Reporter David Whisenant opens up about father's suicide, nearly 30 years later

Reporter David Whisenant opens up about father's suicide, nearly 30 years later
(Photo provided by David Whisenant)
(Photo provided by David Whisenant)

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Nearly 30 years ago, WBTV reporter David Whisenant's father took his own life. It's a story that isn't easy for Whisenant to talk about, but he does to bring awareness to the issue, and the people left behind.

He posted a video on Facebook early Wednesday morning with a two-minute message to his friends and Facebook viewers.

"He was sitting at his desk, in his office, when he took out a gun and he put a bullet through his head," Whisenant said. "Thirty years later, I'm still convinced if he had known how much pain that was going to cause for me and my mother, my brother, my sister and family and friends, he would have never done it. There's no doubt in my mind that he loved us very much."

Whisenant admits that his father was "in a very dark place" and says his father made a very poor decision.

If you've thought about suicide or even attempted it, Whisenant has a three-work plea for you - Don't Do It.

Whisenant says he's convinced those who consider suicide do not understand what it does to those they leave behind.

"He had no idea what those consequences would be, but I know those consequences because I've lived with them for 30 years," Whisenant said. "They don't get a lot easier, I'm gonna tell you that."

Whisenant says he's amazed at the reaction he has received since posting the video on Facebook.

"Maybe I couldn't have prevented it," he has said recently while talking about this father's suicide. "But maybe I can prevent somebody from doing it right now. At least I can get somebody to think about it."

The National Suicide Prevention hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Below is an editorial wrote on the 25th anniversary of his father's death.

"Every now and then I feel the need to write a long form note like this one.  Sometimes it's just for fun, or maybe to inform friends about upcoming events.  That's not the case with this note.  This is something I feel obligated to share with the specific intention of addressing anyone who has seriously considered suicide.  Did that last word carry a punch?  It certainly did for me when I heard it used to describe what happened on February 17, 1987.  It was 25 years ago this week.

For reasons that I still don't hold with any certainty, my father, J.R. "Jake" Whisenant put a .22 pistol to the side of his head and pulled the trigger.  He did this while sitting at his desk in the business he had owned and operated on South Main Street in Salisbury for more than forty years.

At the time I was working at WSTP/WRDX Radio.  My mother called and told me that something was wrong and asked me to come home.  When I got to my parent's home I called my dad's store.  One of his employees answered in a very normal manner, saying "City Sales, can I help you?"  I told him who it was and asked if everything was okay.  His reply still runs through my mind frequently.  He said "David, your dad's dead, I don't know what's going on."  I thanked him and hung up.

So there it is, the reason I wanted to post this note.  It's to say to anyone who has ever considered suicide that it should be immediately ruled out as a viable option.  What may appear to be an alluring answer and immediate exit from the troubles of the day is, in reality, a horror that continually renews itself for those who are left behind.  I'm a survivor, and that's tougher than you may think.  When someone commits this act, I'm convinced they are not giving any thought to what will happen to loved ones.  It certainly puts an end to their trouble, but it opens up difficulties and challenges that last for years, at least for 25.

What are you left with after a suicide?  Along with the emotional toll, there's the constant questioning, the hurt of physical loss; then there are the practical issues of dealing with financial matters, answering unintentionally insensitive and religiously flawed questions, even having to do extraordinarily painful things like packing up clothes and other personal items.

To say time heals all wounds doesn't entirely apply to suicide.  Certainly, distance from that day dims some of the raw memories, but as recently as this past Sunday a fresh wound was opened in a place where it would have been least expected, leading me to react in a hostile and immature fashion that is inconsistent with my nature.

Suicide wrings the mental health out of those who are left behind.  I'm convinced that my father's suicide led, at least in part, to my brother's alcoholism, which in turn, led to his throat cancer and eventual death at an early age.  Both were alcoholics, I've abstained from alcohol my entire life and would gladly offer that as good advice, but that's a moral crusade for another day.

To make it simple:  don't do it.  Don't consider it.  My faith in God is what sustains me in troubled times.  Let me encourage you to seek that faith, and if you're comfortable with it, seek professional counseling.  If you truly love your family and your friends, you will not want them to go through what survivors of suicide have to face.  Don't do it.  Don't do it.  Don't do it.  Think of me as the guy waving his arms to try and stop you before you drive around the blind curve and off the cliff.  That's all I can say.  Don't do it."

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