Family left behind in father’s suicide pleads with others to ask for help

Even as it becomes more “acceptable” to talk about mental illness and suicide, it remains uncommon for families to talk about the suicide of their loved one.

But Caelan Johnson, 21, of Baxter, Minn., wants people who might be thinking of taking their own life to think about her and the rest of her family, who say they have nothing but questions after Tom Johnson, her father, shot himself to death in January. His obituary carried the code that often suggests suicide: “died unexpectedly.”

Her story, in today’s Brainerd Dispatch, is important at this time of the year because this time of the year — not the holidays — is the time when people are most likely to carry out their plans for suicide.

“Why did you decide that day? Why, why, why? I ask this every day. Did you think about what would have happened to us girls and how this would affect us? You know we all loved you and we would never disown you. … We had trips planned that you were suppose to go with us on and now we have to go alone.”

“He always was the happiest person. He never got mad,” Caelan said. “No one ever thinks this will happen to them. Even when we talked about suicide (by others) in the past he would say, ‘Yeah that’s terrible.'”

Tom Johnson left behind three daughters — Caelan, 21; McKennan, 17; and Karsan, 12 — and his wife Leola, who is a professional clinical psychiatric practitioner at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd. Her work is to help clients with mental illnesses, the paper notes.

“We saw no signs of any mental illnesses,” Leola tells the Dispatch. “This is how easy it is for people to hide it.”

“We saw nothing unusual and that is why it shocked our world,” Caelan said. “I don’t have a dad anymore. I have to tell myself this every single day. It doesn’t feel real to me yet. I’m not sure when it will sink in.”

She says she knew her dad was having a bad day on the day he ended his life. He wasn’t as chatty as he usually was.

“When I left the home his last words to me were, ‘I love you.’ He doesn’t say it all the time so when he said that I thought it was a little weird. But again, I thought he was just having a bad day,” she said.

Less than an hour later, he was found in his car at the Whipple Beach boat access area.

“I asked the cops why did he do it so close to home and (they said), ‘It’s because they want to be found,'” Caelan said. “They don’t want to not be found. I am sure it crossed his mind that the girls (her sisters) would be driving by the beach at that time after school on their way home. I just can’t imagine if the girls would have found him, it could have been much worse.”

She’s pleading with the people who are still alive but thinking about suicide.

“Think about all the future plans that won’t happen because you are gone,” she said. “Think about how much this will affect family members. Think about that for a minute. Think about if you are not here tomorrow, what would happen.

“Don’t just think about yourself for that moment. Go talk to someone if you are having any type of bad thoughts. There is help out there so people don’t have to be put in this situation.”

Related: Without funding, MN suicide crisis hotline will close (MPR News)