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Life and laughter

McDermott family continues struggles, celebrations past suicide

A Thanksgiving celebration in 2008 was just another typical family gathering for the McDermott family of Dededo. The head of the household, Timothy "Pat" McDermott, had left to his brother Johnny’s home, where the rest of the family would commune for what would be their last Thanksgiving as a whole family.

Ticia-Lynn McDermott arrived at the festivities at her uncle’s house, making her rounds to greet fellow family members until she came to her dad, Timothy.

She sat on his lap and hugged him, wishing him a happy Thanksgiving before continuing to tell him her busy plans for the holiday.

As the day progressed, Tim could be found manning the barbecue pit with his brothers and in-laws or chasing the kids around the yard. It was a good time of appreciating life, soaking in joy and cherishing laughter.

“That last Thanksgiving was pure happiness. It was just one big, happy family. ... I wish I could relive that day,” said Ticia, 20 years old at the time.

As daylight broke the next morning, Ticia would wake to life-shattering news that would darken the sunny mood of her happy family’s celebration just hours before.

She would learn of her father’s suicide, which effectively ended the McDermott’s Thanksgivings for years to come and would deal more disheartening questions than answers.

“Every time I miss him, I wish I could relive that day. One more day... that’s all I keep asking God, just one more Thanksgiving with him is all I want.”

Proud husband, father 

Tim, also known as “Pat,” had always been the life of the party, the center of happiness and the glue of the McDermott family. 

He was the co-worker who lightened up everyone’s day, your easygoing, yet motivated baseball coach and your favorite, funny-beyond-belief uncle. Most of all, Pat was and is still the proud husband to Janet McDermott and father to their three kids: Ticia, Timothy Jr. “Tiny” and Theresa.

“He was such a jolly, bubbly person, always cracking jokes. His smile could light up a room,” his wife, Janet, said. “What enticed me with this guy is that he was so full of life, always a social butterfly. He had so many friends.”

The pair first met in the early 1980s after a chance connection between job duties led them to coordinating canopies with one another.

Pat had been working in the legislative office of then-Sen. Carl Gutierrez at the time while Janet was employed at a law firm. What started as simply borrowing a canopy led to happy hour at Overtime, a former local bar.

“He was like, ‘Oh, hi! Nice to meet you,’ and everything after that just kind of fell into place,” Janet recounted. “We’d just have two drinks and next thing we’d know, it’s 8 or 9 o’clock and happy hour ended how many hours ago?”

A reserved and shy Janet would find an interesting chemistry with sociable Pat, her future husband.

“Everywhere we went, he knew somebody. When we were first seeing each other, I’d be like, ‘Gosh, you’re so popular! Everyone knows you.’ Everywhere we went it’d be, ‘Hey Tim, what’s up!’ He was like a politician. I used to tease him about it,” Janet chuckled.

Aside from work, the social butterfly was an active member of the community, engaging in a variety of activities and groups. He joined a Department of Revenue and Taxation bowling league, played for the adult Typhoons baseball team and coached Dededo’s Tasmanian Little League team, to name a few.

“He was a very busy person and I guess that’s why he was so popular wherever he went, because he was so involved. He was selfless, always so giving and generous.”

Anything for the kids

The ideal husband, employee and all-around community member, Pat tops his list of accolades and achievements as an award-worthy father.

“You could be in the worst mood ever and then he’d walk in and smile, and it’s so contagious,” Ticia said. 

“That’s what I loved about my dad. No matter what you were going through, he had an answer for everything; and if he didn’t, he’d put his arms around you and tell you, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get through this.’”

Fondly nicknamed “Frog” or “Frogger” by her dad, due to her frog-like moods, Ticia and her siblings could always count on their father to be there for anything and everything. Nothing was too small or too big for Pat. 

“(Ticia) would call up his cellphone at school and say, ‘Dad, I want to eat this for lunch,’ and he would just drop whatever he’s doing, even if he was already at work, to get her lunch. He was just that kind of person,” Janet said.

