‘Dad’s not waking up.’ I saw him lying in bed, blood coming from one nostril.’: Woman raises awareness for intergenerational trauma

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of suicide and trauma that may be triggering to some.

“I’ve read what I am about to go into can be triggering for some because of the severity of the topic, however, I feel my story has the potential to help someone. Full disclosure, this is the story of how my life changed after my dad died by suicide. I will start this off straight to the point: if you are looking for a sign to not kill yourself, this is it. This is your sign to stay. Please, stay.

It was 7:30 in the morning on October 19, 2011. I woke up to frantic banging on my door and thought it was my dad telling me I was late for cosmetology school. I opened the door, and it wasn’t him. It was my 12-year-old sister, Kourtney, with a panicked look on her face. She said, ‘Dad’s not waking up and he has a really bad nosebleed.’ I took off running towards his bedroom with her words echoing in my ears. There was nothing else, just those 11 words and the sound of my feet as I ran through the house.

To understand this story, you need to understand my childhood home. My dad and sister lived in the main house, and I lived in the apartment above the garage. I lived on one end; my dad’s bedroom was on the opposite. As I took off running, I looked behind me and yelled at my sister to not go past the kitchen until I figured out what was going on.

Dad and daughter on slide
Courtesy of Katie Baker O’Malley

The run from my apartment to my dad’s room took less than 2 minutes, however, it felt like an eternity. His bedroom is at the end of a hallway that seemed to just get longer and longer the more I ran down it. I finally reached his bedroom and threw the doors open. The light from the windows was peeking through the curtains, giving me just enough light to make out my surroundings, and the room was still. I immediately went to the phone on the nightstand opposite him and dialed 911. The feeling I had dialing that number is one I will never forget because you never think you’ll have to do it until you do. After asking the location questions, the operator asked me what was going on. I told her what I saw: my dad lying in bed, blood coming from one nostril, and his skin had a blue tint to it.

I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. ‘This isn’t happening,’ was all I could think. He was going to wake up any second and laugh because he was playing a joke that went too far. However, that didn’t happen. The operator then asked me if I could feel a pulse. So, I put her on speaker and reached my arm across and checked his outstretched wrist for a pulse. I didn’t feel anything, so I climbed onto his bed and hit him once in the chest, hard but not too hard because I didn’t know what was going on and didn’t want to kill him.

Dad and daughter eating ice cream
Courtesy of Katie Baker O’Malley

Looking back at that moment, it was like I was on autopilot. I was doing these things, but I had no conscious thought of how or where or why. I then got closer to him, sat on him, and started to pound his chest. Left, right, left, right, kept playing in my head. For a moment, I thought I had him. I thought I got him back and the nightmare was over. I guess I hit so hard I saw movement from the impact, and then I realized it was because his dead body was limp and reacting to me; my dad was dead.

One more hail Mary attempt brought to light the events that happened early in that morning. I went to grab him by his shoulders, to try and shake him awake, but my left hand touched something hard and unrecognizable. I thought it was the remote, so I picked it up. The room was dark, so it took a second or two for my eyes to make out what I was holding. It was the handgun he used.

I can still feel the confusion over what was in my hand, there is no way it was a gun, but it was, and the operator’s voice brought me back by repeatedly asking if I was there. For a split moment, I allowed my emotions to come out. I yelled a curse word over and over at the top of my lungs when I realized what happened, but then I suddenly stopped because where was the bullet hole? I scanned his face, besides the blood from his nose, there were no visible injuries. My thought process was like a checklist; chin? Intact. Mouth? Intact. Temple? Intact. Forehead? Intact. Wait, go back to the forehead. There it was, right before his hairline at the top of his forehead, the bullet hole.

I’m not sure if the sun had started to illuminate the room more or if I took off a filter my brain subconsciously used because suddenly, the room started to lighten up. I started to see everything. The blood coming out of his ears, the headboard and all the contents on that, and his face. Then reality hit. I was sitting on my dad who had just shot himself in the forehead. I freaked out and ran, trying to hang up the phone on my way out. Almost immediately, I ran into my sister and told her she needed to get the dogs and I needed to call 911 back. I tried the house phone in the office, but I was unsuccessful with my attempt to put the phone back on the hook, so I had to find my cellphone. To this day, I have no clue where it was or how it ended up in my hand to dial 911, but it did.

Dad with four daughters
Courtesy of Katie Baker O’Malley

When I called back, it seemed as if they were waiting for me. The answering operator pulled the phone down from his mouth and yelled to the rest of the room he had me back on the line and gave the phone back to the original woman I was talking to. She asked me if I could go back in and perform CPR since I had not done so earlier and I told her, ‘No, he’s dead.’ She then told me to get my sister and our dogs and wait for the police outside. I met my sister in the living room. She was crying and screaming she wanted her dad. I didn’t know what to do, I wanted my dad and was just a kid myself. So, I grabbed her, and hugged her as tight as I could until she stopped hitting me and just kept repeating the phrase, ‘You and I are going to be just fine.’

