June 1, 2014
Sunday 1 pm
Six more days and it will have been 8 years.
When you are recovering from a traumatic event, you want to tell about it. Over and over again. This is how it happened. First this, then that. After the first few days, or maybe weeks, though, no one wants to hear you tell it. And who can blame anyone for not wanting to hear your sad, messy story?
If I tell about Henry's last days here, no one has to read it. I am safe from embarrassment and you are safe from awkward listening.
I can't go back all the way, like about how he was such a wonderful, normal kid, never any trouble, easy to care for and love. At least until he was about 16. There was that day I found out he'd been smoking. How I cried about that! I surprised myself at how I cried. Why was I so hurt? I did not know then, but I think somehow, I knew that Henry had started down a 10 year path of no return. You probably are scoffing at that, but in my gut I know that those tears that day were for more than just that day, that teenage misbehavior. I say this even though I strongly believe that Henry would be alive today if he had not been put on Prozac three weeks before he died. It's just that my gut seems sometimes to be able to see the future.
So that week, his last week. Monday. He did not show up for work. I was pissed. He came in later and apologized to me. I forgave him. You always had to forgive Henry, because his smile was so open and warm, no guile in it, just sincerity and vulnerability. He had a doctor's appointment that day, and the doctor increased his dosage of prozac. He wore a white t-shirt and faded blue jeans. He had a new tattoo: Sanskrit or some such language for "integrity." Because that was the quality that Henry most wanted for himself. He wanted to be a man of integrity. There were little blood stains from the tattoo on his sleeve.
That night I had a re-audition for Belle Voci, the women's group I sang with. I was nervous about it. I did alright though. Actually, I was happy with my performance. I sight read the piece before me quite well, and sang with confidence. So, I came home feeling pretty stoked.
Henry was in the living room when I arrived. I told him about my audition. He listened, really listened to me. Then we talked about his problems. He was broke. He couldn't figure out how he was going to ever get on with his life with his marriage falling apart, debt piling up, no prospects for a good job. He talked about becoming a bartender. I did not respond well to that. I tried to reassure him. I talked about how he never had to worry about a place to stay or his next meal as long as he had us. I hoped that would give him a feeling of security. But, he shook his head. "Sometimes that's not enough," he told me. I kissed him goodnight, ruffled his hair a little and went to bed.
Tuesday. I don't remember any interaction with Henry that day. Later the boys told me that they went out for beers with Henry that night and that he talked about killing himself. I guess he even pulled a suicide note out of his pocket and showed it to them. It was on red paper, they told me. (I never saw it.) They laughed about it. Ha, ha. You're kidding, right? You would never actually do it. That's what they thought. I can't blame them. I most likely would have done the same. But we did not know about the meds, about the side effects, about how dangerous it is at the time when the dosage is changed.
The next day, Wednesday. I am getting ready to go to work at 5:30 a.m. when Henry calls me. I'm here, he says. You don't need to come in until 9 o'clock. At 9 Henry would have to leave to get to his real job at Cabinet Factory Outlet. I was overjoyed. Such a little thing, but oh so sweet to have an extra couple of hours to myself. Thank you so much, Henry! I love you! He seemed pleased and a little surprised by my outburst.
I got to work by 9. Henry was getting ready to leave. He was gathering some things for lunch. I had some tomato soup that I let him take, and he added a cheese biscuit to go with it. He told me that he had been having some trouble at work, that he had been "written up," and was not getting along well with his boss. I recognized that this was tough for Henry. He did not fail well. I gave him a hug, and told him to remember the advice of Paul in the Bible, that he should do his work as though God was his boss, and do his best to please Him, then everything would fall into place. Henry listened, in fact, he stopped in his tracks and really listened to me as I talked, with my arm around his waist. I thought I was having an impact and was pleased with myself. "I love you," I told him. It was, thank God, the last thing I ever said to him.
He walked out the door into the sunny day. Jim was talking outside to Pete, and wanted to stop Henry as he walked by, to talk to him about an idea he had for him to make extra money. But, he didn't want to be rude to Pete, so he told himself he would talk to Henry about it later.
We noticed a puddle accumulating under the espresso machine that day. I called a plumber, who told me he would not be able to come until after 5 pm.
Sometime around 2, Courtney called to say she had not been able to reach Henry, that he had not shown up at work. She asked me if I could watch Isaac that Friday night. I said of course, but I thought, Friday night? I can't think about Friday night. What about now? What has happened to Henry? I felt a black weight pressing on me, a terrible fear.
I called his work. Please, please call me if you hear from him. I'm so worried, I said. He hasn't been himself lately. I don't know who I spoke to, but the man was kind, and he agreed, Henry had not been himself. He promised to call if he heard anything.
I called Patrick and Saul and Jim. I didn't call Myra - cannot stand to worry her until I have to. Of course I tried to call Henry over and over. Nothing. We were all trying not to panic. I wanted to go home but had to wait at work until close, and then the plumber didn't show up until 5:30. So frustrating waiting for the plumber. Meanwhile Saul and Phin were at the apartment, just to be with Jim and be there if and when we found out anything.
