I'm not at that end yet so my answer is still to come. I hope, I pray that in the end I will carry myself with pride and dignity and die as I have lived. And that is what suicide robs us of. Your life ends not as it began, surrounded by loved ones who will say their goodbyes even as others greeted you in the dawn of your life. No, it ends in a crime scene, surrounded by wisecracking strangers who are desperately trying not to let it get to them even as they collect and photograph and write and notify. Suicide robs us of dignity.
Other than a few tears I haven't cried yet, not really, and I suspect that day is still a ways off. Officer Six is still in charge at the moment and shows no signs of letting go anytime soon. I seem to have lost my ability to grieve for my mother. Still, it creeps up on you and can come when you least expect it. I still have occasional bouts where I can see scenes long past, shocking in the clarity of the images and the immediacy of the emotions. Car Guy broke down last Christmas as he was decorating the tree. A teen suicide from 20 years ago. But I'm doing Ok now. The anger is dwindling, the guilt put away as unnecessary and undeserved. I'm talking more than brooding and for me that is a very good thing. I'll have the Corvette back on the road today and maybe I'll take a little drive. I'm going to buy another motorcycle and then me and my favorite uncle, one of mom's brothers, are going to go for a nice long ride. Nowhere in particular, just miles and sights and time away from the responsibilities.
Thank you again for all your words and love and prayers, each and every one of you. It's the support of friends and loved ones like you that allow us to survive such things whole and intact. I will be forever in your debt. I think this will probably be the last time I talk about this here. It has always seemed best to me to get past such things as quickly and completely as possible and that's what I'm going to try and do. Put this behind me and get on with life. I have a beautiful wife, a beloved child and two wonderful grandchildren who love me and need me and I will be there for them just as long as I can.
And I will remember my mother as she once was, proud and courageous with a keen mind and a ready wit. So I will say this here for the very last time.
I love you Ma and I will always miss you. Rest easy. I will forever remain your faithful and loving son.
Until we meet again on the other side.