Pretty Painted Picture

When I look in the mirror, I see his face. All his distinct features right there in front of me, staring right back. The deep, dark eyes. The high cheekbones. Sometimes I see the belt buckled around my neck, cutting off my circulation, my breath, my everything. The sadness is in my eyes, just like his used to have. Even his laugh couldn’t hide the despondency and dejection in his eyes.

I think about what the last day was like for him. Did he think of me at all? What made him so sure he was ready to die? Did he change his mind at the last second, but it was already too late? Someone once told me there were scratch marks down his neck. Was he trying to get free, or was this just his body reacting to what he had done? In my mind and heart, I would like to believe the first one. I study the article in the newspaper that was given to me, trying to find my answer there:

Patient Dies of Injuries

A patient at the Community Mental Health Center of Beaver County died on Wednesday of injuries sustained in a suicide attempt on Sunday.

A spokesman for the Rochester facility would not release the name of the patient or details of the incident, but commented it was an “unfortunate situation”.

The word unfortunate does not even come close to describing the situation. Horrific, life-altering, sickening, dreadful, sad—these are words more suited to the situation. What were they trying to hide? It was a mental hospital after all. That is why he was there. He was suicidal in the days leading up to the actual suicide. How could something like that happen in a place where he was supposed to be safe? Why don’t the newspapers say what really happened: Father of four hanged himself with a belt in a mental facility where he was being treated and was supposed to be taken care of. No? Too bold?

Elizabeth Burns, "Zack Lauritzen-11"

When I think back, I never really noticed my Dad was sick. I always thought he was just eccentric and entertaining. A very cool guy and a Dad anyone would want to have. I do remember his headaches. He had awful headaches all the time. Sometimes I would come into the room, and I could swear that tears were in his eyes from the pain. Much like him, I get severe migraines too. I wonder if that is a sign. I am so much like him. I wish I knew the details of it all. That may be sick or sadistic, but I need to know…I want to know. Did he leave anything behind? A note? A sign? Something that he wanted me to know? How was he acting that day? Was he conscious at all? Was it an accident?

Suicide is not like grieving a normal death. There is no closure. Every morning when you open your eyes, you relive the death all over again. It never gets better. It is almost like a part of you dies every day, over and over again. You can’t breathe. You can’t think. I never got to hold his hand and say good-bye. I never got to hug him and tell him how much he meant to me. I am broken. I am lost. In some ways I feel like he has manifested his twisted, tortured soul into mine. I am him. He is me.

The last time I saw my Dad was during a weekend visit. It was much like other visits: he made me laugh, we watched movies, and he teased me about my hairy legs relentlessly. He had a severe migraine, and a few times that day I was certain he was crying. He made us a spaghetti dinner that night and gave us fruit snacks for dessert. I pulled out one of the fruit pieces and asked him what the piece of fruit was. He told me that it was the in-between of a person’s toe, and we laughed so hard.

As the weekend came to an end, we girls were excited to get home because my Mom and Will had gotten a new car. When it was time to leave, my sisters and I grabbed our stuff and started to run down the stairs to the car. When Mom came to pick us up, Dad let my other sisters go, but called me back. “Cheryl, aren’t you forgetting something?” I was halfway down the stairs and was not sure what he meant, so I turned around and looked at him. He smiled and said, “Where’s my hug and kiss?” I ran back up the stairs and gave him a quick hug and kiss and told him good-bye. Too quick. Too fast. I realize now that he was saying good-bye forever. He followed me down the steps that day, which was out of the ordinary for him. He watched us get into the car and waved good-bye…for the last time.

A few days later, my Mom sat us down and told us that my Dad was in the hospital and that he was in a coma. I was not sure what that meant, but all she told us was that he got sick and fell into a coma. I couldn’t understand. I had just seen him. She told me that she and my older sister, Elena, were going to the hospital to visit him. I wanted to go. Why did Elena get to go? She hated him. He would want to see me; I knew that. So I ran to my room as fast as I could, got out a piece of paper, and drew a picture of him and me and wrote the words I love you, Daddy. Please don’t die. I took the picture to my Mom and told her to give it to him. She absolutely refused, saying it was not appropriate. But, I knew…I knew if he got it, he would wake up. He would come back to me. Come back to me…please. I hated her for not taking it. I hated my sister for being able to be there and not me.

