My friend killed himself.
I just learned yesterday afternoon that he killed himself a few weeks ago.
I didn't see it coming, even though I was probably one of the last persons to talk to him.
His daughter is friends with my daughter. We've known them 6 years. He was divorced from his kids' mom. She had been ... Away, for a while. But she recently came back into the kids' lives.
He had sole custody and had been the kids' only parent for years. But he worked a lot. His boss demanded long hours and Saturdays. And so at first he was happy to have her back in the kids' lives, giving them another adult to turn to. But then after a while, she seemed to be working hard to turn the kids against him. Even though she had been gone for years, she had the kids convinced that she was the better parent, the one who loved them more, the one they should stay with. They spent less and less time with their dad.
She let the kids run wild. He set limits. You can guess which parent they preferred... And which parent they were increasingly angry with...
He talked to me one day, about his legal rights, obligations, options. I can't say, here, specifically what we talked about. Client confidentiality and all that. Looking back, he was more agitated than I'd ever seen him, but it was understandable, under the circumstances he described.
We also talked the next day, as friends. He called to let me know how things were going. He talked about how frustrated he was, to have sacrificed so much to be the good dad, always putting the kids' needs first, working overtime to buy them Christmas gifts, while the ex just disappeared for 10 years. And then to have her reappear and have the kids preferring to be with her. He was understandably hurt and angry. He loved his kids, but felt like they were turning against him. He felt rejected, hurt, angry, sad... He wondered if he was handling things properly, if he was doing all that he could do.
I listened a long while, and commiserated with him, told him his feelings were completely understandable. I told him that I was sure the kids would come to understand much more as they matured, that they are teenagers - notorious for being insensitive and self-centered and ungrateful - that the excitement of having a mom again would wear off as they started to see how often she "forgot" to buy groceries or pay the electric bill, that as they grew older they would realize what a great dad he is and that they never went without food or shelter or cool toys for Christmas, or love, when they were with him. I also told him I thought he was handling things well, doing a good job of taking care of his kids, that he was a good dad...
When we hung up, he seemed.... determined ... and ok, if not happy. Determined to do the best he could for the kids even if they seemed to resent him for it. Less agitated, though still frustrated.
The next day, he killed himself.
I will never know whether there were other burdens he hadn't shared, whether something else happened during that day that sent him too far down the path of despair, or whether I just missed the signs of his total despair and desperation. He certainly never said anything about feeling suicidal or about the kids being better off without him. As far as I can remember, there was no sign or feeling that he was giving up... but maybe I missed it....
Should I have tried harder, helped more? Was there anything at all I could have said or done that might have helped things go differently...? Should I have been giving him the number for a suicide hotline? Were the signs there and I just didn't see? I just don't know.
A couple of times over the past couple of weeks, I'd thought about calling him, but it wasn't unusual to go weeks or sometimes months without talking to him - we were both busy, and our main connection was our kids, and my daughter was out of town the past couple of weeks. It wouldn't have mattered, I guess. By the time I was thinking about calling him, a few days later, "just to check in," he was already dead.
Maybe if I'd been the kind of friend to call daily? But that would have felt like interfering, prying, being nosy, in the context of our parent-to-parent friendship. We were close enough to share our kid problems and dilmemmas, to ask each other for favors now and then, to hang out and share pizza occasionally while our kids hung out and played video games or went biking, but not the sort of buddies who call each other daily. Maybe I should have tried harder to be that kind of friend for him.
He was a good man. He worked hard. He was honest and kind and handsome. He was creative, inventive ... building things, photography, music... He loved his kids more than anything. He was kind to the people at his workplace; the customers loved him, thought of him as a friend or almost as family. He was a good Dad.
His passing has left a hole in my heart.
I hope the kids will be ok. I hope their mom will step up and be a good mom. The kids are going to need her.
Goodbye, Robert. May your soul find contentment, peace, and love.