Twenty-one-year old Caitlin Bryant lost her father, Richard Lewis Bryant, to a heart attack in 2008. But she and her brother Mitchell had grown up watching him battle a war within himself after returning from serving in Vietnam. As part of our first-person series What’s Your Story, Caitlin Bryant describes what her family’s life was like, living with her father’s illness.
My dad suffered really badly from PTSD -– post-traumatic stress disorder. And that was due to the traumatic things that he had seen in the war and he never really sought proper treatment.
He just never seemed comfortable. He never seemed at peace. He always seemed like he was trying to relax and he could never fully relax.
He started doing a lot of drugs –- specifically speed -– to kind of alter his reality and see a different side of things from the war.
He tried committing suicide when I was 11 years old. And we saw it as a huge cry for help because he did it in the parking lot of the VA hospital in Loma Linda.
They put him in the psychiatric unit of the hospital for a week. He kind of just tried to laugh it off and play it off with me and Mitchell saying, “Do you really think I belong with these crazy people here?” You know like, “Ha, ha ha.”
It was really hard for us. We were really confused. And we knew how much my dad loved us, but we didn’t know that it still wouldn’t be enough for him to not want to go.
He tried to tell us that Mitchell and I were all that was keeping him alive. And I really believed him until that had happened. And he still tried saying even after that, you know, “I’m so sorry that this happened and I know now more than ever that you and Mitchell are my sole reasons to stay alive and to try and make it right in this world.”
But he was struggling. He never got the help that he needed.
My dad passed away about four years after that suicide attempt. His body was still messed up. It was more damaged than I think he realized or if he did know then he never shared with us.
But he knew. He told my Aunt Sue the very last Christmas we shared with him –- so in 2007 -– he told my Aunt Sue that he thought this Christmas was going to be his last Christmas. And he was absolutely right.
The following April of 2008 is when he had the heart attack. And I miss him every single day.
But the thing that makes me angry is that I don’t get to have my dad there when I walk down the aisle one day. I don’t get to have my dad there when I have my firstborn one day. And that’s the only thing that really makes me angry. Everything else I have made sense with and I have understood. And I’ve appreciated everything that’s come my way since then.
But the only thing I can get mad about now is him not being there in the future.
This story was reported by Gina Scialabba