I came home from school a few days later—I don’t really remember what the weather was like, but I do remember that when I opened the front door to our trailer everything seemed to turn black and white, almost like an old movie or like a great storm was just beginning. People stood around my kitchen table and glanced at myself and my two sisters with what I know now was pity. A little neighbor girl came over to me smiling and giggling like I guess most small children do when they do not understand life, let alone the severity of the ending of it.

I remember her whispering in my ear, “He is dead. He died this morning.” Blackness.

Darkness. Lifeless. I died that day. Why didn’t she take my fucking picture? He would have made it. He would have come back for me. Please, Daddy, take me with you. Why and how could you leave me here all alone? With no one. My Mom walked over to my sisters and me and hugged us with tears streaming down her beautiful, worn face as she sobbed, “I am sorry, girls. There was nothing they could do. Your Dad was not going to wake up. This was best. He would not have been the same. He would not be the Daddy that you remembered.”

My thoughts were so random and misguided, but maybe that is how every eight-year-old girl’s thoughts are when she finds out that her Daddy, the only one that she loved and trusted for all the years of her life, had died. In that moment, I do not think anything

could have prepared or even helped me to comprehend the endless pain that that moment would cause me.

The funeral lasted three days. It was almost surreal and felt like a dream—like everyone was kind of floating around me. There he was, lying in the casket surrounded by beautiful flowers and arrangements. Why beautiful flowers? What were we celebrating?

A wilted, dying tree or plant seemed more suitable. Everyone was crying and telling me how pretty I was and how much my Daddy loved and bragged about me. People with strange faces hugged and told me that they were sorry. Why do people say that? Sorry just doesn’t seem suitable for a tragic death. The end of his life—the end of mine.

It didn’t even look like him. Someone shaved off his full, black beard. My Daddy would have hated that; he knew I loved his beard. He was pale. He was there, but he wasn’t. My Mom told me to go up and say a prayer. I slowly, steadily walked toward him. People kneeled down in front of him, so I did too. I remember someone saying he looked good and that you could not see any marks. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but this was not him. This was not my Daddy.

One of my cousins told me to touch him, but I didn’t. I was standing there, and he was asleep. But I knew in my heart that if I was in the room and he was in the same room, he would have never kept sleeping. He would have hugged me so tight and said, “You know you are my baby…my favorite little girl.” I walked away and tried my best to stay as far away as possible.

Some people laughed and smoked and I assume reminisced about my Dad. Throughout the three days that my Dad was laid out, other kids and cousins kept us busy while the adults talked, cried, drank coffee, and smoked their endless supply of cigarettes. When they would finally speak to one of us, their breath would stink of stale coffee and ashtray. The stench would stay on your cheek as they gently placed a kiss and walked away to the next person.

I just waited. Waited for him to open his eyes. To look at me and realize that he had forgotten me.

He never did.

On the last day of the viewing, a pastor said a prayer in front of everyone. My Nana, my Dad’s mom, ran out of the room crying harder than I had ever seen anyone cry before. At the end, we all got into a line and took turns visiting the casket one last time. My Mom shoved us into line. I was scared. I was lost. I didn’t want to see this man that was not my Daddy. When we reached the casket, she made each of us give him a kiss. When it was my turn, I turned my head away and my Mom said to me, “Honey, you have to say good-bye now. We are not going to be able to see him again after this. Tell him you love him and give him a kiss.” I hesitantly leaned over and kissed his forehead and a chill ran through every part of my body deep into my soul. He was cold. He was hard. He was…gone. I cried, and my Mom took me away from the casket.

From Cheryl Lynn’s Pretty Painted Picture…Little Girl Lost, a memoir dedicated to Mental Health and Suicide Awareness.