I ended up donating the pink terrycloth robe to charity. I couldn’t stand to wear it again since my aunt and uncle visited our house and sat me down to tell me my dad had taken his own life. My growing belly stuck out of the middle of the robe and I sank lower and howled with my whole body.
The pink robe bore the scent and memory of that moment and it had to go.
Suicide carries a social stigma. Movies and television are filled with modern Shakespearean tragedies. The “tribute” magazines stacked on store shelves endlessly exploit suicide victims. Why? How? Questions need answers, now, now, now.
In its simplest form, suicide is an act of killing oneself. The hurting person feels that, in their own mind, the solution to all problems would be to die. They believe they are relieving the pain in themselves and the people around them. Afterwards, the act is no longer singular. The web of the loss spreads, reaches out its tentacles and changes lives.
I’ve learned it’s how you handle the outcome that makes all the difference.
The death of my dad formed a gray fog over me. I was pregnant with my first child at the time and I since I had married and lived across town, I saw only the façade he put up in public. The shock of his suicide actually stopped my morning sickness for 48 hours. I had no idea he’d been suffering.
As with most loss, friends and family came to our aid with prayers, pot-luck dinners and offers of “anything we can do to help.” We were so grateful and really could not have started the healing process without them.
The fog continued to follow me long after the phone calls grew quiet. I’d been a daddy’s girl and my unborn child would never know the wonderful man who pitched softballs to me or spun yarns at the kitchen table, sparking my love of story writing. The world continued to turn, school bells rang, airplanes departed, but my heart still beat slow and ached for my dad.
What was surprising were the people who lacked self-control of their own curiosity, harshly prying into our family life even before offering a heartfelt condolence. Within the first week of my dad’s death, my family and I received the following comments:
“How’d he do it?” All of a sudden, everyone was a crime scene investigator.
“Why? Was he seeing another woman on the side? Did he have a gambling problem?” Neighbors we hadn’t talked to in years wanted the inside scoop. Co-workers wanted a piece of the drama.
“Did he leave a note?”
I couldn’t believe the audacity! The shock was so fresh from my dad’s passing and I was in such a vulnerable place, that when these comments were made to me, I then worried about those aspects too. The extra anxiety was unhealthy for my baby and often in suicide, as in our case, questions of my dad’s last moments, his feelings, would never be answered.
The best way to get through that time was to distance ourselves from those busy-bodies that didn’t “get it.” We had lost a wonderful husband and father and to focus on anything more than that was counter-productive to the healing process. We may have lost relationships along the way, but in hindsight, we wouldn’t have wanted to stay friends with such insensitive people.
Now I don’t mention the suicide of my dad often. The stigma lives on and I feel that others might look at me crossways and judge me somehow, like I’m unstable too and might jump off a cliff at any moment. But I’m proud to stand up for my dad’s memory and revel in our past. I try not to think of the future he could have had.
Every time someone said only time would heal my pain, I wanted to smack them in the face. I didn’t want to feel better. I never wanted to get over my dad. The grey fog gathered hail stones, lightening and lots and lots of rain. But ultimately, they were right. I don’t sob until my ribs hurt anymore. I’ve added another child to a very fulfilling and distracting life. I smile.
That doesn’t mean birthdays, holidays, a movie clip we laughed at or the melody of our father/daughter wedding song, are any less painful.
It means I can share my experience of suicide with others and say, “You’re not alone. My loved one was hurting inside and took his own life, too. What a terrible, terrible situation. That doesn’t mean you are crazy. Don’t listen to what thoughtless outsiders say. Wrap friends and family and counselors around you and let them be your armor. Tears release chemicals that help your body. Cry and get rid of them, if you must. One day, you’ll think positively about something again. A commercial on television, the dog trotting across your yard, double scoop ice cream. Mark that down in the history books. Healing takes time. Feel free to smack me.”
A special thanks to Jordan for sharing her story with us.
Photo credit.