The day before Joe died, I was sitting in the parking lot at Sams Club drafting a text to all six kids. I planned to tell them about their dad’s depression—not the cause—but the severity. I had been planning to do that earlier in the week, also. I’d taken him to the Hamilton Center to have an “intake” done so that he could be admitted as an inpatient as he wanted. But that never happened—because the Doctor at the door turned him away for his refusal to wear the “required” mask.
This was hard. He was our Superman.
Joe and I were both in Terre Haute because we were picking up the truck that had been in the shop being repaired. A couple of weeks prior, Joe had been working on his (now I know—final) “to-do” list when he backed the truck into a tree with the tailgate down. He was tremendously stressed about this when it happened. It didn’t take much to trigger him at that point.
The day it happened, I walked into the house, and he was sitting at the table drinking from a whiskey bottle that had been in the freezer for some time. (Joe hadn’t had anything to drink since we’d come home from Florida, except for the weekend we had the backyard campout with the grandkids-the first week of April (after they closed ALL Indiana campgrounds). He told me he couldn’t do a “kid” weekend without beer. He was trying desperately to conceal his fragile state from them and be the “fun/grouchy” grandpa they knew and loved.)
“I drank all this,” he said—to a near-empty bottle. He was disappointed with himself, and I was disappointed, too. I never liked it when he drank whiskey—not like that.
“Why would you do that?” I asked. He had been is such a good state of mind when I’d left, earlier that day. He was really proud of the work he’d accomplished, building a roof over the well-house. Joe wasn’t a carpenter, but he always figured it out, and he had done a fantastic job at building that roof! And then he told me he’d backed the truck into a tree and tore the tailgate up.
“Oh my god, Joe! So what! That’s why we have insurance!”
“I’m just a money pit this year—my glasses (he ran over with the mower a few days before), my phone (he lost his new phone in the ocean), and now the truck.”
This was a troubling statement because Joe was ALWAYS the one to remind me… “Remember Marie, you can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.” But all of our shows had been canceled up to this point, and he knew that “making money” was going to be a lot harder than it had been before Covid.
We walked outside and looked at the damage together. He convinced me and was right, that the tailgate would need to be replaced. I was trying to convince him that this was an easy fix and the very reason we had insurance—accidents.
So we drove to Terre Haute to pick up the truck. It would’ve been done sooner, but Joe wanted them to do a complete run-through of it while they had it. He wanted everything gone over—even though he had already called them about doing that, weeks before, and they told him it wasn’t due for any maintenance. Since it was already there, he insisted they go over it. The maintenance guy asked him, “Is there something wrong with the truck? Something you’re concerned about? (He remembered talking to Joe on the phone, before) because you are up to date on all maintenance.” And Joe told him he just wanted to make sure everything was good. So they did as he asked. I am confident now, that was for me. He wanted to make sure the truck was in complete working order and needed no maintenance, leaving me with nothing to worry about on that front—another checked-off item on his “to-do” list.
The dealership had called the day before, on Wednesday, and we’d intended to go and pick it up that afternoon, but we got busy trying to figure out our lawn mower situation—another chunk of money that needed to be spent—more stress. But we called a mower shop that afternoon, sent pictures to them to get trade-in value, and made a plan. We were “going” to stop and look at mowers the next day, Thursday, on our way to pick up the truck.
Joe was on board with that decision before he went to bed that night, but when he got up the following day (June 25th), the first thing he said to me was, “We’re not getting a mower.” And I couldn’t talk him out of that decision. So we just went to pick up the truck, instead.
Afterward, we stopped at White Castle. When we got to the door, we saw that all the outside tables were covered with CLOSED caution tape. When we went inside, all the tables and chairs were upended, with a sign “Dining room closed.” He shook his head, and we talked about how crazy all of “this” was.
“We can’t even sit outside and eat!” He said.
“It’s all right, I told him; we’ll sit in the truck and be more comfortable, anyway.”
Joe was not one to show his affection in public for the most part. He would always hold my hand but not “love” on me in public. But on this day, after we placed our order, he pulled me close into his chest and kissed my forehead as we stood and waited. He told me how much he loved me. He’d been doing that a lot in the past couple of weeks. Then, he just stood there with his arms around me, holding me tight, until the order was ready.
