HAGUE - She could just say, "He passed away."

Not many people would ask how he died.

But Melani Andreassen tells people Karl committed suicide.

She lives in a little town anyway. Nobody within a 50-mile radius is unaware that Melani's late husband ended his own life. And Melani doesn't want to suffer in silence.

Why should her sorrow be secretive? Karl dealt with enough private pain for the both of them.

If she talks about his death, she said, it's important to be accurate, to be forthcoming with that detail.

"To not talk about it is to continue to be held captive by it," Melani said. "The very thing that could open the door to get help, is the very thing you don't want to say. You have to have the courage to speak what's in your mind and heart."

You have to be willing to ask questions too. Otherwise, she said, your fate is "the not-knowing" - an excruciating absence of explanation.

After Karl shot himself in the chest, in his car on a Tuesday morning in 1993, it took him between three and five minutes to die.

For a list of places you can go to get help or find useful content about suicide prevention and/or mental health, you can find our list online at http://www.poststar.com/highlights/suicide/resources/

Melani wants to know, in those last few minutes, "Did he wish he hadn't done it? Was he hoping someone would find him and help him? Was he feeling a sense of peace? Did he think he was doing us a favor?"

When Karl was found, he wasn't wearing his right shoe or sock.

"Did he try to pull the trigger with his foot?" she asked, knowing no answer will come.

Route 8 rolls down toward Hague patiently, the road hugging the snug harbors of Brant Lake and the slopes of Graphite Mountain, until it crosses Hague Brook and eventually ends at Lake George.

It's beautiful country, the place where Karl Andreassen chose to live and die.

Karl killed himself here, by the lake, at 38, on a November morning about 12 years ago. He had been gone for four days on one his downstate drug binges, and when he returned, he asked his 16-year-old son Kristian for his hunting rifle. He said he wanted to kill a racoon at a building site.

Karl took the gun, drove two miles down Route 8, turned south on Route 9N, and stopped in the driveway of a home he built on Lake George.

The building, which sits on a scenic point, is made of shorn planks of wood with bark on them. A pergola, garage and tomato vineyard are all made of old stone. It was Karl's first big project as a creative and detail-oriented master carpenter.

In making it, said Melani, Karl also made a name for himself.

"This place gave him a sense of what he was capable of," she said.

Melani knew Karl from high school on Long Island, and knew he'd been into heroin since he was 13, that he'd had a rough childhood and problems with his parents. He learned escape routes rather than coping skills, she said.

Karl was a kindhearted person. He was calm, she said, "sedate." In a room full of people, Karl wouldn't be the one telling jokes. He would turn inward.

They were married in 1976, but by the end of their first year together, it became obvious he wasn't done with drugs. Melani stayed in his corner, though, even when it meant taking him to drug counseling while she was eight months pregnant.

They moved to Hague in 1979, because a handyman special on Long Island would cost $100,000, whereas an old farmhouse and six acres in Hague was $23,000. They also shared a love of water. For the most part, Karl avoided drugs in Hague. The lake held summer memories from his childhood. He was at peace there, living and working.

Karl was 6 foot 2, and strong, but had a narrow frame. As a friend, he could be counted on to lend a hand or write a check. As a boss, he didn't believe people worked for him, but that they worked with him.

Eugene Slade of Chilton worked with Karl for eight years. He built the retaining wall at the bottom of the driveway where Karl shot himself.

"He was quiet in the morning, 'till he got his 10 cups of coffee and his cream puffs, 'till afternoon, when you couldn't shut him up," Slade said. "He wanted to hear about your problems, but he wouldn't talk about his."

But then, around 1990, a woman ran through a stop sign, smashing into Karl's car. The physical therapy afterward was excruciating, so they gave him pain-killers.

"You don't give a recovering addict painkillers," Melani said. "It was a short hop, skip and jump to the heroin. It opened the door."

Karl began making trips to the city for days at a time, the flavor of heroin calling to him.

"The minute he crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge," she said, "he could taste it in his mouth."

Until the last year of his life, Karl had mastered the ability to wear a mask, to work during the week and do his drugs on the weekend.

