Sometimes I try to imagine the last hours of Daniel’s life. I try in the hope I will come to understand why our son ended his life. I replay the scenario over and over, but it never brings the comfort I’m looking for.
Oakville April 28, 2009
Daniel had turned his cell phone off and tuned the world out. Chances are Daniel walked through the cottage trying to figure out what to do about his painful emotional state.
Daniel went to the bathroom off of the narrow hallway and brushed his teeth. His toothpaste and spit sat in the sink for months. It was our last living particle of him and we were unable to wash it away. Daniel opened the doors to the front hall closet and took down my old winter jacket. The night was getting colder. He put it on and walked outside. Maybe he went out toward the water so he could remember what the bay looked like in late spring. Daniel was letting go.
As the late April day grew darker, Daniel’s ideation continued to build. Continuous thoughts about death and the method in which to end life would have now consumed him. There would have been no one around to intervene. After Daniel turned off his phone he moved farther into darkness; despair had overwhelmed him.
That fateful spring day had begun with sunny skies and warm temperatures. Then the weather changed. The skies grew dark and Daniel would have been bathed in twilight shadows while he sat alone on the couch. The television was the only source of light in the room.
Then Daniel got up and walked into the kitchen where our family photographs are scattered on the top of the bar counter. Daniel may have noticed the reflection of himself in the stainless steel fridge.
Then, slowly, Daniel began to feel some relief. For the first time that evening his mind was not muddled. On that spring night he realized that he had separated himself from his family. The momentary control of his feelings felt good. He moved quickly through the cottage, with his plan hovering at the edge of his thoughts. While he had been in the kitchen he had opened the small bar fridge, pulled out a beer and thought about writing his final communication to his family members who were trying desperately to reach him.
He grabbed one of the lined notepads and the black pen that he kept in his desk drawer in the small reading room and wrote his last words:
Dear Mom, Dad, Emily and Aimee, I am sorry for lying and trying to hide things from you. I covered up my problems. I know I’ve disappointed you. I am sorry.
Daniel was left-handed and wrote with his entire hand moving all over the page. His final dispatch spoke of intense hopelessness:
I drank to escape, but drinking wasn’t doing anything for me anymore. Don’t blame yourselves cause you did everything for me.
Love, Forever & Always DK
The elixir, which once alleviated Daniel’s anxiety and hushed his depressive thoughts, was no longer useful. With his last words he unburdened himself of trying to live the lives of two Daniels.
As Daniel placed the note down on the counter he noticed our faces beaming from photographs of another happier summer. His note and our memories would be all that remained. Then Daniel walked out the front door of our cottage.
He shut the door behind himself and the wreath that announced JOY would have banged hard against the glass pane. Daniel jumped up onto one of the stone columns on the front porch, his final thoughts disappearing into the night sky.
On the evening of Tuesday April 28, 2009, we lost all contact with our son. I lie awake and conjure up images of Daniel outside, as he stepped up onto that stone column. Was he thinking that he could stop himself? Did he mean to take himself close to edge of life, but not to suicide?
When it came to snowboarding or wakeboarding, he would push himself to the edge. As a teenager, Daniel took every opportunity to leap off boathouses and rock cliffs. Many of the other kids at the cottage did the same things, jumping off high diving boards and moving at high speed through the water. I never thought that this behavior could be an indicator of major depression. And I still don’t believe it is. The hard truth is that we had no understanding of depression and disorders of the brain and the potential for a catastrophic outcome.
The next morning Bruce took Emily to school and then he planned to drive north to find our son. After they left the house, I took my dog, Bailey and drove to a park overlooking Lake Ontario. I was trying to escape reality. I was completely stricken.
Bruce received the news of Daniel’s suicide first and then immediately called my cell phone. I couldn’t run away any longer. In that moment I knew that I would be forced to face a life without Daniel. I answered my phone.
“Lynn, where are you?”
“I don’t want to know anything!”
“Hon, tell me where you are. I’ll come and get you.”
“No, I don’t want you to find me. I know something has happened to Daniel. I don’t want to know anything right now.”
“Lynn, the news is not good. We need to be together. We have to get the girls.”
“Oh my God, Bruce.”
“I promise I’ll take care of you. You have to tell me
where you are.”
The previous night Bruce had called John Newton and asked him to see if lights were on at our cottage. John told Bruce that it was dark over at our place and said he would go over to our cottage in the morning.
“I’ll check things out,” he promised.
True to his word, John wandered over to our cottage in the early morning hours. Walking up our driveway he came upon the terrifying death scene. As John stood there absorbing the shocking image, perhaps he thought about the young man he had watched grow from a little boy to an adult. Maybe he remembered all the happy times our families had spent together—the golf matches with his son, Peter, and Bruce and Daniel, affectionately referred to as “the dads and lads”. He may have recalled the philosophical conversations he had had with our son, or reflected on the day that he spoke to Daniel and cautioned him about his drinking.
They shared a memorable history.
Two months went by before I could meet face to face with John. He had witnessed the scene of our son’s death, and I was immersed in grief.
Because of the circumstances surrounding the death of our son, paramedics and police both arrived around nine a.m. The paramedics found no vital signs in Daniel; however, they still initiated resuscitation. But death had occurred hours before and nothing could be done.
John immediately called our home in Oakville. He had to leave a message, as everyone was out of the house.“Keanes, it’s John. Get in touch with me right away.”
John may have made a reference to a problem, but I don’t recall. I do know that when I listened to his message sometime later in the day, I shook uncontrollably listening to the regret in his voice. John Newton walked through the cottage after the paramedics and police had left. He collected Daniel’s clothes and placed them on the top mattress of his bunk bed. He opened the front door of the cottage and walked down the winding road, wondering how he would tell his good friends about the death of their son.
Daniel was officially pronounced dead at our cottage on the morning of Wednesday, April 29, 2009. Cause of death: Asphyxiation.
The night before, when Bruce first told the police that we couldn’t get in touch with our son, they asked us for a photograph of Daniel. They told him that this was routine police procedure when a family member is missing. The photograph that we sent was of Daniel sitting on the fireplace at the cottage in his board shorts (the same shorts he went north in) and a brown-and-blue-striped polo shirt. It is a typical Daniel shot. Tilted head, hands clasped on his knees, wondering why his mom insists on taking so many pictures.