I don't know right now whether my dad is alive or dead. I'm terribly afraid it is the latter. Yesterday I called him to thank him for sending me a smoking stand with humidor, and a rag rug. For several months he'd been telling me he wanted to get rid of a lot of his things. Like me, he tends to be a pack rat, collecting quirky things, layer upon layer of decor the home designers would call clutter. Here is a photo of him framed by the rag rug he sent me:
It was kind of lurking in the back of my brain that it could be a bad sign that he was divesting of his things. When I called him, he sounded so subdued, quiet and flat, I knew immediately he was depressed. My dad has suffered from schizophrenia most of his adult life. He has survived several suicide attempts over the years, but I've heard about all way after the fact.
Like pulling threads from one garment to knit another, I pulled from within myself skills I've accumulated over the years. How could I help him? First surprise, he told me I was the only one he could talk to. He couldn't talk to the people there (in Wisconsin). He couldn't talk to my brother. He left his church. He said he no longer believed that. He was more interested in my thing. He confirmed that later in the conversation, repeating he hadn't been to the church for a while, couldn't talk to them.
In normal circumstances it might be gratifying to have your parent who feared your damnation suddenly be interested in your religion of choice. For me, this did not bode well. This fundamentalist vision provided him a structure through which to compose his life over the years. Without that, what would hold him together? If the church family weren't looking out for him, who would he see on a regular basis? Who could he talk to? Me, he said. Ulp. I'm 2,000 miles away.
Years ago I volunteered for a crisis line. I learned how to field suicide calls. He did not say he was considering suicide, but he hinted that he might not be around. The hint included the possibility that he might just take off. But he also said he couldn't travel, so couldn't come to see me. He talked a little of the dance with meds over the years: feeling like he didn't need them, taking them again after a crash. He'd mentioned in a letter he'd been hospitalized in December. Now he mentioned they'd changed his meds then. Now he was on something usually used for seizures. He had a doctor's appointment at noon today. He wasn't sure he could make it. He was afraid to go outside, even though it was only a few blocks away.
I learned he'd been sleeping a lot, not eating. He said he did just eat something before the call. I did what I could to draw his attention to those who need him, those who love him. His cat Henry. Me. My brother and his family. How I'd always liked his cards that he made for me. "Yes, people say that," he said.
This just occurs to me. I think it is the craziness that has him so depressed. There is no end. This is what he has to live with. He was thinking of how his mother dying when he was 4 years has affected his whole life. He was looking for his mother in all the women he's met over the years. He'd been afraid for me because something reminded him of his mother. Later when I talked to my mom to get another phone number for my brother Eric, she told me when my brother David died my dad got freaked over me, something about his mother, and it freaked me out. I didn't remember that? Not a bit.
I learned his mother did die of breast cancer. She was 44 or 46 thereabouts. He remembered something about someone hitting his mother, he thought his dad, and his sister Viva pulled him outside. His sister Viva also died of breast cancer. He learned from his mother's diaries that she was sick for several years. That his dad...what was the word...catted around. Soon after his mother died, his dad married Esther. There was a woman in his building he'd been interested, and he realized now because she reminded him of Esther.
You didn't know I had a brother who died? I was 19, we just passed the anniversary of his death. May 25th. Yes, my birthday. How can I avoid saying that dramatically? My brother also suffered schizophrenia, and he committed suicide on my 19th birthday, the day after his 22nd birthday.
I guess the thought that my dad could be succeeding at this act right now shocked me because I've been thinking he's made it this far, he will survive. He will die naturally. He wouldn't say outright he was thinking suicide, I think because he didn't want somebody to stop him. That scares me to the bone. He didn't seem to think he would make it to the doctor today. When I asked him about calling again, he said to call around the same time today, early evening. When I called, the phone was off the hook.
Last night I left a message for my brother, who has power of attorney. I left a message today. No response. I wish I'd thought of looking up the apartment manager earlier today, when there was still someone in the office taking calls. I haven't been my usual clever self with this; I can't be neutral so I can't think, apparently. If I can't get through to someone tomorrow, I'm going to look up my dad's neighbors and start making calls. I don't know any of them, but there are ways.