As we sat in the truck and ate our lunch we discussed our day. Joe was driving the truck, and I would follow him in the car, but we had a few things to pick up inside Sam’s Club. He wanted me to make cauliflower soup—his favorite— but didn’t want to go in, so I agreed to do the shopping if he promised me he’d let me know as soon as he got home. And then I asked him:
“Can I trust you to drive home safely?”
“What do you mean?” He asked. (This was just two days after being turned away at The Hamilton Center.)
I said, “Well, Joe, I need you to promise me you’ll drive home safely and not into a tree—or anything else. I could never live with myself if you did something like that!” He was appalled that I’d said that. The look he gave me, and his statement still ring in my ears.
“How do you think I could ever do something like that!? I would NEVER do something like that!”
“I need to know that you’re OK to drive without me following you!”
“I’m OK. I promise I’m not going to do anything like that.”
“And you’ll text me as soon as you get home?” (We replaced his phone while in Florida but he didn’t want “service,” so he could only use it on wifi and with other iPhones. Three of the kids had iPhones and three didn’t.)
“I will. I love you,” he said. And he drove off.
And then I sat in the parking lot and drafted a text to send the kids. As soon as I was finishing with it, I received his text; “Home.” At that point I thought, OK Marie, you are overreacting. See…he’s fine!
It’s also important to note that I planned to send an email to the kids on the Friday before. Father’s Day was coming up that Sunday. Danielle and I had been texting back-and-forth that morning, and I sent her a message that said, “I will be sending an email out to all of you kids later today- look for that.” I then set my phone on the window sill and went to my computer to start the email. I didn’t think Joe would ever pick it up and read that text—but he did. He never made a big deal out of Father’s Day, and he didn’t want the kids to, either. That’s how he’d conditioned them. (A perfect example of something Joe would say after a get-together at our house…in jest, of course, but with some sincerity, because he didn’t like all the “marketed” holidays that he felt were just silly. “Happy Father’s Day! Glad you all came over so I could cook for you (he always manned the grill) and clean up after you! (he was also known for being obsessive about washing the dishes.) ASSHOLES!”-Joe) But I thought, given the circumstances, it would be a good time for the kids to “just to show up” and see how he responded to them. Let them see for themselves how he was “dealing” with things.
As soon as he read the text, he came straight to me and asked, “What are you emailing the kids about?” It was accusatory. As my heart sank, I nearly panicked—I didn’t want to lie. But I wanted this so badly for him. I just said, Joe, you weren’t supposed to see that. He said, “What are you planning to do? Please do not ask the kids to come here for Father’s Day!” But that’s precisely what I was going to do. I just didn’t want him to know it was my idea. I wanted him to believe that the kids had gotten together and decided to surprise him. It was a way for me to keep my promise to him but still allow the kids to hopefully “see for themselves” the changes in their dad.
(I had been inspired to send the email after finding a box of letters just a few days before, from his Emmaus walk in 1995. The letters he received while on his walk affected him deeply, and I thought if I could just get him back to “that place” to see and feel the love of his family and how much we needed him, it would change things.)
But after that conversation, I knew there was no point in sending the email.
Now, almost one week later I was sitting at Sam’s Club drafting a text. This is what I wrote:
I’m sorry to write this in a text but I do not have the ability to talk about this without tears and saying it only once feels necessary. I am writing to all of you to let you know that I have been – for the last two months and the last two weeks even more so- having to explain to your dad every day (mornings are the worst) why his life is worth living and that he is very loved.
He is deeply depressed and full of anxiety. He hasn’t slept in weeks- he’s up and down all night- anxiety. Not being able to “work” (I mean really work) has made him face a lot of his issues that he’s been running from his whole life- depressed. He’s stopped drinking beer and coffee. He’s white knuckling it. As the day goes on he gets a little better and then it starts all over again the next day, it’s a viscous cycle. In essence he’s going through a spirit (or soul) detox. He has nowhere to run or hide at the moment.
I have tried to get him help on several occasions and he’s either cancelled or refused. He wants help but on his terms: no masks- a real trigger right now since it’s a giant reminder that it’s why he’s not working and he doesn’t buy all the bs- he will not talk to anyone wearing one- and no medications. He does not want to be medicated.
