‘Dear Uncle Dave’ - a requiem
By: Pilip Maenza
On October 13, 2017 I got a phone call from my mother while I was eating dinner. I ignored the call and sent her a text saying that I would call her back later. She said that she needed to speak to me right away. I went outside of the restaurant and called her back.
She sounded panicked. My usually calm demeanored mother had a unusual tone in her voice. I knew right away that something was wrong. She told me that my Uncle Dave had gone missing.
Up until that point in time my Uncle Dave had been struggling with depression throughout his life, and this was recently exacerbated by some changes in his family. He seemed to be getting better though. He had just visited the doctor the day before and they had adjusted his medication. He had called my grandmother and told her how he felt that life was finally turning around.
Upon the news of my uncle’s disappearance everyone had expected the worst. My uncle was a beloved member of his community along with being a postal worker. He was well known and well loved by so many people. After a few days of him being missing had gone by with no word of him the search parties began. It felt as though hundreds of people had all come together to find my uncle. We were all hoping and praying that he was sitting in some hotel trying to get away from it all.
Unfortunately, all those hopes were dashed on Thanksgiving Day, 2017. Roughly six weeks from my uncle’s disappearance some of his buddies had found his body in the woods while out hunting. He had committed suicide.
At the time I had just moved to South Carolina. I was 700 miles away from home. I had felt hopeless for the duration of the search and even more so when I was not with my family on Thanksgiving when I received the news.
My uncle was one of the strongest people I knew. He was always so kind, smart, and always ready to lend a helping hand. He knew how to have fun. He loved the Pittsburgh Steelers and a cold beer. He had always dreamed of owning a German Shepard, despite his history of owning dogs that were often so small they could fit into a shoe box. He loved his job. He loved being an active part of his community. He loved his kids. He worked countless hours so that they could have everything they needed and wanted. He was a good man. I wasn’t able to make it home for the funeral due to lack of funding, but I heard all about it. My uncle’s funeral was a celebration of his life and personhood. People from all over his city came to say their goodbyes. He was loved.
However, he was also sick. Mental health is a very real illness that many people struggle with on a daily basis. He was trying to get better. Unfortunately, there is such a stigma around mental illnesses such as depression. There is even more of a stigma for men who struggle with mental health issues.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama commented on mental health by saying “At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illnesss, and there should be no distraction.”
According to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on suicide, men are 77 percent of the 45,000 people who kill themselves every year in the United States. Similarly at the global level, according to the World Health Organization, men die by suicide at a higher rate than women do everywhere in the world—with a ratio ranging from 1.5:1 to 3:1—making up a majority of the more than 800,000 persons who kill themselves every year. Globally, suicides represent half of male violent deaths.
Depression is real. Mental illness is serious. Be there for your loved ones. Men, it’s okay to not be okay. Reach out to those you love if you’re struggling. I miss my uncle. I miss hearing all his fun stories. I miss hearing him laugh at a joke that was not really even that funny. I often wonder if he knew how much people cared about him. I wonder if someone had reached out if this could have been prevented.
There are tools out there for people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255.