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My dad, IV. His death

Published: Thursday 10 Sep 2020 | Edited: Monday 14 Sep 2020

All I've written about my dad up to now feels like a way to procrastinate writing this.

My dad died in the evening, 9 January 2019. On the morning of the 9th, I got an email from him while I was at work. It came from his Gmail account, which was super weird, because he sent everything from his work account.

This is the full text of the email, with some names redacted:

Today is a defining day for me. There has been some false accusations raised about me and my connection with [a Long-time Neighbor]. The University's general counsel has been tasked to investigate the claims and report back with a recommendation. I am on paid administrative leave during this investigation.

[Your brother], [your sister] and Mom heard about this last night, but I wanted you all to have the incident in writing from me.

On Saturday, December 22nd, I was heading to Rexburg about 6:30 am to grab a breakfast sandwich and a Diet Coke, my standard breakfast fare. The north McDonald's was closed so I headed to the one on the south side of Rexburg. [Neighbor] texted me and asked if she could visit. I called her and offered to meet her and buy her breakfast. We met at an LDS Church building on the west side of Rexburg near the John Deere tractor dealership. We covered lots of issues she has had in her life and I tried to help her know what she might want to share with our new bishop, [New Bishop]. It is a challenge for a sister in the Church to feel like she has a fair voice in some priesthood leaders and [Neighbor] was struggling with finding that voice.

As I stepped out of my pickup to hand her the breakfast through her passenger side window I locked my pickup and had my keys in the pocket of my jacket. As I reached back into grab the drinks, my keys fell out of my pocket and were on the driver's side seat. I closed the door and soon realized that my pickup was locked and the keys were inside. So [Neighbor] and I visited for about 20-30 minutes regarding her life issues. We then decided the best course of action was for her to run me home to get the other set of keys. As we pulled out of the church parking lot a Madison county sheriff pulled up behind us and turned on his lights. [Neighbor] was obviously nervous and didn't want to get me to get in trouble. When to officer came to her window he clearly thought something scandalous was going on. He wanted to know what we had been doing in the church parking lot and I wasn't about to disclose [Neighbor]'s confidences. I tried to explain that my pickup was locked and he said he wasn't buying that story. I suggested that he could follow us to Sugar City and watch me get my keys and return. He declined.

I have counseled with [Neighbor] regarding lots of personal issues in her family. I will let her tell you what she wants about my assistance to her. It is not my story to tell, so I need to protect her confidentiality on those matters. I'm sure if you ask her, she will tell you how much I've helped her over the past few years.

Well, that story has now gained lots of scandal and rumor. The rumors have ranged from [Neighbor] didn't have clothes on, to the officer said he found a empty condom wrapper by my pickup. All of these accusations are false. Both [New Bishop] and [Stake President] were made aware of the traffic stop, I'm assuming by the county officer. Anyway, I was called to an interview with [Stake President] and [Neighbor] met with [New Bishop]. We shared what happened and that was the end of it or so I supposed.

I'm concerned that this small Mormon community and because of my position at the University, this will turn into nothing more that a good scandal and it has gained a life of it's own. So in order to take care of your mom and fulfill my financial obligations to each of you, I didn't see another way than take my own life and allow your mom to get the death benefit and [Brother], [Other Brother] and [Sister] to still receive the tuition benefit. I couldn't take the risk of losing my job at age 55. I have research my death benefit and a death as a result of suicide is covered under the policy as long as the policy has been in force for at least two years. You will find my body just west of Beaver Dick park.

I love each of you with all my heart. I love [Daughter-in-law], [Granddaughter], and [Other Sister-in-law] just the same. Please take good care of your mom. There will be enough money to pay off our home, cars, and [Brother]'s loan. Please love and support each other in all your trials and successes.


Notice that sharp left turn there at the end?

Even though the email seemed to be addressed to all of us, I was the only one he sent it to.

Within thirty seconds or a minute after finishing the email, I called 911 and said I needed to report a suicidal family member. They asked me a couple questions and transferred me to the Rexburg Police Department. I gave an officer there a brief overview of logistical details from the email and a description of my dad's truck. The officer on the phone asked me about my dad's access to firearms. I gave him an idea of the guns my dad owned (types, calibers).

He said they'd send some folks over to the area and check it out.

I just sat there kind of numb. After a couple more minutes, I texted my siblings and asked if they got the email, too. None of them had. I forwarded it on to them.

Within 15 or 20 minutes, another police officer called me and gave me an update: they found my dad. He was seriously injured, and they were transferring him to a regional hospital, which happened to be just a few minutes from where I was.

I got in touch with family, and we made plans to meet up at the hospital.

The story gets really bad from here, so I'm going to take a break, and clear up some details.

My dad told three truths and a lie with his email. He was pulled over by a cop while he was with this neighbor lady (from what I can gather, there may have been more than one awkward encounter with police at odd hours while they were together in the month or two before his death). The cop did, as far as I know, contact at least one of my dad's ecclesiastical leaders (between the Bishop and Stake President). And, my dad was placed on paid leave by the university while they were investigating details of his relationship with this neighbor.

The lie was maybe not so much of a simple lie; more a whole web of deception, woven slowly over decades, and mostly taking place in my dad's own mind. His framing of the relationship with this neighbor was always one of extreme benevolence. In his final words, he asserted that all this was a misunderstanding stemming from "how much [he'd] helped her over the past few years."

This was a person our family had known for almost two decades. Their closeness was always a little uncomfortable. I remember, as far back as 13 or 14 years ago, asking my dad what was going on between him and this neighbor. It was a totally awkward conversation, but the vibes between them were becoming too much for me to ignore, even then. As the years went on, he spent more and more time with her. Always "helping." I honestly don't know exactly when or in what manner things escalated, but by the end, and almost certainly during his tenure as a bishop, they were fucking.

