Thursday, February 10, 2011

Doomed by a Gene for Depression?

Today is the 51st anniversary of my father's death. Donald Gerald Kundiger took his life by swallowing cyanide around 2:00 a.m. on February 10, 1960, in the bathroom of his home. I heard him fall and found him on the floor.

Forty-eight years later, my son, Leif Ashley Garretson, somewhere in the wee hours of the morning of April 9, 2008, put a gun to his head and took his life. I found him the next day.

Were both these men doomed from the start by a gene for depression? Or did they have it and it was "activated" by some trauma? so many unanswered questions, but some things they both had in common include brilliant intelligence, the ability to concentrate piercingly, excellent memories, winning smiles, thinning hair, brown eyes, an interest in music and world politics, a fascination with science . . . and death.

Do you think they resemble each other? I do. I think the resemblance is striking. It's hard to find them in a similar pose at the same age so that the comparison is easy, but these two photos show it. Leif would even more like him if he hadn't started shaving his head when his hair got thin on top. The one of my dad was taken on February 27 1954 when he was 41 years old. You would not believe that in six years he would be dead. The one of Leif was taken on May 31, 2003, when he was 28 years old. He would be dead five years later.

They each chose a method they knew a lot about. My dad was an organic chemistry professor and poisoned himself with a deadly chemical to which he had access. My son was a trained military armorer who had many guns and know how to choose a weapon and a type of bullet which would accomplish his task fully.

But there are startling differences. My father lived 13 years longer than Leif. Was it because he had a real career in a field he loved, a wife and four children, a home? Leif had none of those things. Yet in the end, they did not keep my father happy, healthy and alive. In the end, he chose to exit this life.

I wonder, sometimes, if all these years later anyone but me remembers the day of my father's death. His birth family members and cousins are no longer living. His other children were so young when he died they don't remember him, only the stories we tell about him. There are people who remember who he was, but I think I may be the only one who, in my heart, thinks of him on this day and on his birthday and still wonders why, even though, like in the case of Leif, I can name and tick off reasons. They are not sufficient for me.

I wonder if they would have liked each other. How sad they never had a chance to get to know each other. The surely could have matched their wits against each other.

I miss them both, these two men who were closest to me. I will always miss them and wonder why they could not live.

And I am thankful I did not inherit whatever terrible gene that took the joy from their lives, made them say they felt dead inside, made them want to end it all. How sad that I passed it on to my son.

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