The word "help" has many meanings. By standard definition, the verb means to both provide what is necessary to complete a task, and to rescue. For my dad, he only used it in its former sense. That's all he ever, barely, let me do. The only time he ever asked for help was when he needed my hand in raking up leaves for our 3/4 acre piece of land. Most of the time it came in the form of a command, like, "go even out those rocks" or "take out the trash" or "let's cut this tree down". And his intentions were most often to make us, my sister and I, more grateful for the horses, dogs, pig, goats in our backyard, the presence of good luck in our lives and lack of tragedy we had to endure. The "real world", he liked to reference, was out there and it was his job to prepare us for it.
My dad grew up with a diagnosis of genius IQ and hyper activity, a time before ADHD was a clinical condition. By most, he was described as difficult and his family did not understand his intentions or intellect. On a day when the window screens from his family home were removed for cleaning, he decided to make a walk-in birdcage (one of many he made in his lifetime) out of the screens. When his father came home from work, he interpreted the masterpiece as mischief and disobedience because his screens were damaged--rather than appreciating the amazing, functional, work of art his 5-year-old had made. So he went on to push more buttons, test more boundaries and receive more punishment than praise throughout his childhood.
In high school, my dad met my mom. throughout the four years they were friends, both in and out of relationships of their own. Finally both single, and after a three-week courtship, they eloped and had so much fun together they didn't have kids until seven years into the marriage. And the birth of my sister, and later me, were opportunities for my dad to build his self-worth in a new, critical role as a father himself.
He loved to camp, fish, golf, garden and bring home new animals, what seemed like every month, for us to learn from and love. He cared for pigeons religiously and his involvement with the National Birmingham Roller Club consumed him, leading him to a network of lifetime friends.
As we got older his fatherly role diminished and arguments, outbursts, happened more frequently, aided by alcohol. At some point, his contact with my mom, sister and I, began to diminish. He had confined himself to one room in the house around 2005, slowly dragging his things down the steps and into the den and eventually placing an accordion door to block the smoke from his cigarettes from infiltrating the rest of the house. Beyond growing heirloom tomatoes and watching movies, which he often suggested to us, he rarely interacted with the world. And over time, he even avoided interacting with us. But he refused any help. There never came a time when he admitted to having any mental issues or disabilities yet his isolated lifestyle was evidence to a myriad of issues. He never gave us the chance to be the rescuers. He kept his machismo, always. He rarely, if ever, went to the doctor for physical ailments and I believe he was afraid to ever admit he had any problems. The only thing he ever acknowledged was blame. It was mostly aimed towards his family--us.
On the evening of July 27, 2015, my dad took his own life. During the days leading up, he tidied his room, got a haircut, paid the bills, left account details for my mom, filled the tank of gas in my car and his. He left no note. For him, this is what he wanted. Finally, he helped, rescued, himself.
We knew he wasn't healthy but there were no options for us to get him any help because he would not admit he needed it. He fought us over it. And had we known that suicide was on his mind, we don't know if we could have ever prevented it.
My hope is that through research and availability of services, less people will suffer like my dad. For my him, he felt suicide was his only option. I want this message to spread so that suicide will no longer be the 10th most common cause of death.