When I got home, Patrick had called to say that Henry had called him. Oh joy! It's going to be alright! But, no, Henry's voice had been odd, slurred, and he was talking about being at the beach, and that he was going to kill himself. He said he took all his pills. He wouldn't tell where he was. Patrick's friend Jesse called a sheriff's office on the coast, not sure which one, while Patrick tried to keep Henry on the phone. Eventually Henry hung up. We kept trying to call him, but his line was busy. Then when we called, there was a message. "This is Henry. It's June 7, 2006. I'm at the edge of a cliff. It's beautiful here. I love you. I'm sorry." Click.
A search was underway. Patrick and Saul left to help. Thomas brought Myra over to the apartment and we waited it out. I was hugging Henry's white t-shirt with the tattoo blood stains. Where could he be? Cannon Beach, Rockaway, Seaside.... I cannot think, for the life of me, why we did not think of Manzanita. Manzanita had been Henry's favorite place for years. His elementary school friend, Brandon, often invited him to stay weekends at his family's beach house there. We teased Henry all the time about how much he loved Manzanita. And that was where they found his car. Patrick called at 11:30 that night to say they had found his car, and that there was a note in the car. The police took the note, so we did not know what it said.
The next morning we drove into town early and put a sign on the door of the shop. "Closed due to family emergency."
Jeff Hicks came over to pray with us later that morning. I can imagine how he dreaded that home visit. Ugh. It was a prayer that, somehow, Henry would be found to have slept it off in the bushes somewhere, or hitchhiked down the road to California. I did not cling to that hope. I am afraid that I already knew what was to come.
I told Jim after Jeff left, "I think we've lost our boy."
Then, around 1 pm, Saul called to say that the searchers had found his body. He had fallen on some rocks among bushes along a rather inaccessible beach at Neakhanie Mountain. Patrick and Saul were not allowed to see him, but were asked to identify him by a description of his hair color and his clothes.
I remember Jim asking, after he answered the phone and listened for a moment, "Was he in the water?" That's when I knew. That's when Myra screamed and ran out of the apartment. I chased after her, and brought her back inside. We sat together on Henry's bed and sobbed among his sheets.
Later she told me that she had run outside because she panicked, thinking that Thomas was arriving with the children, and she didn't want them to see the terrible scene of grief that was about to unfold.
There was one moment that afternoon where I remember standing in the apartment, feeling like I was drowning. I was not going to be able to get my footing, I was going down. Then there was a shaft of light that opened from above. It held me, with all the chaos going on in the shadows around me. It held me, and God told me, I will give you a place to stand. I am with you.
I cannot explain that vision, why God would give me such a gift. But I have clung to that moment and it has sustained me. I have kept a sometimes thread-bare hold on my faith because of that vision, and a few others that have been granted me. I have a place to stand.
We were never allowed to see Henry's body. The funeral director gave us his ring, which was misshapen from the fall. Saul wore it from then on. I regret not being able to at least see Henry's hand, or something. I think it would have helped me. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I still would have looked up, expecting to see him walk through the door. For whatever reason, I could not, and sometimes even now, I still can't quite believe he's gone.
A few weeks after Henry's death, my nephew received a call. The caller ID said, "Henry Roberts." Someone had found his phone. I wish I had talked to them, to find out more about where they found it. Seems like the story was that they had found it while they were climbing. Were they climbing from the beach or from the road? We don't know exactly where Henry was. I suppose I could ask to see the file at the Tillamook County Sheriff's office. Maybe someday. There might be some awful pictures in there. But I would like to know exactly where he was when he fell. I don't know why. I feel the need to participate in Henry's sorrow as much as I can.
A few days after Henry died, we were looking through his things, and I found some literature about his medications. That's where I first read about the possible side effects that included the word "suicide." Why hadn't we known about this? Patient privacy? Who was watching out for Henry? No one. No one was checking in with him at those dangerous stages when dosages changed. I remember him telling us how weird it felt to be on these things, how, even if he tried, he could not think a negative thought.
Now, I know they must really be a life saver for some folks, but I want to say that I believe that Henry would not be dead today if he had not taken anti-depressants. I think they gave him a false courage to do what would have been impossible for him to do without them. But that is something we will never know. Henry did not struggle with depression all his life, but he did have problems with it off and on starting in his teenage years. In his last weeks, he had panic attacks at work that I did not understand. I had no experience with that. How could he not be able to work the counter all of a sudden? He never had any trouble with it before. I was not understanding or sympathetic. Oh brother, I said, get back there and do it. I did not get it, God help me. So, maybe anti-anxiety meds helped with that.
If he could have made it through this rough patch in his life, with his marriage failing and his anxious hopes for "the American dream," he would have been fine. But then, how many families can say the same thing about their loved one who took their own life? Not all, but I expect many of them. Many of them would say, if only they could have made it till the next day, they would have said, thank goodness I am safe. Look how things have worked out!
There is more to tell, about his memorial service, about the miracle of our customers' love and support. Henry died on a Wednesday, June 7th; his body was found on the 8th; on Monday our employees and customers opened the shop in our absence and did their best to run it so that we would not lose too much money. Henry's service was on Wednesday, the 14th. We were back at work on Monday, the 19th.
That's all the story I have in me today. Thanks for listening.