SAVE A LIFE... MY DESPERATE ATTEMPT TO SAVE MY DAD
Updated: Sep 27
My father attempted suicide a few months ago ending up in hospital. My PhD supervisor inquired as to what my response to my father suicide attempt would have been five years ago when I too was exhausted and suicidal. I instantly said, I would have helped him die. I would not want to watch him suffer as I suffered. Yet, back then, I was ignorant regarding quality of life, about disability discourses. I believed perceptions didn’t change. I was wrong.
My father was a strong, healthy, fit and active man before he had a stroke last year. He was in hospital for months and his prognosis was grim. Today he is paralysed down his right side and coping with diminished physical capacities with little support. This has prompted him to spiral into a deep depression prompting his suicide attempt.
I feared this might be a possibility given his severe loss of autonomy and minimal health support. I now know that my dad who would get up every morning to go swimming, biking and hiking, was literally trapped in an armchair all day. I knew that mentally he would be struggling with his body post-stroke and his perceptions about what it means to be ‘disabled’. His and his partners home is not designed for someone with complex physical needs. His suicide attempt was not a surprise as I too identified with his journey because following a car crash at age 17 I became paralysed from my neck down.
After his suicide attempt I was desperate to help him. I knew that counselling alone would not fix the issues he faced. Our mental health system is not equipped to support people like myself and my father. Suggestions such as ‘assisted suicide’ and ‘do not resuscitate’ orders are often placed on our medical files. Disabled people are offered negative options that are not helpful and undermine our feelings of self-worth.
From my own experiences of suicide I started a PhD to explore the phenomenon and the negative perception of disabled people. Why is there an assumption our quality of life is so poor? Why assume that we don’t want to live? My disability was not the reason that I attempted suicide and other problematic life issues were never discussed. My reason to want to die they believed was because of my disability.
I’m one of the lucky ones because my injury was a result of an accident and, later on medical misadventure following subsequent neck surgery. Through the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) I am eligible for assistance that my father is not. He does not have access to financial support for house modifications or a power wheelchair that would give him mobility independence.
My thinking was dominated by thoughts of suicide until I realised what I needed to support my desire to live. The need for sleep and the assistance of wonderful carers has given me back my quality of life. I want to offer this to my father because I know life can get better with the right empathetic support.
With help from my sister who is a psychologist, we asked him questions I knew might have helped me to want to live. We took a holistic approach to understand the issues that were causing his depression. From there, we realised he needed supports that are not available through the public health system.
To raise the funds needed to support him to live, I have produced some ambitious paintings that I want to sell to help fund an eye operation needed to enable him to use a power wheelchair. My aim is to help fund this for him also. I hope to raise the money needed to help my father want to live.
Whether I have time to communicate this to him is a different story but I know it’s possible and I will do everything to make him understand that life is worth living. We all need autonomy, respect and a sense of purpose and pleasure in life. He may be living in a dark, stagnant world right now, but my dream is to lift him out of that world from what I’ve learnt from my experiences as his tetraplegic daughter.
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