Brain Waves: What I learned from my father’s suicide

Brain Waves: What I learned from my fathers suicide

Jamie Scharf, Contributing Columnist

I woke up to an unfamiliar voice. “Jamie, wake up!” it said. I rolled over to look at my alarm: it wasn’t even 7 a.m. I put my pillow over my head and attempted to go back to sleep, hoping this person would go away. But he continued to yell. It got louder each time. “Jamie! I need to talk to you.” In angry haze, I reluctantly woke up and answered the door. It was Ross Bryan, the former assistant vice president of Housing and Residence Life.

Pack up my things, he told me. I had to return home, and call my mom on the way over.

On March 24, 2014, I received the news that my father had died by suicide just five days after his 50th birthday. I was filled with shock, pain and disbelief at a level I had never experienced before. Questions flooded my mind — How could this have happened when I was so far away? Could I have stopped this if I was home? Why did I not have a chance to say goodbye? Why did my father do this? Who was going to support my family now?

I realized I was going to need to take care of my mother, brother and grandparents during the following week. As hard as it was, I tried to put on a brave face and let my shoulder be the one my family cried on. A week later, I returned to Tulane in hopes of finding some form of familiarity and support in my life. My friends and my fraternity were my extended family and kept me positive and happy despite a very rough patch in my life. With the support of my professors, administrators and individuals in Student Services, I was surprisingly able to complete the semester earning over a 3.0 GPA.

Over the next few months, the timeline of events started to develop in my mind as I attempted to make sense of what had happened. During my senior year of high school, my father told me that he was closing his business. He told me everything would be fine and that he was glad to take a break for the first time in a while. When I returned home during each break from school, I could see my father changing: he did not sleep, his diet changed drastically and his personality had totally shifted. He was not acting like himself.

Every time I’d ask him if he was ok, he’d reply, “I’m doing just fine.” Three years later, during winter break of my junior year at Tulane, my father overdosed on medications he had been prescribed and was in the hospital for a week. It was at that point I realized that I had gone from being the child to the parent. He did an amazing job raising me, and now it was my time to help him. I returned to school not telling anyone what had occurred and continued to make sure that my father was ok. Unfortunately, my father had developed the mindset that it was too late and he was never going to get better.

After hearing all of this one might ask how I still function after all of that pain, suffering and loss. After college, I managed to find a job following my passion in finance, working in compliance. I graduated college with higher grades than I had had during my underclassman years. I accomplished more those last three semesters than I ever had before. And so my answer to that is very simple: you can’t ever show defeat, even in the toughest of times. If you show defeat, it’s very hard to turn yourself around. If you accept defeat, you seclude yourself from the world and others who are there, who want to help you because they care. The harder times get, the more I realize how important it is to smile. Smiling puts me in a happier mood and enables me to go through my day the best way possible. Being sad doesn’t get you anywhere nor does it help the people that want to help you get better.

This experience has left me with some insight that I would like to share with you today. First, be grateful for all that your parents do for you. Don’t hesitate to call and tell them how much you love them and how thankful you are that they care about you and that they want you to succeed. Second, life is precious and can change at any instant. Slowing down and observing the present is so important. Third, do what makes you happy, particularly during the hard times. There is no experience we cannot recover from with the right help and support from those who love you most.