On December 16, 1980 my father killed himself. I was 6 years old. Each year that day comes and that day goes. Some years are better than others. This year I avoided the sorrow for a few days, then it hit like a damned freight train, barreling into me like a throat punch leaving me broken and breathless.
I have spent the last 37 years waiting for him to come back. When I was little I told people I knew that if I had been better behaved, had loved my sister more or had been quieter he would never have killed himself.
I got married the first time when I was 21 in a lavish wedding to a childhood friend because I thought it would make my dad proud. Three days before my wedding I stood on my porch in a rainstorm sobbing, chain smoking Marlboro reds and wishing like hell my dad would be there to walk me down the aisle.
A few years later I got my bachelor’s degree in early childhood development and worked with abused and neglected children because I thought it would make my dad proud. The day I got my degree I stood on my porch sobbing, chain smoking Marlboro reds and wishing like hell my dad would be there to see my achievement.
I got divorced because I was unhappy and I wanted my dad to know that I was strong and committed to living a life of integrity because I thought it would make him proud. I stood on my new porch sobbing, smoking, dying on the inside, wondering if I was just like him.
I got a master’s degree in social work because I thought it would make my family proud but mostly, I just wanted my dad to notice me. He was dead. He wasn’t coming back. But I wanted him to see me. Again, I stood on my porch sobbing, smoking…wishing like hell he would just magically appear and tell me he had been watching, he was proud, he was sorry he just took off like that and didn’t say goodbye.
I got a fancy job as a lobbyist, got married again, cried like hell because he wasn’t there to walk me down another aisle, bought the house, did the things that were expected, reconnected with his old friends…all because I just wanted my dad to see me.
All I have to remember is that on December 16, 1980, two days after decorating the Christmas tree with my mom, my sister and me, he drove up a snowy canyon, got out of his car and shot himself.
I have a PhD now…he still hasn’t come back.
I am married (again) with children now…he still hasn’t come back.
I no longer smoke so tonight, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. He still isn’t here to see me. He still isn’t coming back. No matter what I achieve he will never be here to tell me he is proud of me. It doesn’t matter what I do…his grief in his own head was too much for him to bear and my light and my love wasn’t enough to tether him to this world.
If you know this heartache – know that you are not alone. Know that there are many of us out here rooting for you. Know that you can be kind to yourself and your heart and that it is OK to be sad and angry and grieve all over again…even if it has been decades upon decades since your loved one’s death.
I know that once you have made the decision to take your own life, there is almost nothing in the world that will turn you back but if you ever get to that space and there is any doubt in your heart, any hope in your soul, any question in your head…please call the Suicide Prevention number (1-800-273-8255). You never know – the person on the other end may be able to help.