THE LEGACY

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Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 19, 1996; 8:38 AM

The blood was like Jell-O. That is what blood gets like, after you die, before they tidy up.

Somehow, I had expected it would be gone. The police and coroner spent more than an hour behind the closed door; surely it was someone's job to clean it up. But when they left, it still covered the kitchen floor like the glazing on a candy apple.

You couldn't mop it. You needed a dustpan and a bucket.

I got on my knees, slid the pan against the linoleum and lifted chunks to the bucket. It took hours to clean it all up, and even after that we found pools I had missed under the stove and sink.

It wasn't until I finally stood up that I noticed the pictures from his wallet. The wooden breadboard had been pulled out slightly, and four photographs were spilled across it. "Now what?" I thought with annoyance. "What were the police looking for?"

But then it hit me. The police hadn't done it. These snapshots -- one of my mother, one of our dog and two of my brother and me -- had been carefully set out in a row, by my father.

It was his penultimate act, just before he knelt on the floor, put the barrel of a .22 rifle in his mouth, and squeezed the trigger.

He was 46 years old. I was 21. This week marks the 20th anniversary of his death. And I am still cleaning up.

By the time you finish this article, another person in the United States will have killed himself. More than 30,000 people do it every year, one every 15 minutes. Few receive the attention Adm. Jeremy Boorda's suicide is getting. My father's was a textbook case: Depressed white male with gun offs himself in May. December may be the loneliest month, April the cruelest, but May is the peak time for suicide. No one knows why, but I can guess: You've made it through another winter, but your world is no warmer.

This year, thousands of families will begin the process that ours began that night 20 years ago. Studies show that their grief will be more complicated, more intense and longer lasting than for any other form of death in the family. They will receive less support and more blame from others. Some will never really get over it: Children of suicides become a higher risk for suicide themselves. I once asked a psychologist why.

"Many children feel they don't have a right to be any happier than their parents were," he said. "To be happier is a form of betrayal."

These are the legacies of suicide: guilt, anger, doubt, blame, fear, rejection, abandonment and profound grieving. Most people don't want to talk about it, don't even want to think about it. It is too raw and confusing.


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© 1996 The Washington Post Company

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