At some point—and this is something that I’ve never told anyone—my dad called me to say goodbye. It didn’t end up being the time that he finally took his life, but I knew he was near the end.
He told me that he hoped I would be able to remember the good times that we had together.
There was a movie we had watched—I can’t remember the name of it now—with a scene that made me laugh, to this day, harder than I have ever laughed before. My dad, too. We watched the scene over and over, probably 100 times, in our living room one night after he had gotten pretty bad. We laughed so hard and so loud that we woke my mom and sister up, and they came in and started laughing with us. We laughed for hours.
When my dad called me that day, he brought up that story, and he started laughing again. Hard and manic and completely alone on the other end of the same phone line where I’d begun to cry.
He told me that he wanted me to remember that night. Him laughing. He said he hoped I could forgive the pain and remember the laughter. Then he told me that he loved me and said, “Goodbye, Son.”
When he hung up, I stood there trying to wrap my mind around how it was the last time I’d ever hear his voice.
I never want to see that movie again.
My mom has been working on a memoir in the years since her husband took his life. As chance or providence would have it, I’m helping her complete the final draft this week. I wish it were a book she didn’t have to write. I wish that it were my father writing what you are reading now.
I wish that he could have kept living.
Fathers and mothers and husbands and wives and sons and daughters, please hear me: Your family is not better off without you. Your friends are not better off without you.
My dad’s story does not have to be your story.
Please, please, please hear me:
You can keep living.
There is still oxygen in your lungs, blood in your veins, light in your eyes, and life in your body here, reading this sentence. Please don’t blot it out.
If you could hear the tone of this text you’d find it in the desperate voice of a terrified boy who still finds himself dreaming of the opportunity to beg his father to stay. To officiate his son’s wedding. To walk his daughter down the aisle. To sell the house and take his wife back to where they met in Hong Kong and retire. To smoke pipe tobacco in the living room when mom is out of town.
Depression is a seductress, and she whispers lies. She speaks of suicide as though taking life were a noble means of giving life to others.
I say this because I know. I have wanted to die. I have come close to cashing in on the desire. I have days where it is hard to get out of bed for fear of the world, or fear of myself, or fear of becoming my father’s son. I have felt that fear flood my eyes as they met my wife’s. I have heard fear’s voice telling me the inevitability is uncontrollable.
Know this: Fear is a false prophet.
Death can sound beautiful, but pay attention to the hiss in her whisper. It betrays her for the snake that she is.
I don’t want to hear you say goodbye. Not over a phone line or in a letter or in my own searching imagination while I grasp for closure. This is not the time for goodbyes. This is the time for life.
The night they found my dad’s body, my sister and I went to see Underoath’s “Disambiguation” tour in Albuquerque, New Mexico. By definition, that title means “the removal of ambiguity by making something clear.” After three weeks spent wondering if this would be his final disappearance, I suppose it was as good a name as any for an evening spent shaking hands with death.
I stood in the back of the venue, my family absolved of our hope in the light of conclusion, and I listened to the vocalist sing: “You know it’s never the way we planned it. I really wish we could reset, rewind…”
As do I.
Years before watching Underoath play the soundtrack to our changing of times that night, their vocalist wrote lyrics that I’ve always considered a call to life. They helped save mine, anyway. I even tattooed them on the inside of my forearm:
“End cycle. Press on.”
I heard truth ruminating in a stranger’s voice, singing, “It’s not the end of the road for you,” and kept living.
And life has been beautiful. You don’t have to believe it, but I do. Let me carry you. In the future, when I don’t believe it, and you do, then you can carry me.
I need you. End cycle. Let’s keep living. Press on.