I took him to the Hamilton center the other morning and it was quite traumatic- they wouldn’t let him/us in the building without wearing masks- and he needed- was asking for help. It was very sad and really quite symbolic. Here he is a grown man asking for help- practically on his knees and they wanted to cover his face and muffle his his voice. His words- the words that he needs so badly for someone to hear. Silenced, strangled, and unimportant- that’s what it felt like. They chased us down in the parking lot begging us to let them help so we walked back up to the building. The dr. came out pulled his mask to his chin and listened. It was cold and there was nothing private about it. He did talk to the Dr. for a few minutes at the front door- where hoards of ppl were walking in/out with their faces covered. The dr. said he would have to get special permission from the CEO in order for us to enter without masks- and he (the dr.) felt the masks were necessary. We left.
He’s lost a lot of weight. Anxiety and depression will do that. If you come to see him – which I hope you do- I want you to build him up- please do not say ANYTHING to him about what he looks like unless it’s amazing. He’s in hiding because he’s embarrassed and ashamed. He does not want anyone’s pity. He wants to feel good. He also says he doesn’t want anyone to come to the house. He does not know I’m writing this. As you know, we share a phone, so please be mindful of that if you reply- and I’d rather you didn’t. I would prefer for all of you to get together with some sort of a plan to shower him with love. He says he wants to die.
I never sent the text.
He died the next morning.
At my first suicide support group, one of the facilitators told me that the mental health system had failed us. Soon after his death, she had heard Joe’s story about being turned away from the Hamilton Center. She said, “I’m just so sorry.”
Me too. I’m sorry I never sent the email. I’m sorry I never sent the text. I’m sorry Joe’s dead. I’m sorry for so many things.
But the system did fail us. This is not all on my shoulders. I did try to get help for Joe.
I was grateful for a statement that Danielle had made to me after he died. I was in turmoil about telling them “the truth” because I had promised Joe I wouldn’t. It wasn’t until five days after his death that I shared everything with them. When I sent the kids a text asking them to come to spend the night with me on Wednesday, three days before his gathering to celebrate his life on the 4th, I said something to the effect that…I was really torn because I had promised him I would never tell and I felt as though, even though he was gone, I was betraying him. And Danielle said to me, “Yes, but he made promises to you, too.”
He did. He promised me he would NEVER kill himself! And I believed him.
I am glad in the end that I shared Joe’s truth with the kids. They needed answers. They had to know. We decided, as a family that night, that there would be no more “secrets.” And so it is. No more secrets.
By sharing my experience of Joe’s life, and death, it is my hope that others that have been sexually abused as children will benefit. With the sale of the Unbreakable. candle it is my mission to help spread awareness, to know the signs, and to know where to seek help. That is what The kNot Today Foundation is working so hard to do.
Throughout my grieving, I have sought wisdom from those who have been where I am. Those who have suffered the loss of a husband, those who have suffered a loss by suicide, and those who have been affected by mental illness—depression, anxiety—suicidal ideations. And one of the lessons I’ve learned is that no matter how badly you want someone to seek help, heal, or forgive, you cannot walk another’s walk for them. We have to accept that this journey through life is a solo adventure. We are only, “truly,” as adults, responsible for ourselves.
No one else will ever see the world through your eyes. You are unique and your journey thorough this world is your own. You will cross paths with many people. Some, will be a part of your journey for a short while. Some for the majority of your lifetime. But, ultimately, though you share the same experiences, your perceptions of those experiences are as unique as you are.solojourneysite
I wasn’t equipped to deal with Joe’s mental illness. Neither was my mom, Kenny, or Christie—we were the only ones that knew the source of his pain. My hope in sharing my story is that it will empower you, should you find yourself in a situation like this. Get help. Don’t take no for an answer. If someone tells you they’ve thought about killing themself—believe them! If they believe they’re doing “it” for you, have convinced themself that you would be better off without them, then they will lie. They are not, at that moment, themself and they need help.
He wasn’t “Superman,” he was just a man that needed help through his suffering, and his pain.
Although I’m putting my focus on the source of his depression—the childhood sexual abuse—I’m also adamant about being an advocate for those in need of help. We have to do better. I hope we want to do better.
To your healing, and to mine.
xo, and peace.
Call: Lifeline 1 800 273 8255 (USA Only)Text: CNQR to 741 (741 Crisis Text Line (USA Only)
I just want the pain to stop… (video)
Suicide is not a selfish act. It’s a desperate act.
Please comment below if you have something you’d like to add to this conversation, words of wisdom, or just some encouragement for all of us.