Accurately so, there would be times that Pat's little Frog would call on him for anything, because that’s just what her dad would do. However, the little things didn’t go unnoticed. 

Growing up, Ticia would call her dad down to her grandmother’s house in Kaiser, Dededo, just to cook her Ichiban ramen, but Tim would counter his eldest daughter with a tradeoff. Frogger would have to make him a ham, egg and cheese sandwich in return for his out-of-the-way services.

“He’s the only one who can cook Ichiban the way I like it. I don’t know how he cooks it. ... I mean it’s the same way, but he’s the only one who could cook it the way I liked. I can never get it that perfect,” she said.

Also affectionately referred to as “Ichiban girl” by her jokester father, Ticia, age 29 now, would have to share her father’s love with the birth of her two younger siblings.

Love and laughter

After about eight years of being daddy’s only girl, Ticia's brother, Tiny, 21 now, and sister, Theresa, 18, would eventually come into the picture.

“Me and Theresa were always bumping heads because we were both fighting for that number one spot to be daddy’s girl,” Ticia recalled. “Tiny was already daddy’s boy. When I started having my kids, I was bumped down and Theresa became daddy’s girl and my kids became papa’s kids."

"The thing with my dad, though, is that it didn’t matter. He had enough love to go around.”

Theresa, or “Boo," which Pat coined after watching "Monsters Inc.," recalled the family prank wars and sibling rivalry growing up, but it was all in the goal of spending more time with their dad.

Whether it was watching the movie of the week, barbecuing at the beach, being his tail at work or blasting Bon Jovi on the ride home, the baby of the family shared her own relationship with Pat.

His dad’s namesake, Timothy Jr., or "Tiny," would follow in his dad’s footsteps as the heir to pranking traditions and jokes galore.

“If you met my son, Tiny, you met his dad. Their personality is the same, just all bubbly,” Janet said of the father-son duo. “Out of all of them, he was the closest to Tim because that’s daddy’s boy.”

Low jokes and hysterical pranks were the trademarks of the fun-loving father. Something he shared with his siblings, wife and children, Pat was always ready for a good comeback and too far ahead of the pranking game.

“When he would play a prank on you, he’d have an evil laugh, especially when he knew he got you.” Ticia fondly recalled. 

For the eldest daughter, watching her father play baseball was a favorite pastime of her childhood, Ticia said. Post-game barbecues and father-daughter time were hallmarks of the shared memory.

“Girls weren’t allowed in the locker room, but right when they games would be done, I’d go straight to the locker room and sit at my dad’s locker to wait for him. Then the rest of the guys would wait for me and my dad to leave before they came in.”

“He really wasn’t just my dad, he was my best friend. Easy to talk to, no judgment.”

‘Put life back into him!’

As cherished as the relationships and memories were, Pat had been struggling, but no one knew. Quite possibly the happiest, funniest man you’d ever meet, still know one knows what Pat struggled with, and it will always be a lingering thought for the McDermotts.

After spending quality family time with her dad's side the afternoon of Nov. 27, 2008, Ticia decided it was time to leave her first Thanksgiving function for the next.

After saying her goodbyes, she came to her dad, who, at the time, had still been the jolly man she’d always known and loved. 

“I told him, ‘Dad, I’ll see you later at grandma’s house,’ and he said, ‘OK.’”

The same night, Ticia arrived to her grandmother’s Kaiser residence around 11 p.m., but there was no sight of her father yet. She called Pat to let him know she was calling it a day and returned home, falling into a deep sleep filled with dark dreams.

“At 4:30 that morning, I woke up because of a bad dream,” Ticia remembered. “My dad’s sister called me, told me that she found my dad and that he wasn’t breathing, and then I got up from the dream! I was freaking out, but it was just a dream.”

“I went back to sleep and woke up at 7 that morning, only to get the real phone call.” 

What formulated as somewhat of a prophecy tragically turned into reality within the span of less than three hours.

Fighting the cracks forming in her voice, Ticia, 20 years old at the time, recollected the day her life dramatically changed forever, retelling the occurrence as if it happened yesterday.

