Temple woman recounts her father’s suicide 

  • Olivia Holmes, of Temple, holds a picture of her late father Stacy, who commit suicide in his older years. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • Olivia Holmes, of Temple, holds a picture of her late father Stacy, who commit suicide in his older years. (Abby Kessler/ Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, November 09, 2017 11:0AM

Olivia Holmes’ father planned his suicide for years.

Her father Stacy Holmes’ plan was to write a play, show it to 250 of his closest friends at a private men’s club in Boston, and the night after the final production, he would end his life.

Olivia said the plan was that she was supposed to heat up leftover turkey soup, drop a pill in the broth, and feed it to her father. They would go upstairs and Olivia would put a pillow over her father’s head to make sure it had worked. Because assisted suicide was, and still is, illegal in Massachusetts, she would likely go to jail for the cause.

“It was a heartbreaking conversation that took two-and-a-half years,” Olivia said at her house in Temple on a recent Wednesday.

Stacy was legally blind from a wood cutting accident and had emphysema, a combination that left the incredibly witty and intelligent man bereft of the things he loved most in the world. Olivia’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease around the same time, and after a five-year decline, died of an infection in 1986.

Not long after his wife died, Stacy started planning his own suicide.

Olivia said her father had been in contact with a Boston Globe reporter named Jack Thomas, who was writing a number of columns about Stacy. Days after, Stacy’s story would be blasted across the front page of the Globe under the headline: “Mr. Boston dies with dignity.”

“I said, ‘Dad that’s a horrible idea, I think you’re confusing your ego needs with your death needs,’” Holmes said.

Thomas said even though decades have passed since he worked on that story, he remembers Stacy. He called the man an “unforgettable character” who was a “raconteur of good taste, great wit, and sunny disposition.”

Thomas said he grew up with an aversion to suicide and before he started in on the story he wondered if Stacy was a bit crazy. But as their conversations developed, Thomas said it became clear that the man was of sound mind and that he had thought the process through.

“I came to respect what he was doing,” Thomas said.

Though he arrived at the decision, Thomas said it was still hard to come to terms with the fact that the man he had dined and laughed with and a person whom he “did not want to lose” would commit suicide.

Olivia said the play happened, but her father didn’t kill himself on the final night like he had originally planned.

Stacy waited about three months.

Holmes was living with her father the night he killed himself. She came home from her clergy work one night, her father was taking a bath, she turned his bed down for him, and then got ready to go to sleep herself. Holmes woke up early the next morning and went to make a cup of coffee when she noticed a chair propping open her father’s bedroom door with a note on it.

She went into his room and he was lying in bed, not breathing. Holmes said she waited three hours before she called the doctor to make sure he was really dead.

He was.

She said he took a pill that he washed down with a beer.

“I’m glad that he had his little beer and his pill, that he did it the way he wanted to do it,” Olivia said. “He was tucked into bed. I had turned his bed down the night before, so he knew he was loved when he went to bed. That’s what mattered.”  

Holmes said she supports death with dignity — or physician-assisted suicide — legislation because she thinks people should have control over what they want in the final stages of their life. There are currently five states, which include Vermont, Oregon, California, Washington and Montana, that allow people to commit suicide.

Holmes said she supports the legislation because she knows the lengths people will go to if it’s not in place. In the 1970s, Olivia’s uncle, who was a heavy drinker, smoker and had physical restrictions, shot himself with a 12-gauge shotgun at the end of a driveway. His son found him lying on the ground and he was never the same after it happened.

“It’s very difficult if it’s not legal to get a doctor’s help so that it can be done with dignity,” she said. “If it is not done with dignity, then the family is devastated.”

End-of-life bills struck down

During the 2015 session, then governor Maggie Hassan vetoed a bill passed by state legislature that would have established a committee to study end-of-life decisions. Lawmakers tried to pass a similar bill in 2016, but it was struck down in the House of Representatives.

State Rep. Kermit Williams (D-Wilton) is on a list of lawmakers against death with dignity legislation. He feels people should have “complete control over their own health care.” But when it comes to physician-assisted suicide legislation, he’s hesitant to vote yes on just any bill.

He worries that elderly people at the end of their life can have a number of issues that would affect their decision-making abilities. Williams said his own mother is in her 90s and is in the beginning to middle stages of dementia.

“My own mom wouldn’t really be in the position to choose. She wouldn’t know what she was choosing,” Williams said. “I would be concerned about that.”

But for people who are of sound mind, that’s a different story. He said in that case, the law shouldn’t stand in their way.

“But you have to be careful,” he said.

The struggle to make peace

Even though Holmes supports such legislation, her father’s suicide took a toll on her. She wished he would have made peace in all of his relationships before he let go. Holmes said her father died with an anger toward her.

The note he left her read, “‘Well you’re really busy with your church work and you’re really busy with your school work so don’t worry, no memorial service is necessary.’”

She said that was “a very mean thing to say.”

“I had to struggle with my anger at him,” Holmes said after his death.

It took years of therapy to work through that, she said.

Holmes said after both of her parents’ died, she eventually discovered even though they weren’t physically there, she could still talk to them.

“One of the things I learned after my mom and dad died is if I want to tell them some thing, I can tell them,” Holmes said. “...If someone is in your heart, you never lose them.”

She said that’s helped because she can still work out issues in the relationship that were left behind.

“You have the rest of your life to work out whatever it is you couldn’t work out before,” Olivia said.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.