Which, on its own, for all the pain and damage it causes, should not be that big a deal. People carry on affairs all the time. It's a completely normal, natural part of human life. If you've read the previous entry in the series, though, hopefully it makes sense why the affair coming to light was the end of everything for him.

In the days and weeks after his death, I was able to talk with people who knew more than me about what really happened. It turns out, the officer who caught my dad and the neighbor together knew that my dad had been a bishop and was currently the dean of students. Being a Mormon, he took it upon himself to break the wall of professional discretion as an officer, and rat him out to his church leaders. Once this action was discovered, the officer (who was only a part-time employee of the Madison County Sheriff's Department) was let go by the Sheriff.

It is unclear to me whether this individual also contacted the university to report what he saw. It's hard for me to imagine he didn't.

I met with the university president, and told him I was confused by my dad's final words. He said that he decided to move forward with an investigation after rumors of an affair came up and persisted over a month or two. He was understandably legalistic and vague in conveying this information to me. He seemed to express regret while carefully never saying he made a mistake or asking forgiveness.

God bless the man, he was just trying to do his job and make his prophet dad happy; and avoid litigation and publicity.

I'm sure there are people who know more than me about some aspects of the story, but that's all accurate as far as I know; as far as I have been told the truth by people who would know.

At the hospital, it was me, my mom, my siblings, and an uncle, maybe a couple cousins. By the end of the day, most of our extended family and some close friends were there.

David Bednar even called my mom on the phone. He said he "would have been there" but he had an assignment in Italy. It turns out he had to go shoot Instagram videos promoting the church's newest, most expensive real estate project there.

Before, with just the few of us there, an emergency coordinator pulled us into a room, and told us that my dad was found responsive by law enforcement. He was able to give thumbs up and down to direct questions. He was stabilized in the ambulance, and was currently being worked on in the ER, and was on a breathing machine.

He'd shot himself with a shotgun, placed under his chin, pointing toward the top of his skull. Obviously, the blast hadn't killed him. Strangely, he used a small caliber shotgun he had. He owned more powerful firearms that would have almost surely killed him, but he chose a weapon that's considered unethical for turkey hunting, since it would likely maim the bird instead of killing it. Knowing my dad, his suicide attempt was uncharacteristically hasty.

The pellets and gases from the gun pulverized his jaw. It was gone. The upper palate of his mouth was destroyed. His nose was still mostly there externally, but all the sinuses and bone structure underneath were damaged, probably beyond repair. His eyes were probably gone.

My dad spent most of his last day alive blind. Unable to speak. Probably terrified, ashamed, in agony.

For the next several hours, we got intermittent debriefings from ICU doctors and specialists, surgeons. Basically, they said, the damage was so extensive there was no hope for a normal life. His face was gone. He would never eat again. He would never speak again. He would be permanently disfigured. He might not breathe on his own again. They found brain matter in the tissue in his face, and imaging showed damage to the frontal lobe. They said that meant even if he recovered he would be a different person. There was a chance he would have to be permanently sedated to quell violent outbursts, etc.

With all this, they said there would be many medical interventions to restore him, and at each step, there was a possibility he still wouldn't survive.

We were asked to take an hour or two to decide whether to proceed with the first steps to bring him back, or whether to make him comfortable, and remove him from the ventilator.

In the room, it was me, my siblings, and my mom. We all kind of just sat with it for a while. My mom was at a total loss. She spent her whole adult life trying to make it work with my dad, so she wasn't going to just vote to unplug. But she seemed not to be able to move forward either. My siblings all looked at me. We talked a little bit about conversations my dad had had with us, expressing his wishes about end-of-life scenarios. He said that if he were ever being kept alive by machines, he'd want to be let go. Eventually, I said, "We don't have to make this choice. Dad made it this morning."

So, after everything, my dad tried to kill himself, and I finished him off.

Since, I've spent a little time questioning my conviction and even my motives in that deliberation. But I feel more and more sure we came to the right decision.

With the decision made, I went in to say goodbye to my father.

I need to write this, to be done with this, but don't feel bad skipping it.

Seeing him was horrifying and absurd. The first thing I noticed was the catheter trailing out of his exposed penis. He was tugging on it when I came into the room. He seemed frantic.

His head was twice the size of normal. His proportions were cartoonish. There was so much swelling so deep in his tissues, his skin was tight and shiny all over his head.

I was expecting the missing jaw to be the grossest thing. They actually got it so packed and bandaged, that you couldn't really tell it was gone.

His face had a tapered gash, going in a splitting line from his upper lip to just under his left eyelid.

His eyes were swollen shut; his darkly bruised eyelids bulged grotesquely. Tears of blood had hardened on his face. Little lines of blood were coming from his ears, too.

The character of blood on him was striking. Because he had been cleaned up in the ER and ICU, the blood was fresh and living. The gash under his eye showed bright, red tissue deep into his cheek.

I looked at his head until I couldn't see any new details. Then I looked at his chest and belly that were exposed through the gown. They were normal. They looked just like they always did.

I grabbed his hand. It was just his hand. It was normal. It wasn't cold or weird. It was my dad's hand. It was the hand he hit me with and played catch with me with and blessed me with. I focused on the hand from that point.

I told him I loved him, and then I got the fuck out of there.

Naively, I thought writing this all out would help me settle on some singular, simple conclusion about the guy. I thought I would be able to synthesize his life and my experiences with him, and I'd feel resolved about who he was and what he means to me. Something closer to the opposite has happened.

My dad, like everyone, was complex. I love him. Fuck 'im.