We walked together outside and I did my best to get her to breathe. We stood in the driveway and listened to the sirens grow louder as they approached our house. The next few hours were filled with phone calls, questions, and disbelief. I felt myself slowly falling into a state of disassociation. I was over the crying and I just wanted to know what the heck my sisters and I were going to do and how we were we going to survive. The four of us had to grow up overnight and figure it out.

Dad with daughters in pool
Courtesy of Katie Baker O’Malley

If you are looking for a glow-up story, then you are in the right place. After my dad died, I was told by everyone around me it didn’t have to define me, it didn’t have to be my life. While their intentions were good, saying his death doesn’t define me minimizes the pain I was in and the trauma I endured. I spent years after his death forcing myself to not be ‘that girl,’ the girl whose dad died by suicide. I did everything in my power to uphold this image of a strong woman who had been through a tragic event but didn’t let it get to her. All that forcing did was make me feel worse about myself, obsess more over his death, and ultimately derailed my life for a little while. I avoided places we would frequent often, stopped listening to music we listened to together, and didn’t seek out the therapy I needed because his death wasn’t going to define me. I was adamant about that.

My dad’s death and my reluctance to accept the impact it had on me made it difficult for me to function on a regular basis. The thing is, it was a slow creep, and I didn’t realize how bad I was until I woke up one random morning. But this isn’t a story about how depression knocked me down more than a few times, it’s about how my depression helped pick me back up.

Dad posing on car
Courtesy of Katie Baker O’Malley

My daughter was born in June of 2019 and I give her so much credit for this transformation of mine. I came to terms with the fact his death does define me. It does not define all of me, but it defines a part of me; the part of me that has the ability to help someone else. For years, I was overwhelmed with a sense of abandonment, unworthiness, and betrayal. It wasn’t so much my dad died, it was the manner in which he died. I had to fight through all these emotions and get down to why I blamed myself. The truth is, I didn’t do this. At the end of the day, it was his decision and his decision alone. Nothing I did or said could have changed the outcome of that morning.

Mom and daughter
Courtesy of Katie Baker O’Malley

It took me 8 years to find out who I was within this reality, the dead-dad reality. I started reading about trauma and the effects it has on people. That led me to read about parenting and how some universally accepted tactics can actually be traumatizing. I learned about intergenerational trauma and was able to identify where I have been impacted by that in my life. After learning all this, I decided I wasn’t going to subject my daughter to the pain and cycle I have been intertwined in. I started going to therapy again, I started reading books again, and I started to genuinely love who I was becoming. I finally finished my bachelor’s degree, 10 years after starting, and was soon accepted into the master’s program after that. I have a beautiful daughter and an incredible husband.

I have created a life without my dad I think he would be proud of. No, I know he would be proud of me, who I am, who I was, and who I will be. The day my dad died changed the trajectory of my life enormously. I now know I was put here to do good and to help people in any way I can. I have found through writing, I am able to connect to people I wouldn’t normally have the chance to and, as a bonus, it has been very therapeutic for me. Talking about my dad again gives me hope for the future. Maybe another girl’s dad will read my story and decide to stay or maybe someone affected by suicide will read my words and realize they were never the reason, and they can make change by simply talking about it.

Woman posing for photo
Courtesy of Katie Baker O’Malley

Suicide and mental health, in general, are treated so timidly. Our society has a problem with imperfection and for a while, I too fell into that mindset. There aren’t enough people talking about the suicide rate or how mental health impacts our society as a whole. I am only one person, but I believe by talking about my story, I can open a conversation on the subject and hope whoever is listening takes it and shares it with their circle.

Studies have shown that roughly 135 people are affected by one suicide. I know for a fact my dad affected more than that but if we were to use that number, that’s 135 my story could potentially reach. And then they can each reach 135 more people, theoretically. Could you imagine if talking about suicide opened that many people to talking about it? Maybe the suicide rate would go down if people didn’t feel so much shame around expressing their thoughts and intentions. If we could change the mindset suicide is weak, we can make a difference.

Black and white photo of dad holding daughter
Courtesy of Katie Baker O’Malley

Imagine a world where my words weren’t used to make me look like I have not processed my dad’s death or I’m not doing okay and I’m ‘stuck’ in 2011. Imagine a world where my words don’t make everyone in the room uncomfortable, or like they shouldn’t be hearing what I’m saying or reading what I’m writing. Imagine a world where suicide is rare because society stopped treating those with thoughts like that with disgust or indifference.

My dad’s death by suicide gave me something special, it gave me the opportunity to help others who have experienced loss like this or trauma in general. I am no expert, all my credentials come from the trauma I have experienced, however, if I could give someone struggling any advice, it would be to stay. Stay for the sun, stay for the grass, stay for the life you can live and the people you can help, stay so you can share your story.

If you are a suicide survivor, don’t give up that part of you they had a hold of. Let it guide you down a path to freedom through processing and open yourself up to the opportunity to make a difference. So, let’s talk about trauma and suicide and anything else that’s ‘off-limits.’ Let’s take our struggles and allow them to define us in positive ways, and, most importantly, let’s focus on not passing these traumas on to the next generation.”

Sisters at wedding
Courtesy of Katie Baker O’Malley

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katie Baker O’Malley from Plano, TX. You can follow their journey on Instagram here and here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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