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The Journal Gazette

September 21, 2016 1:01 AM

'Suicide is not selfish'

Dad fought through mental illness to do bestby his family - until he could no longer

Grace Cebalt

Grace Cebalt is a Fort Wayne resident and a student at Ball State University.

My family hates cats. They’re sneaky; they don’t love you. What are they good for?

Then my dad got one. A cat, of all things! And my dad, of all people! A scratchy, sneaky, hairy, mean, needy little animal.

Later, we learned that he got a cat because his therapist recommended getting a pet after he attempted suicide.

There were no dogs allowed where he lived. So, there she was, a terribly ill-behaved kitten named Dylan (after Bob Dylan) hanging by her claws off the threads of my dad’s shirt. I could tell that he hated her. But he tried so hard to put up with her and pretend that he loved her. 

Time passed. Eventually, we lost my dad to suicide. My thoughts about it are never exactly the same, but here’s now I feel about it right now, today, nine and a half months later:

Suicide is not selfish. Well-intentioned people said to me that “suicide is selfish” and that if I want to feel angry at my dad for what he did, I have every right to.

On the two-month anniversary of my dad’s death, my sociology teacher spent more than half of our 75-minute class period discussing, you guessed it, suicide. My large-lecture class was told to brainstorm, “Why do people do it?” The obvious answers came first: depression, alcoholism, not having anybody there for them, etc. I was thinking about other things that can sometimes accompany depression: psychosis, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, PTSD – the illnesses that show wild tendencies to fit into the completed suicide demographic. But these are not always thought of in society as reasons people take their own lives or attempt to do so. And I realized, suicidal tendencies are even more covert than we think. Prior to all of this, I thought: “I know the signs. It probably looks like somebody sad, alone and dysfunctional.” But, really, there is more to it than that. Suicide goes far beyond the scope of depression alone.

I believe that my dad, for example, suffered from psychosis. Psychosis is characterized by a disconnect from reality. Sounds about right. My dad thought that ending his life was what was best for us; he truly believed that it was “the rational thing to do.”

So, I’m not mad at my dad. He was so sick. He had an invisible disease in which he was separated from reality. The reality is that we loved him to pieces and that we all needed him. The world just isn’t better off without him. But when you’re disconnected from reality, all you can fully understand sometimes is logic and rational thought – what is laid out in front of you. But being loved is as abstract of a concept as you can get. So how do you rationalize being loved?

Although what my dad did that day had permanent consequences, I cannot hate him for it. I cannot focus on one day when I received a lifetime of lovely good days packed into my 21 years of knowing the guy. So I focus on every single day before then, when his tortured, sick soul was pushing him to be as great as he could be despite having been so mentally ill. Through the phone calls checking in on me, the constant witty jokes coming in when I felt crappy, the pictures he’d taken every year at my birthday parties, and Dylan. I focus on how, despite his illness, he pushed through it, hour after hour, for my three siblings and me. Sometimes he failed but, man, was he pushing!

What I think is that in his delusional state, he truly felt that we were better off without him. And he fully convinced himself that; he thought his job was done. So, in that way, I don’t necessarily think that he cared too little about us, but rather that he cared too much. Which, honestly and obviously, really sucks. It sucks so bad. It was hasty, illogical and senseless. But it was definitely not selfish. To me, stinky Dylan is a representation of selflessness, and of putting up a good fight. Nobody made him get Dylan – in fact, we were all opposed to him getting a cat. But he couldn’t go down without a fight.

To say that it was selfish is to try to rationalize suicide, which is something that really can’t be done. It’s based in irrationality. But, I can look back and be sure that every hour he lived is celebrated. He sacrificed a lot of things for us to have better lives.

He lived for 55 years. For a tortured soul, every day is a struggle to get through. He fought and he fought and he fought. He made it 55 entire years. I know that I cannot make sense of the result of my dad’s irrational state, but I can make sense of those 55 years that he was here.

And what I learn is that he isn’t selfish at all. He finished 150 years worth of selfless acts in 55 years alone.

All I can tell myself now is that heaven just couldn’t wait for him. I think back to Dylan and why she came into my life. It was to show me how much my dad tried and pushed for us.

So, for the first and only time ever, I’m grateful for a lesson from a stupid cat. Signs of suicidal tendencies can look much different than depression alone; they can even take the form of a stinky cat.