Jesse Epstein was a runner, and one of his favorite places was the Brainerd levee, where he would lope past woods and water.
On Dec. 14, 2004, his father and sister found his body in those woods. He had left a letter at his house telling them where to look. The first line was addressed to his sister: “Don’t let Papa see this.”
Jesse Epstein was 47 years old. He had researched suicide and ensured he would die that day by climbing onto a bucket, slipping a noose around his neck and then putting a gun to his head.
“Survivors always say, ‘I don’t know why he did it,’ but every story is basically the same,” said David Epstein, Jesse’s father. “The reason they did it is mental pain. This is what no one understands that our loved ones went through.”
In the two years before Jesse Epstein took his own life, he had lost his job of 13 years and fallen behind on the mortgage payments for the house in Brainerd where he lived with his father and sister. His normally withdrawn demeanor became almost completely passive as the untreated depression that had dogged him most of his life deepened.
“One of the most dangerous things for a person is to not have a job,” David Epstein said. “You start feeling absolutely worthless. I could see that happening.”
And though his family never expected Jesse to take his life, in retrospect, one sign is wrenchingly clear, David Epstein said. In the days leading up to his death, his son seemed nearly content, he said.
“Once he had decided, his face was like an angel,” David Epstein said. “He knew the pain was gong to end.”
David Epstein, 74, said the depth of his son’s anguish is evident in the fact that Jesse left his college-age daughter — the person to whom he was most devoted — to escape it.
“That pain had to be so tremendous,” David Epstein said. “Every day, Jesse struggled, and finally he couldn’t make it anymore.”
Soon after his son’s death, David Epstein, who was raised an Orthodox Jew, called a rabbi and asked him a question that had tormented him: Was his son in hell?
“He told me that the thinking was that anyone who took their own life was not in their right mind,” David Epstein said. “My friend the rabbi told me it’s not considered a sin anymore.”
Now an active member of a suicide survivors’ support group, David Epstein is compiling information about the risks of suicide based on his own experience.
“The thing that bothers me is that I never said, ‘If you’re thinking about suicide, let me know and we can work it out,’” Mr. Epstein said. “The only thing left for me is to help it not happen to somebody else.”