Today is January 10. It is a date that holds significance; it is the day my father died by suicide. It will be 25 years since his passing and yet, this year feels particularly difficult for me. Perhaps it is the realization that I lost him when I was a young woman or that I could have easily gone that way as I was going through my own divorce. I’m not sure what it is. It could just be the haunting memory of it.
I remember when I got the phone call. My mother’s friend called. I did not believe her; it wasn’t possible for my father to have done it. My mom got on the phone to confirm what my mind could not conceive. Not only had my father killed himself but he had done so on my wedding anniversary. That date would forever live in infamy in my mind.
Suicide is not something that is easy to explain. It carries with it a tremendous stigma. The stigma of his death was so great that my sister and I decided if anyone asked, he passed away from a “heart attack.” I only told my children the truth of his passing this year.
I had survivor’s guilt. It lasted for years. You see, I was the last person from our family to speak with him. Although I noticed his mood was a little off, it was nothing that I could put my finger on. To this day, our conversation haunts me. He alluded to prior suicide attempts. Why didn’t I pick up on the clues that were later so obvious to me?
I spent years in therapy. That helped the guilt. I found God. My faith was the only thing that could get me through this and help me move forward. You see, I was angry at my dad. Angry for taking his own life, angry for never explaining why he did it, and angry for leaving me when I was only 28 years old. Why did he do it on my wedding anniversary? What was the significance of that date? Why did he leave my children without a grandfather? Weren’t we enough for him? Didn’t he know we loved him?
Over the years, I have learned that sometimes there are no real answers. There are only experiences which are a sum of our whole. My father was a complicated individual. He was a physician; his patients adored him. Yet, he never sought help for his own mental illness. Although a doctor, maybe even he felt too stigmatized to seek help from a colleague.
I don’t know why this tragedy happened; I only know that I never want to go through that kind of loss again. In 2007, suicide was the tenth major leading cause of death in the United States. That is a staggering statistic (www.nimh.www.nimh.nih.gov, 2013).
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one to suicide, seek professional help. Attend a support group for grief and/or survivors of suicide. I will save you a lot of heartache by telling you, you will probably not get the answers you seek to the many questions you have. In your grief, I encourage you to reach out to others; allow them to help you through the pain. In my experience, it does take a long time to heal; much longer than if the person had died a natural death. Be patient with yourself for you are not alone.