I’m writing this post on the fifth anniversary of my dad’s death, his suicide. Honestly, I’m having one of those mornings where I can’t think of much to write… but it dawned on me that a lot has happened in the five years since he died. Because I’ve chronicled much of it—good and bad—it makes a bit of sense to juxtapose three big moments, not only to contrast but to compare. This post is a bit longer than usual but is a reminder to me, to you, to someone you love that while things may seem bad now (maybe even for a long time), it’s possible for things to get better too. Part 1, is an excerpt of my book when I found out my dad died, Part 2 is an excerpt of a never-before-seen piece I wrote for my diary “Winning the War on Depression,” while recovering from clinical depression in 2011, and Part 3 is a new ending to my play The Gospel According to Josh playing May 16-18, and adequately sums up the high point of my recovery. Thanks for reading :)
The pieces of this morbid puzzle were all coming together as I looked down at my phone, still blinking with ten voicemails and an urgent text message from my mother. I called her straightaway. She picked up halfway through the first ring.
“Hi, Josh,” she said. Her voice was dark and solemn like I was expecting. At least she wasn’t dead.
“Hi. What’s up?” I replied anxiously. “I didn’t check my voicemail.”
“Oh…” she said, letting out a long sigh. “Listen, there were paramedics at your father’s house this morning. It looks like he… well, he killed himself. He’s dead. I am so sorry Josh.”
I was waiting to hear “April Fools.” There was still a slim chance that my mother had forgotten there were thirty-one days in March and was making a terrible attempt at some sort of inappropriate practical joke. But the punch line never came. This was real. But what is someone supposed to do or say when their parent kills himself? Is there a detailed instruction manual for this somewhere? If so, I hope it also explains what to do if you don’t like that dead parent very much.
Fighting for both oxygen and the ability to speak, I began to mourn for what could have been. Despite my lifetime of contempt for him, I had always held out hope that he would become the father I had always wanted—a man whom I could go to for advice, confide in, and trust. Now that things between the two of us had started to improve, he threw it all away, leaving me wanting more.
As I regained the capacity to form words, my pragmatic mind went into overdrive.
“Listen, we’ve got to figure out the funeral arrangements. When and where…”
“We’re going to have the service this Saturday at the church,” she said in a hushed, staccato tenor.
“Okay. How are Jacob and Erica doing? How are you doing? You know this is nobody’s fault. I mean, this is totally on him—not us.”
“I know. Everyone’s just upset. I just can’t believe he left you kids without a father, after his own father did this to him. It’s a shame. I’m sorry, Josh,” she said. Her voice cracked as she said my name.
Was she sorry for me? Did she blame herself? Did she love this man in spite of all his glaring faults?
“Yeah… um,” was all I could think to say, my voice finally quivering. “I guess I’ll come down tonight and see how I can help. I don’t know.”
“That would be good. We are going to have to go through your father’s stuff and get the house ready to sell,” she said, keeping the conversation a practical one.
“Listen, I have to go now and make a few other calls, but I love you, Josh.”
“I love you too. I’ll see you soon.”
He was only sixty, a young sixty, and he shouldn’t have been dead.
Everybody Hurts: Even the Rich and Famous
Today I’ve decided not to keep the focus on me. In my research online for articles on depression, medicine, and new blogs; I came across a blog entry from, “Beyond Blue,” by Therese J. Borchard and an article from People.com about a very famous and talented recording artist who has battled depression. Her name is Shania Twain.
Ms. Twain talks about how in 2008, her marriage of 14 years to Robert Lange collapsed because he was having an extramarital affair. In the months following the divorce Ms. Twain says, “There were moments when I really just thought, I don’t need anything and I don’t need anyone. I just want to go away and disappear.”
Wow. How many of us have felt like that at times? I know I can relate to those feelings. And for me, this just solidifies that a lot of us are going through similar things and we need to talk about these things privately or publicly as an effort to help ourselves and help each other as Ms. Twain has.
