When I received the call that my beloved grandfather had died from a self-inflicted gunshot, I was floored. A two-hour drive to their house wearing only flip flops on a Sunday afternoon in November gave me a lot of time to wonder what signs we had missed.
At 94 years young, Charles was a World War II Navy veteran. He who retired the year I was born from a prominent chemical company, where he and my grandmother proudly spent their careers. Their retirement was spent traveling the world, golfing, hosting dinner parties for their friends and spending as much time with their only grandchild as they could.
Still living independently in the same home they had owned since the 1950s, Charles and Addie had been married for 72 years and were both in what we thought was excellent health.
I later learned that Charles’s vision was starting to go, and he had struggled with depression for years. A product of his generation, Charles was too proud to allow himself to deteriorate with age, and he chose to end his life with a handgun he had earlier borrowed from my father for “protection.”
In the weeks that followed, as we pulled together the pieces and comforted my catatonic grandmother — who had found him in his workshop — we realized how meticulous his planning had been. All bank accounts balanced, insurance policies paid and detailed notes left for the granddaughter who would be responsible for bill paying and funeral arrangements.
His only child, my father, struggled with guilt and remorse, and his own health problems magnified in the weeks and months to come.
Five years to the day of Charles’s death, my grandmother died, ostensibly from a combination of COPD and other factors, but more likely from her broken heart.