Welcome to Avery Centre!
My father, Dan Venosta, was the motivation behind opening the Avery Centre. After his death, I was personally needing support and a way to make sense of the traumatic and tragic situation. The best way to help my family and myself heal and to carry on his legacy was to create a safe place where others could process their own trauma, grief, or loss and get the specialized care and support that they need.
I invite you to read the article below to gain a better understanding of who my father was and why I have such a passion helping others in similar situations. This article was originally published in the September 2016 issue of the Grapevine Magazine, focusing on suicide awareness.
We always had an ambulance in our driveway. Both of my parents were first responders, and living in a small town in northern California, they took the RA home until dispatch called and needed them. I remember my father as a hard-working, driven, and focused man. He loved his family, his country, the military, and being a part of the first responder community. He was also pretty rough around the edges: cussed like a sailor, smoked like a chimney, rode a Harley (leather chaps, vest, boots, and all), and didn’t take crap from anyone. (In reality, his bark was louder than his bite and he’d never hurt a soul; but don’t ever tell a tough Italian that!) In his career, he delivered a few babies, transported a heart for transplant, and saved several lives. On a heavier note, while fighting a fire at an industrial building in the early 1980’s, he suffered major smoke inhalation, lung damage, and endured many major surgeries and life-long health issues because of it. The surgical scars on his chest were pretty impressive. While his health problems were significant, he was fighting a much greater fight that, at the time, very few were familiar with.
My father started his career as a firefighter/paramedic in the 1970’s. I remember stories where he would handle a bleeding patient or clean out an ambulance with no gloves. Gloves were simply not required at that time. At one time, he was even pricked by a needle and didn’t seem too concerned by it.
By the late 1980’s, my dad felt as if his health was beginning to decline. He was told by our family doctor that his blood work did not appear normal and they could not figure out the cause. Depression began to set in. They were unsure what was wrong with him.
In 1989, the healthcare community discovered the hepatitis C virus and developed a test for it. In 1991, my dad was diagnosed with hepatitis C. He suspected he contracted it in the 1970’s with the needle stick or working without universal precautions.
My dad immediately began treatment which included taking ribavirin and interferon. These medications made him feel extremely ill physically, mentally, and emotionally. During this time, major changes began to take place in his life: divorce, inability to work, one parent household, kids that were beginning college, and having the daily responsibility of caring for his elderly mother. Everyday stressors added to his already overwhelmed mind, body, and soul.
Soon after beginning treatment for hepatitis C, I noticed that my dad began getting more and more depressed, frustrated, and angry. Angry at his situation, his family, and just life in general. At one time, I remember him saying that he was frustrated by contracting hepatitis C while on the job. He said, “I was just trying to do good in the world and I get hit with this. Thanks a lot.” In hindsight, I realize that the anger and depression never went away; it was actually fueled by the progression of the disease.
My dad was able to manage the disease for years with new treatment and support. However, in 2011, his health began to decline at a rapid pace. He now had cirrhosis of the liver. His thought processes appeared scattered and, at times, irrational. He began to take on a yellow hue (jaundice); and he began to retain a lot of fluid in his belly (ascites).
Paperwork for a living donor transplant was started. Blood tests were scheduled to see which one of my siblings and I were the best match for the transplant. Doctor appointments were scheduled to make sure that we were fit to become a partial liver donor. Seemed like everything was moving along at a rapid pace, until one day it all stopped.
I received a message on my cell phone from my father one evening. He stated, “Lyndee Lou, I love you so much, but I want you to know that I cannot do this anymore.” My husband and I wondered what he was talking about. Could it be physical and emotional exhaustion from the living donor process? Maybe he was just tired from having his belly “tapped” three times a week due to the ascites. Was it the depression and frustration that was talking? Maybe the buildup of toxins in his brain were causing him to become confused. It certainly wasn’t because he was considering suicide – not my dad – he would never commit suicide. Never an option. I was not able to get ahold of my dad after that message. He had attempted suicide and died from his injuries shortly after.
Anytime I tell this story I feel as if someone sucker punched me. Somedays the emotions are as real and raw as if it happened yesterday. On one hand, I felt betrayed. On the other hand, I had a lot of questions and a lot of guilt; tremendous guilt. It’s the typical should’ve, would’ve, could’ve. If I made a better attempt to contact him after that phone call, maybe he’d still be alive. Why didn’t I help him address his anger and depression? The doctors were finally ready to yank your diseased liver dad, why the hell would you take your life now? I still have unanswered questions to this day.
It makes sense that having a debilitating disease may increase depression, anxiety, worry, and anger. When someone is physically sick, we tend to worry about getting their body back to normal, but often we fail to help keep their thoughts and emotions centered and secure. Many in our community may never suffer from a debilitating physical disease but may suffer from mental and emotional imbalances. Some may think that because someone does not look sick, they are not. We all know that that is simply not the case. It’s tough to ask for help, especially when you are considered the helper in the community. Simply put, suicide does not discriminate.
Being cognizant and supportive of those around you who are going through difficult life transitions or who appear to be acting out of character may mean the difference between life and death. Pulling a co-worker or loved one to the side and having a courageous conversation about concerns of their behavior and urging them to get help may be just what they need to get through another day. Facilitating the help they need (counseling, psychiatrist, voluntary hospital stay) may also be needed. Remember: suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Hindsight is always 20/20; the warning signs of my father’s suicide were as clear as day. I suspect he was incredibly fearful of going through the surgery. If liver transplant was not successful, he would immediately die. Putting one of his kids through a major surgery to donate a portion of their liver to save him never sat well with him either. He had tremendous guilt for even asking.
Also, the depression and anxiety that he suffered from was debilitating. He left a message for me that late warm evening in August with the intent in saying goodbye. He did. He seemed content. He had made his decision. One of the most painful decisions ever.
One thing I know for sure was that when my dad was mentally and emotionally healthy, he was the best dad you could have asked for. He always promoted hard work, integrity, honesty, and education. He was a helper in the world and encouraged positive change. Everything was a lesson, including the way he left this earth. Teaching others how to effectively manage and live with welcomed or unwelcomed changes in life, always working towards a positive goal, and constantly learning through reading and education is the legacy he would have wanted to have left behind.
Dad, I’m picking up where you left off. I love you for eternity.
In memory of Daniel Ronald Venosta Sr. 1952-2012
Lyndee Venosta holds a Master of Counseling Psychology and a Master of Forensic Psychology. She is the founder of the Avery Centre, where psychotherapists specialize in treating trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, and loss. She is married to LAFD Firefighter Engel Luistro and they have four sons.