To go back to the article, Ms. Twain says, “I was in a deep, dark slump,” but what gives me hope is what she says next: “I needed to find a way to get myself out of it. I had to force myself back out into life, back out into experiencing things.”
She wanted to get better, so she forced herself to do so. And again, I can relate. I feel like lately I haven’t had as much passion for life but I want to experience that passion again, so I’m forcing myself to do things that I don’t much feel like doing. Sometimes, I haven’t felt like getting out of bed, or going to class, or hanging out with a friend or family member; but I do it anyway because I know these are positive things in my life and seeing these people and doing these things has proven to be therapeutic and has helped me get better and it has allowed me some time off from my thoughts and has given me new perspective on life.
Maybe it seems like a tall task getting out of bed, and reconnecting with loved ones, and going to class or work; so let’s do it in baby steps. We don’t have to do it all at once but the very least we can do is do something to help us get better and get out from under the feelings of depression and despair. Today, I got out of bed, ate a full breakfast, and am going to a job interview. That’s a start.
Thanks for reading.
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
-John Pierpont Morgan
My take on this: This quote summarizes how I’ve felt about my depression. I don’t want to be depressed all the time anymore so I’m going to try not to be by doing positive things for myself, connecting to positive people and doing good things for myself and others, while trying to maintain positive thoughts. Hopefully for me, that’s the first step towards getting somewhere.
During my next semester at college, I did extensive research and found that suicide and depression wasn’t just a problem within my family unit. One million people across the world take their life each year—a horrifying statistic that somehow, I needed to reduce and change. While on campus, I met an enchanting college psychologist named Tina and began to see her as a patient. One of my big discoveries while in therapy was the idea that I needed to be useful and in the service of others to be able to recover from my depression and feel whole again.
But how would I do that? I spent nearly my entire life being in the service of one person—me. And so, I reluctantly vowed to quit my selfish show business pursuits for good. While into the fourth week of my retirement I had an epiphany about Not the Hemingways, the speech I created during my previous college semester as an indictment of my father. I decided to restructure it and turn it into a one-man play called The Gospel According to Josh. I would pair the show with suicide prevention education so I could help others struggling, in crisis, or in need of healing. This Gospel was good news that both my mom… and my dad saved me from ending my own life.
But this Gospel was merely a concept. For two months, I pitched it to hundreds of college psychology professors across the country and with zero luck. Finally, a professor at Baruch College picked it up and we did the show in late April 2011, sponsored by the psychology department. I had no idea how it was received by what was an unresponsive audience until one young student approached me after the show.
Hey man… I liked your presentation. And, like, I think I been dealing with being depressed, like the clinical kind you talked about. I’ve thought about dying. And, um I just thought it was normal. But…I want to feel better. … can you walk me down to the counseling center?
All of the painful ordeals of the past two years with my father, my mother, my girlfriend, and my own depression—it was all worth it to help this one young man get help and stay alive.
Over the course of a year, I performed my Gospel to thousands across the US and Canada. I made new and lifelong friends with whom I was able to commiserate, hold, and hug—a feat that has me on this stage, about to take a bow staring at the tattered note in my hand.
(Lighting change. JOSH stands under bright lights. There’s SFX of soft applause. JOSH waves and is about to bow. He’s holding a piece of paper )
1) I’ll feel so guilty. If I kill myself, Erica and Jacob will probably be very upset. I can’t let them lose their father and their brother… not like this. 2) There could be other adventures, many of them that I’ll never experience… Macchu Picchu. Hawaii. Antarctica. Outer space. 3) A family of my own. A soul mate… a happily ever after, a fairytale ending…
And now there’s a fourth—and it comes from my father. I used to think he had ruined my life but he gave me the greatest gift—meaning and a purpose.
(JOSH smiles, and crumples the sheet of paper, throwing it high into the air into the blackness of the unlit stage behind him.)
I have no need for fairytales. I’m already living my own, and warts and all, it’s shaping up to be a damn good one.
(Blackout. A TDB song with a fun and introspective electric guitar plays into the blackout and through the bow)