A man I counted as a friend took his own life a few days ago. I first met him when he and his family moved into our neighborhood about five years ago. This man and his wife seemed like good people, but from my first interactions with them, I couldn’t help but wonder how they ever paired up. I’ve seen opposites make good mates, but this couple seemed like they were mismatched.
Over the intervening years, the family’s children have spent time in our home. Their oldest child is between the ages of two of my children and struck up a friendship with the younger of those two. My wife became friends with the wife in this family.
I have watched this family struggle over the years. They moved to our area to buy and run a small business. Those years were very harsh for them. The interminable hours, difficulty attracting sufficient customers, and constant difficulty managing the finances and the low wage workforce took its toll. Those of us that knew the family breathed a huge sigh of relief when they finally sold the business.
But then employment challenges became the order of the day, causing additional strains on family relationships. Eventually, the man was working out of state. Location became a point of contention. Although this fellow constantly gave the appearance of having a cool and self-disciplined demeanor, we became aware that during some of his weekends home, he applied a number of coercive and manipulative practices in an attempt to get family members to meet certain demands. This even included threatening his children that he’d commit suicide if they failed to do as he wished.
During this time I became increasingly concerned about some of the communications my wife was having with the wife of this family. It began with this lady reaching out to friends for help, but it soon evolved into building a case against her husband. Some information was shared that I felt amounted to a betrayal of marital confidences. It saddened me to see people that I cared for experiencing such marital strife.
I hoped and prayed that they could get the help they needed and work things out. I knew that research showed that most couples that hold on through difficult situations find their marriages happy or very happy within five years. I was grateful when it was reported that some tremendous changes had taken place. The husband moved back home and found a job locally. He went to Scout camp with his son and became involved in some community efforts.
We had less insight into the family’s internal issues after their kids and our kids ended up attending different schools. The marital difficulties apparently did not get sufficiently resolved. My friend did not come with his son to Scout camp this year. He was ‘out of town.’ I later found out that he and his wife had split up a couple of weeks earlier. That helps explain the son’s despondency at camp.
The older children were unsurprised when they were told of their father’s suicide. They said that they had expected that he would carry out his threats sooner or later. I have no insight into the demons and mental issues with which my friend struggled, and I am not his judge. I’m sure that the pain he was dealing with was very real to him.
But it is difficult for me to imagine the extreme level of abuse my friend meted out to his children. His repeated and excessive attempts to inflict guilt on his children have been crowned by a horrifically demented and selfish act. This is something with which they will have to grapple for the rest of their lives. It’s terribly unfair.
I have found that one of the ways I manage grief is to write about it. In writing this post, I intend no harm to this family, which is already suffering beyond anything I can imagine. I wish them all the best and will demonstrate this by praying for them and working to help them.