The last time I saw my son alive was January 19. He and his mom had come to my office to pick-up some keys that a friend had left. I heard Nate coming long before he got there. The base boom of the 12 inch speakers he had installed in his truck could vibrate the windows! It was ironic that whenever Nathan would be using a piece of machinery that was noisy like a weed eater or chain saw, he would put in earplugs. But the decibel level in that truck had to be approaching the damage point yet no earplugs ! While his mom and I talked, Nathan walked around the lobby just looking at the walls. He didnít talk to me and I didnít give it any thought at the time. I can still see him in my mind's eye, hands in his pockets, looking up. I see him in profile. He is wearing his green coveralls, smudged with different colors of wood dust from work. He would be wearing those same green coveralls five days later on January 24, when, shortly after 5:45 am, he ended his life at the end of a rope. I never got those coveralls back from the hospital. The funeral home gave me the rest of his clothing. His red, pullover shirt, beige pants, socks, underwear, shoes and a gray knit cap. I often wonder where those coveralls went. It doesnít matter, really, it wonít change anything, but it is the nature of grief that the tiniest thing can seem to take on such importance. Iím sure they were just forgotten at the hospital and than thrown away, their owner un-remembered, still, I would like to know. You wonder about inconsequential things. Did he take a shower before he left? Had he shaved ? When I saw the close-up pictures of him lying there on the ground I could see that he hadnít shaved. One question answered. Why did that matter ? It didnít change anything; it didnít answer why.
Nathan had eyes of hazel and so unforgettable!; they just seemed to twinkle! Helpful, kind, considerate, sensitive, those are the terms that describe my son. He wasnít a saint; he had his faults as we all do. We had our disagreements. There was the time he was digging out the spring fed streambed on the farm with his backhoe. He thought it should be one way and I another. We had a ...discussion, and finally I said, ďNathan , dig the thing deeper because itís my stream !Ē And so he did. When he was done I needed a ladder to get down to the water !! I never said anything more about it. Than there was his smile.... you never saw Nathan that he wasnít smiling and that clef in his chin only accented his smile. It is one of the things most people remember about him. When his mom saw him in his casket the day he was brought home for the last time, the first thing she said was that he should be smiling, and I agreed.
All but two of my children were born at home. Two of them are now buried, here on the property, not far from where they started life. Nathan was born at 2:10 am in the living room of the house I built. It was still pretty rough than. The rooms unfinished, heated solely by wood. The bed upon which he was born was in front of the stove; I can still see the room. He came into this world strong and became more so with each passing year. At the time of his death he was 5' 6" tall, 160 lbs, muscular in build and handsome as can be. But than what father doesnít think his sons and daughters are handsome and beautiful?
I had no inkling that Nathan was unhappy or depressed and in pain. As I said, you never saw him that he wasnít smiling. He wrote letters of goodbye to friends and family. They were all lined up on the screen of his computer, one after another, mom.txt, dad.txt, etc. How do you write a letter to your mom that begins ; ďIím really sorry for leaving you like this.Ē and end one to your dad that says: ď....Iíve parked my truck on Poor Mountain, past the three mud pits in the curve..... I will be there.Ē Where did he get the strength to write such letters. How intense and chronic the pain must have been!! Iíve read them time and time again, looking, searching for some small thing that I may have missed, a hint that will give an answer. Of all my children, Nathan was the one I felt was the most like me. We did so many things together! We took trips, we built barns and gardens and fences and grandfather clocks. Yet, when he needed help the most, he didnít turn to me. He turned away. Why ? I will be asking why for as long as I breath, even though I have exhausted all the avenues that I know of without finding that elusive answer. That wonít stop me from asking. Asking why late at night, in the dark, when all is quiet except my heart; asking why in the early morning hours before the sun has opened a new day and ďhisĒ time draws near.
I have many, many images in my heart of my son. Happy, smiling images of him as a little boy opening Christmas and birthday presents, dressed up as ďdadĒ, pipe in mouth, for Halloween, standing in front of the back hoe that he and I bought when he was 18 and showing off his Toyota Tacoma at age 20. These and others mesh and intertwine with those last images of him lying on the ground where he died, his green coveralls zipped all the way up against the cold, early morning air, arms out-stretched, knees bent. It almost appears as if he is reaching out himself, asking why, his eyes locked on some vision that only he can see.
We brought my son home on January 26th. He was to be buried near his sister Rachel here on our property the next day. Our neighbors have a large living area and they graciously offered the use of their place for his viewing and service. More than 130 friends, neighbors and family came to say goodbye. Many offered fond memories and stories about my son. A kindness he did for them, a helping hand when needed or just a funny story about a small boy growing up in the country. They flowed for more than an hour and than it was time to say goodbye; to look upon his face one last time. His mom leaned over and kissed him goodbye and than did I. The casket was closed containing my son and all the many mementos that friends and family had left with him. We wheeled him to the door and his friends carried him from there to his beloved Toyota. After fastening him in, they all jumped in the back with him for that final ride to his resting place, the last music he had listened to booming from his truck stereo.
As your children grow up you have milestones to mark the passing years. Their first step, their first haircut, their first solo ride on a bike, the day they get their drivers license, the day they marry. Nathanís milestones are now of a different nature for me. I want to share these every much as I did the others, yet they are important only to me. The day we brought his headstone to the cemetery. The day the name plaque was installed. The way the new grass is growing, covering his grave, like the hand made quilt that his grandmother made for him once covered his bed. Not momentous milestones like a grandchild being born but milestones none the less.
Suicide is not a solitary act. When my son died on that mountaintop a part of me died with him. I canít bring him back nor can I return to the person I was only a few short months ago. We were both, irrevocably changed. I never thought it was possible to miss another human being as much as I miss that boy! His death has left an aching so deep in my soul that no manner of time will erase the pain. I hope with all my heart and soul that by his passing some of his pain to me, at the moment he died, that he has found the peace and serenity that eluded him while he was here in the earth. Goodbye my Gift of God, my beautiful son.
Willis M Day
11/19/78 - 01/24/01