A physician who lost his daughter

The day is etched in my memory. The knock at the door. Two detectives and one police officer. I knew the news was bad. We sat at our dinner table, and the dreaded words came: “Your daughter is dead.”

“How?” I asked.

“She hung herself during the night.”

My body went numb, and the moment became surreal — like I was watching myself in a movie rather than being part of the conversation. I couldn’t cry. My mouth was dry. My heart was pounding fiercely. I can’t remember the questions they asked.

After they left, I went up into the bedroom and let out a blood-curdling scream. I begged God to bring her back, to take me instead, to let me put the rope around my neck.

For years Lindsey had struggled with mental illness and addiction. Her demons were many … too many to overcome.

When she returned from treatment, she looked healthier than she had in years. She was optimistic; so was I. She found peers that were in recovery and part of her LGBT community. She could relate to them and them to her. Perhaps, I hoped, she could keep the disease at bay.
Then the relapses came, most of which she was able to hide from her counselors and me. But not all of them. I found a half-empty bottle of vodka in her room and the smell of alcohol on her breath. She was scared that I would be angry. I wasn’t. I was disappointed. And scared.

The next day we talked for a long time about my own addiction history and how many times I had relapsed in my head over the years. But by the grace of my higher power, I hadn’t gone as far as taking a pill or drink. We laughed about the craziness of our brains as we smoked cigars on the deck. We called it cigar therapy. It was during that time that we had our best conversations about life.

She died on a Monday. The Friday night before she woke me up and gave me her wallet.

“I’m afraid if I keep it, I’ll buy some alcohol.”

She went into her room. I heard her sobbing. I went in and held her. Her breath and the room reeked of alcohol, and there was an empty bottle on the floor. She vehemently denied having drunk. I gently talked to her about telling me the truth. But the denial persisted. She finally fell asleep.

The next morning, she greeted me in the kitchen as if nothing had happened. “We need to talk about last night,” I said. She looked me in the eye and still denied having drunk. I talked to her again about the importance of honesty, and that I wasn’t going to judge her for her actions. I knew about the cunningness of the disease, the denial and lying. She stormed into her room.

That’s the last time I saw her alive. That evening I grilled burgers and texted her to join us. Her reply was “pass.” The last text to me. Pass. Pass on burgers and ultimately pass on life.

Two days later she was dead. Alcohol took away her inhibitions and made her brave enough to put the rope around her neck. Her suicide note was brief. She wrote that she was sorry and asked me not to be mad. She asked that I take care of her cat. That was it.

A year and a half have passed. I don’t beat myself up for I realize that there was little I could have done. But I will grieve until I die. It is said that losing a child is the worst thing that can happen. It is. Nothing compares to it.

I rest in the comfort that Lindsey is finally at peace. I miss her dearly. Why I have succeeded in the battle against addiction and mental illness while she lost will be a question I continue to ask myself over and over knowing that I’ll never know the answer. What I do know is that addiction and mental illness are evil. They don’t care who they inhabit or who they kill. I was spared. She wasn’t.

RIP, Lindsey. You deserved better than “pass.”

Luther Philaya is a family physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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