Just one month after he died, one of his homes won several architectural awards, and was featured in national magazines. Melani fielded calls from all over the country from people praising his work, asking her dead husband to fly to Colorado or California to work on their dream homes.

Still, in the last year of Karl's life, segregating his narcotic needs from his family life became increasingly difficult.

He was making two or three trips a month to the city. A few times, he even had people in the house. Later, a state police examination of his belongings showed that Karl had made alterations to his Chevy Suburban for bringing the drugs home with him.

And when he came home from each binge, Melani had to watch him coming down. He had an insatiable craving for sweets, and became volatile seeking them out, ravaging the cabinets of the house. His diet grew worse, exacerbating his dental problems. He'd had Hepatitis B since his late teens, and began to develop liver problems.

"He figured he was on his way out," Slade said. "Toward the end, he wouldn't talk, not really. He started smoking cigarettes again. He would sleep in his truck. He was turning awful yellow. He was hurting awful bad, poor guy."

It could have been a self-perception of a lack of self worth, said Melani, or perhaps it was just his inability to know how to go about caring for himself.

"The last year of his life was, in a sense, a note, his letter."

In Melani's kitchen, next to the fridge, there's a plank of wood marked with her children's heights at different ages. In a fire, it's the first thing she would grab.

Amid the scribbles, if you look carefully, you will find, "Jessica, 19," "Kristian, 16," "Noelle, 13," and "Nicole, 11."

That's how old they were when their father killed himself.

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"It felt just like every other day," said Nicole, now 23. "I was playing Barbie, and saw my Mom's car pull up, but it wasn't her driving, so I kinda knew something was wrong."

She went downstairs to find a family friend with an odd look on his face. He took her and the other kids into Karl's room and told them their father had been shot.

"Time stood still," Nicole said. "My brother jumped up and said, 'Is he OK?' He said, 'No, he's dead.' I remember thinking, 'I miss him so much, what's it going to be like 10 years from now?'"

Afterward, said Melani, the kids found it hard to learn that it was OK to laugh and smile again. It was as if they felt guilty living because he chose to die.

Kristian shut down. It was bad enough that it happened, but that he handed his father the gun means he has more to deal with than the others.

Jessica, the oldest, who was 19 at the time, didn't stick with therapy sessions afterward, and finds the suicide hard to talk about even now.

Noelle, 13 at the time, never showed any pain when she cut her knee as a kid, and she didn't show any at her father's death either. During therapy sessions, she wouldn't talk. She poured herself into school instead.

Nicole, the youngest at the time, went into a deep depression. She wrote poems, and volumes of material about the death, book after book, journal after journal.

"We don't really talk about it much," said Nicole, now 23. "I think because it's a suicide, people don't want to bring it up to us, and it's almost like we don't want to bring it up to them."

If they can, the siblings also avoid bringing it up around one another, because it might change a nice day into a dark one.

"I don't want to bring back memories for them," Nicole said. "And if you don't think about it, it's not there. How can someone that's supposed to love you hurt you so much? There's a lot of anger there, at least on my part."

Still, both Melani and Nicole wish Karl had been able to get more help.

"Even having a father who is broken is better than having no father," Nicole said.

The plank on the kitchen wall is now covered in markings, from subsequent birthdays, and from the birthdays of new children from a new marriage. The moment Karl died is lost in the scrawl.

"Some years, it's like it's just happened all over again," said Melani, "and sometimes, it's like it didn't happen at all."

You're expected to be bright, to show people you're fighting, when things get tough.

"You tell someone you've been diagnosed with cancer, and you're surrounded by people, they hold spaghetti dinners, there's an outpouring," Melani said. "But the minute your problem has to do with depression or mental illness, it evaporates."

Still, Melani stays upbeat. On the wall of her living room she has a phrase stenciled: "Live well, laugh often, love much."

Little things, she said, like the bird feeder outside the kitchen window, are what you need when the pain becomes too great.

"Every day you should be able to pull something positive," Melani said. "They can be little things, quiet things, but if you're open to them, it's a little bit of light, a little bit of hope, when you might not have wanted to put your feet on the floor."


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