“I was told that (my cousin) found my dad and that he wasn’t breathing. ... I’m yelling at her on the phone, ‘Jump on him! Get his heart started! Put life back into him!’”

With her two kids, Gavin, age 4 at the time, and Brianna, age 2, Pat's daughter, distraught by the sudden swing of life, had rushed to her grandma’s house where her father had spent the night.

“Right when I made the turn, I saw the ambulance. I saw the cop cars. I lost it,” she said, trembling. “I was like, ‘No ... this can’t be happening, he can’t be gone.’ I was ready to jump out of the car right in front of the house without putting it in park.”

“I kept praying, thinking my dad was OK, that they were going to revive him and bring him back. ... All that was going through my head was, ‘Please, Lord, give me back my dad. Don’t take him,’” Ticia said, tears rolling down her face.

Distraught by death

While the distraught daughter had been dealing with the knowledge of her dad’s sudden death – which to her had been caused by a “heart attack,” as family members said at the time – her mother Janet had just gotten the same paralyzing phone call.

With a delayed response, pausing to recollect the traumatizing day, Janet crumbled as she recalled her brother-in-law calling her, telling her to get ready before he picked her and the kids up to go to their grandma’s house.

“I was really confused, wondering, 'Why did we have to do that?’ He told me there was something wrong with Pat,” Janet said. “When we went down there, we saw the cops and the paramedics, but they still didn’t tell me anything.” 

“I was walking towards the back room where he did it, and they told me to wait ... but I was wondering, 'What were we waiting for?' They wouldn’t let me in.”

With a broken voice and through shattered words, Janet explained how she had never felt so dazed and confused among a myriad of other mixed emotions. None of them would prepare her for what would come next. 

“I was outside waiting ... and the next thing I saw was them pulling the gurney out with a body bag, wheeling it to the ambulance,” she said through tears.

Although she was still unsure of the body in the bag or the occurrence of the morning, Janet proceeded with the rest of the McDermott family to the hospital, burning with a passion to understand the circumstances surrounding the bleak morning.

“They couldn’t even tell me until we got to the hospital,” Janet said, finally learning of her husband’s gruesome death. “I was so confused ... full of disbelief. So many emotions were running through me, I couldn’t believe this was happening.”

“The minute they unzipped the body bag and I saw him, that’s when I felt that half of my life had left. ... I was in a state of shock. I had so much memory loss,” Pat's wife of 14 years said, powering through emotions.

‘There were no signs’ 

It wasn’t until after the initial viewing at the hospital that Ticia would come to learn more of her father’s oddly timed death. Three of her cousins and an aunt would take her into their car before delivering the traumatizing news. She had already assumed the worst.

“They made sure the doors were on child lock, and that’s when they told me, ‘Lynn, your dad didn’t die of a heart attack. Your dad killed himself,’” she remembered. “Prior to them telling me, I was sort of piecing the pieces together. I guess I just needed to hear it.”

Depressed and still stirred from having her family’s carpet pulled from underneath them, Janet was quick to step into Pat's shoes. The kids, although they had always been, would be at the forefront of her priorities, taking precedence over her erupting emotions.

“The first thing I thought of was my kids. I had to take care of my kids,” the mourning mother said sternly. “I put my grief away and I concentrated on them, but I was like, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I did a lot of praying and I still do a lot of praying because God is my strength.”

Janet soon enrolled her kids into Rainbows for All Children, a nonprofit peer support group for life-altering experiences. The strong mother also had her three kids seeing therapists and a child psychologist for nearly a year afterward. 

“I kept telling myself that if I just got up and called him ... maybe that would have stopped him,” Ticia said. “To me, it was just a dream, but I feel guilty for not calling to make sure that he was OK. I just didn’t know.”

“There were no signs. There was no red light saying, ‘This is what’s going to happen!’ Nothing felt different the day before or weeks before, but maybe if I called, my dad would’ve still been here,” she continued.

“We’re still asking the same question: Why? Were me and my siblings not good enough that he didn’t want to stay? ‘What was it that made you do what you did?’ That’s what we ask ourselves every day.”

