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Suicide leaves hole in Ceres family
No one will ever know why Shawn Haley decided to end his life at the end of a rope in his Ceres backyard on March 3. It was likely that a combination of factors - depression, inability to find work and heavy drinking. But his widow is speaking out in hopes to reach others who may find themselves hopeless in today's bleak economy.

"You have to look at the cup half full, not half empty," said Melinda Haley. "Be happy with what you have - life is way too short."

The death of the 43-year-old unemployed Pepsi worker also leaves three children bewildered and angry and a lifetime of unanswered questions but Melinda Haley now believes she could have taken steps to get him help.

Shawn's last years were characterized by episodes of heavy drinking, isolation, grumpiness, unemployment and unhappiness.

"He didn't really give any clues or hints that he was going to do that," said Haley, who felt her story might prevent another similar tragedy. "The only thing that he would say is 'I can't stand living like this.' This is something he has said for years when things were not going his way."

She feels his standards were extraordinarily high - so high that he was miserable in not achieving them.

Haley suffered from depression for years but his world grew darker with the loss of a job and a series of unfortunate setbacks that spiraled him downward in a loss of all hope.

Looking back, Haley feels she could have tried harder to open up her husband's heart. She'd recommend that to others whose spouses may be experiencing similar downward cycles.

"Communicate as dumb as you might feel. Pull the teeth. Communicate what's going on. Say, 'This is what I feel, how do you feel?' I would try to talk to him and he was always saying 'What difference does it make?' It got to the point that my opinion didn't matter to him. If you can see any kind of signs at all, just start asking and put yourself out on the table."

Things were much different when they started out. Melinda said she was attracted to Shawn because he had a good heart, would "give anyone the shirt off his back" and had a great sense of humor.

"He loved working on his car and working on other people's cars. He was an honest man. He even hated white lies. He was hard working."

The Haleys came to Modesto from the Bay Area in 1990 because housing prices were cheaper, and a decade later made Ceres home. Shawn had a good paying job as a Pepsi soda fountain technician for eight years, making about $20 an hour. The Haleys were doing so well that they purchased two homes in Ceres, living in one and renting the other out.

Life changed when he was laid off by Pepsi in June 2009 after over eight years of faithful service.

"He's always had a depression issue but it got worse when he got let go."

Money became much tighter. Their only income was unemployment payments of $426 per week. The loss of insurance meant they had to buy insurance since their Medi-Cal share of cost would have been $1,400 per month. The family had to stop fun things like eating dinner out or going to car shows out of the area.

Since 1995 Shawn suffered from diabetes, which medication kept under control but cost $200 per month.

Because he made too much on unemployment the family did not qualify for food stamps.

"We are married with three kids at home," said Melinda. "He worked hard all his life and to him, it just didn't seem fair. It's not like we wanted to live off of the system, he just needed a bit of a break."

Shawn looked for a job with comparable pay but found nothing. One year ago, he pinned his hopes on a job with the Stanislaus County Housing Authority as one of three finalists. When he was turned down in January, Shawn sank lower into the depths of despair and his drinking - whiskey being his alcohol of choice - increased. He said it helped him fall asleep and stay asleep.

"That kind of hitting him hard. That paid really good money."

Shawn became increasingly worried he'd lose their Eighth Street house - home for 10 years - which was costing $1,200 a month.

Shawn started hitting the bottle earlier in the day, from about 9 p.m. to about 3 p.m. When he'd drink he's withdraw in solitude to a bedroom or alone in the back yard. Melinda expressed her concern but "it didn't do a bit of good." She feels the alcohol darkened his outlook on life.

"If he didn't drink, it wouldn't have ended up like this. He wasn't seeing the brighter things."

Shawn stopped calling friends and going out with them.

"He wouldn't pick up the phone to call anybody. He was always trying to isolate himself. He just wanted to be left alone."

He hadn't spoken to his mother in five months.

"I was his biggest cheerleader and say it wouldn't be that bad. He had a really bad case of depression and he didn't want to seek help. He would always say, 'I don't want to live like this.' And I'd say, 'Live like what? Here we have two houses. We're doing okay. We had no foreclosure notice on the door and didn't getting disconnected. We were barely getting by but it wasn't anything that we couldn't handle. He always wanted more. He was never happy with what we had."

Shawn was always good at working on vehicles but when his pickup's transmission broke down in December, he was saw the task as too daunting.

The day before he killed himself, Shawn was notified that the renter of his home on Lilac Court was moving out. His worries intensified. Because she didn't talk to Shawn when he was drinking, she didn't get to tell him that she immediately found a new renter. That was the night he drank heavily and slipped out into the darkness of the yard.

On his last night Shawn and Melinda had words over a check she bounced. The argument ended and Melinda brought him a sandwich.

Melinda last saw him standing on an A-frame ladder, smoking a cigarette and peering over the fence into the neighbor's yard or somewhere more distant. Melinda remembers wondering what the neighbors might think. When he didn't come in by 10 p.m., Melinda went out to get him to come in and saw Shawn hanging from a loop he tied in the rope swing.

It was a horrifying moment for the family and the children followed by a blur of a call to 911, a rush of emergency personnel and a flood of grief. Melinda said she's living a rollercoaster of emotion. Neighbors have offered their support and she can't speak higher of the Ceres Unified School District which has rallied around the Haley children.

The coroner ruled the death a suicide by hanging. Shawn's blood alcohol content was 0.28.

As a donor, Shawn's body was harvested of veins for heart surgery patients, eye corneas, heart valves and bone for bone cancer patients.