Glenna and David Romph still don't understand why their son, Mark, took his life a year ago.
Caressing a picture of her son, Glenna Romph smiles sadly as she talks about Mark's grin and easy laugh.
"Mark was a character," Glenna said proudly of her second-oldest child, tears glistening in her eyes. "He was forever joking around with people."
This is how Glenna, 60, and her husband David Romph, 64, want to remember Mark.
"People always enjoyed being around him because he was a lot of fun," Glenna said, pausing as she tried once again to comprehend the pain behind her son's huge smile. "He hid his down moments well."
A little more than a year ago, and just hours after an evening of laughter and jokes as he helped his parents decorate their Christmas tree, 38-year-old Mark killed himself.
"We had no idea. Just no idea at all," David said. "He was happy-go-lucky."
When the shrill ring of the phone woke the Waterloo couple at 4:20 a.m. that December morning, neither could believe the hollow voice on the other end saying their son was dead of carbon monoxide poisoning.
It was a bad dream until they went to the hospital and truth became reality -- and so did heartache and pangs of blame.
"I was saying, 'How didn't I see this?'" David recalled. For months after the tragedy, it was about the only conscious thought that could penetrate their deep shock -- and one that plagues the couple even today.
"He hid his depression well," Glenna said quietly.
Since he moved to Kitchener two years earlier, Mark had sought counselling to help him cope with two failed marriages, separation from his daughter and son, and constant money troubles. But Glenna said because he couldn't find a family doctor and money was tight, he didn't get the help he needed.
"Those things he found really tough to deal with," she said, recalling sleepless nights she spent with Mark as he cried and talked about his financial and marital problems.
"As parents we did everything possible to help Mark, but as parents, when your kids grow to be adults, you're limited," Glenna said.
With the help of their faith, their four other children and 16 grandchildren, the couple is slowly coming to terms with Mark's death.
"At first I felt anger. I felt, 'What right did he have to do that.' But as the time went on I just felt I'm not angry anymore...," David said, his voice trailing off as he tried to find the right words for his feelings.
"Just hurt,"Glenna said, finishing her husband's thought.
Now they focus on the happy memories of Mark, his generosity even when he rarely had an extra dollar to spare, and willingness to help others.
Last spring, David accompanied Mark, who had been a truck driver for several years before his final job in a local factory, on a week's trip to South Carolina.
"I wanted to go for a trip with him because everyone told me what a good trucker he was," David explained.
He recalls sitting with Mark, watching another driver try repeatedly to back a long trailer into a tight spot. David, grinning with pride, explained how Mark offered to park the truck for the stranger -- and managed it on the first try.
A few years ago, Mark saw a driver throw a bag out of the car window. He pulled over to retrieve the sack and found two puppies inside, one alive.
Mark claimed the tiny black chow and christened her Bear. "Because he was travelling he couldn't take care of it," Glenna said, "so he gave it to his brother and his wife and they fell in love with her."
On one trip he picked up a young family hitchhiking along the road. Mark packed all six into the cab, fed them, drove them more than 600 kilometres and left them $10 to help buy lunch.
"He had friends everywhere he went," Glenna said of Mark's trips across North America. Yet he also kept in touch with his parents by phone.
More than 180 people attended Mark's funeral. "He was loved," his mother said.
Looking back at the last day they saw Mark alive, the couple now knows their son made the visit to say goodbye.
Glenna remembers a casual question she asked Mark, and the answer she only now understands. When she asked if she could borrow a table he wasn't using, "he said, 'you can have it tomorrow. I won't need it.' But I didn't know what tomorrow would bring."
Alongside Mark's body, police found a note scribbled on the back of an invitation for a Christmas party at work. Glenna will never forget the message: "He said he loved his family and friends, but he couldn't stand the loneliness."
The Romphs try not to dwell on what-ifs.
"You can't live in the past and you can't undo what's done," Glenna said.
A few weeks ago, the couple made the tough decision to write a letter to the editor of The Record. They hoped by sharing their tragic story they might help even one person suffering in silence.
"I just want to encourage people to get help -- find somebody," Glenna said.
For many people like Mark, dealing with problems alone, especially during the holidays, it's difficult to take the first step and ask for help.
"That's the human part of us -- we're proud and we don't want to admit when we're hurting," Glenna said.
Since their letter was published, notes of encouragement have filled their mailbox -- several from strangers.
A man from the neighbourhood stopped Glenna on the street after reading the letter. Shaking and with tears in his eyes, he told Glenna he tried to kill himself eight years ago.
"You have no idea how many families this hits," Glenna said. "You don't know
how many hurting people are out there."
Reach out to ease sadness Parents Letter to The Editor of the Kichener-Waterloo Record Newspapaer
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as of December 30, 2000