Finding comfort, solace

Slowly picking up the pieces after their father’s suicide, the McDermotts learned to cling to one another over the years, doing their part to ensure the family stayed glued together, as Pat would have it.

“When their dad died, we all had a meeting and I told them, ‘Now that your dad is gone, you guys have to support each other. Instead of being rivals with each other, help each other out, because you know what? It’s what your dad would have wanted,” Janet said.

“You guys have to be there for each other no matter what. Accept each other’s weaknesses. Be each other’s support system.”

Surely, with a system that worked – no matter how much their thoughts dimmed – the McDermotts learned to find comfort and solace in one another.

“We have that support system from our family. We comfort each other and we’re always here for each other. If we need to talk, we’re all only a phone call away,” Ticia said.

Tiny still calls his older sister every now and then. What starts out as a venting session turns into nostalgic recollections, inevitably intertwined with their dad, followed by teardrops and a resurfaced pain that never seems to sink.

“We’ll both start crying, and it hurts me to have my brother hurt like that because I’m still hurting too. We all are, but he’s always like, ‘Sissy, I miss Dad,’ and I just say, ‘Me too. I really miss him too,’” Ticia solemnly said.

“I always tell him, ‘When I start missing Dad so much, I go outside and I talk to him,’” she said. “I talk to my dad as if he’s still here. I don’t care if there’s an answer – to me it’s comforting. I feel like he’s there listening to me. I tell him how much I miss him, how my day went, and that’s what I tell my brother to do.”

Living in spirit

One thing Janet has realized as her children continued to grow is Pat’s free spirit, which was evidently ingrained in their kids.

She sees her husband in each of their kids, she said. In their jokes, pranks and most especially in the laughter shared by the three when they get together.

“We can go days, even weeks without talking to each other because everyday life gets involved, but when we do see each other, we never stop talking,” Ticia said. 

Tiny still calls her up at work from time to time, checking to see if she has food to eat. Otherwise, being his father’s son, he would drop what he’s doing to drop off food if needed.

Besides Tim’s signature acts of selflessness, it’s the little things his kids remember and miss the most.

A star karaoke singer in his day, the father of three would dedicate a song for each of his children. “Picture” by Kid Rock featuring Sheryl Crow was Theresa’s song. “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob Carlisle was Ticia’s.

“That was me and my dad’s song. Whenever those songs play, I feel like my dad’s singing it to us,” Pat's eldest daughter said. “It’s the little things you miss about a person. I miss his hugs. I miss his smell. I miss his voice.”

The McDermott family still gets together and holds family gatherings, with the exception of Thanksgiving since 2008. 

Ticia remains thankful for her family and the gift of waking up to new days, but she will never forget the last day she had with her dad during the holiday nearly nine years ago to date. 

“We were all playing around together, laughing, all three of us ... together. Then the next day we got that phone call,” she reiterated. 

However, the family still celebrates other holidays, and especially honors their dad on his birthday, which is coming up on Oct. 9.

Sometimes they barbecue and get a cake. Although a sad occasion, the McDermotts continue to pull from their dad’s sunny disposition.

“Sometimes Dad’s name comes up while we’re sitting and eating, and then we’re all crying because we miss him, but we’ll talk about happy memories that turn into joking around,” Ticia said. Just how the prank king would have it, too.

Almost nine years have passed since their father's suicide. Pat would have turned 53 this year, and the kids are counting, but only to poke fun at their dad's old age and to remember his legacy.

As the nation recognizes National Suicide Prevention Month, the McDermotts' story offers as an example of "breaking the silence."

As suicide awareness-related social media posts and hashtags are formulated, Janet encourages surviving family members and survivors to share their loved one's story, or their story, and to share their hopes and dreams for those no longer able to.

“Even if that link is broken, that’s where God puts a test on your family’s strength,” Janet said. “My kids are the ones who give me hope to continue and keep going forward because I tell you. ... I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for my kids. I live for God and my kids.”

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