The way Frankie killed himself was cruel. The act itself is inherently cruel to loved ones but he did something that was diabolically clever.
For most of his 41 years, Frankie lived with Ethel. I find that incomprehensible. He was the first of us to leave home, having moved into a halfway house while in high school. He married young (I think they were married) and lived with his wife for 1-2 years. After divorce, he joined the Navy and lived on base for 2-3 years. Before he finished his service he wanted out but they wouldn’t let him so he went AWOL and moved back to the family home in Falmouth with Ethel (and maybe Gregg and Anne). A year or two later he turned himself in to the Navy and spent a few months in the brig. After that, he and Ethel lived together until his suicide.
There was a disconnect between the Frankie I thought I knew and the Frankie who chose such a dramatic exit. Frankie was… nice. I mean, like the epitome of nice. He was kind and he was gentle. He was thoughtful and considerate. He gave of himself to many people. He could be intensely shy but he also had the drive to be social. He did volunteer work. He worked for a while at a home for people with intellectual disabilities. He was active in the Unitarian Church. He was interesting, smart, and helpful whenever the opportunity arose.
He and Ethel were close friends. When I invited him to join me on a vacation one time he came and brought her with him. I never got it. I still don’t. In a family of such ruin, where most of us didn’t stay in each other’s lives, where some of us don’t speak to each other, where none of us were close to our parents as children, how did this exception manifest?
Was it pathological? Was it regressive on his part? Was he incapable of being independent?
After his death, I discovered something I think they had in common. Her diagnosis came late in life but Ethel lived with OCD. Her symptoms were mild for most of her adult years and didn’t create any serious difficulties that I am aware of. But after Frankie’s suicide, her symptoms accelerated and she became more obviously symptomatic.
While I’m on the subject I’m gonna drop a minor bomb. I believe that everyone in my family lives with some degree of autism and OCD. This, of course, includes my parents. I’m not going to explain any further because it’s not relevant outside of the context here, which is that Frankie and Ethel were more alike than I knew.
So, how did he do it? I know you’re wondering what made Frankie’s suicide diabolically clever so I will tell you. He did it in a way that brought us in the room with him and made us witnesses to his drunken, stumbling departure from this world.
Frankie had a heart condition, one that required medication.
Neither Frankie nor Ethel were heavy drinkers but they had a nightly habit of drinking one small gin and tonic together while playing cards.
One night, there was no gin. They talked about ending the ritual and giving up the gin.
The next day, Ethel came home with a bottle of gin. The ritual resumed.
Frankie had not been taking his heart medication for several weeks. He had been saving them. On this night, after Ethel went to bed, Frankie retired to his room with the newly bought bottle of gin, the one that they had decided to forgo, the one that she decided to bring home anyway, his stash of pills, some 5×7 notecards, and a pen. He proceeded to wash down the pills, a few at a time, with the gin. As he did so, he took notes.
The first card was written in his normal handwriting and it looked like any other note might have looked on any other day. But on each subsequent card, his handwriting and coherence were deteriorating. There were 9 or 10 cards in total and reading them in sequence made what he was experiencing visceral. It brought us into the room with him, helplessly watching him succumb.
(What follows is a brief and paraphrased version of what I can remember.)
I am sorry, Mom and Dad. I am not doing this to
hurt you. I am not angry. I am of sound mind.
I want to do this.
I’m not afraid. I’m calm, almost happy.
I have been waiting so long.
11: 05 p
I’m sorry for the pain this is causing. It’s not about you.
I can’t do it anymore. I’ve been planning this for a long time.
Ineed to do it.
11 : 2 0
I, am ligtheaded, fuzzy. Not drunk
still good. still wanting to
11:3A few more pills. Some gin
left. It ‘ s ok
11%p — euphoric.
I t hink it’s wo rking but I gonna
drink one more glass
s not drunk. just good.
15&%Im feelig foggy – dizzy
its getting stronger.
finished the gin. too late to stop but i
dont want to
please donbe sad fo
I h ve wanted iy notangry just
nothing you di mum
1111 sory I