I was 10 when my dad “committed” suicide. His final act changed everything and shattered my world into shards. In an instant, I became a broken-hearted orphan surrounded by silent strangers.
As a survivor of child abuse (from a stepparent), I had already been exposed to the harsh reality of life but my father’s death left me with nothing but pain. He abandoned me to struggle and I was unequipped for it.
I was hushed when I questioned what happened to him, but my questions wouldn’t be silenced. More than that, they couldn’t be answered. Why did he leave me? Could he have been saved? Was there something inside of him that drove him to this? Why? My questions evolved into blame as they compounded one another. I directed this spite at him because he was where everything had started.
Over the years, I grew accustomed to the look of pity. I felt agony in that awkward moment when people first learned what had happened to my dad. That split-second would slash open my wound, and I would choke back my worry of being judged. In time, I learned not to speak about how he died. Eventually I locked my father away as if he were a dirty secret. His death stole him from me in more ways than I could have ever realized.
His absence was also torturous. Kids mocked me because of the way he died. To some I was nothing more than a worthless child. What person could love her if her own parent hadn’t? There’s the daughter of that maniac; be careful around her. I was the throw away girl and the one person that should have protected me was gone. Where was he? He was nowhere, and I, too, ached to disappear. The darkness that filled his soul trickled into my own. Loneliness ate away at the broken pieces of my heart. I was slipping into a hole I couldn’t escape.
I remember when I first heard that my chances of attempting suicide were higher because of my dad. Once again, his death was impressing boundaries on me. I was miserable in that knowledge. So little was expected of me because of something he had done. How could the world tell me that I would be nothing more than a black mark on a page? Deep down I understood (Probably better than those who had formed the study.) why I was being boxed into this grim category.
I slipped into the crevice that suicide leaves in its wake. The world could not understand his “choice” so it chose to ignore his entire existence. I was alive because of his existence, but only parts of me were admissible. No child comes before its parent. He abandoned me to the throbbing ignorance of this situation’s conundrum. Society was forcing me to survive within the confines of his death, but I was not provided with the means to do so. I have struggled to overcome the horrid shadowy place that lies beneath the word suicide. It is limbo. It is stagnation. It is where those low expectations and unwanted cries linger. I am never completely free from that place because it was bred into my childhood. It was my grim fairy tale.
Suicide doesn’t have the same grief as other types of deaths. When a person dies from suicide, mourning is tainted for the bereaved. I waged war on the anger that swallowed my blame. I couldn’t accept the blame that I had put on myself, so I let it be devoured another way. Shame swirled around the emptiness of my loss. Denial covered the embarrassment of my not knowing how to act. I desperately wanted comfort and yet I didn’t want to inflict my suffering on others. I felt few understood. I found myself pulling away on their behalf. “Be normal. Act normal.” It was my mantra. My throat swallowed wretched tears before my eyes had a chance to shed them. “Mourn in private. Mourn in peace. Don’t let them see.” The world expected nothing more of me.
I came to understand parts of my emotions, but I will never be able to accept them all. This pain links all suicides. Every time I learn of another loss, my soul mourns for them just as it did my father. The scars he left me will never fade completely. I had to learn how to grieve outside of the norm because the norm could not readily accept my need to grieve.
I was a child and I needed the world to acknowledge my loss. I longed for someone to tell me I had the right to suffer. Death became the dark of me because no one tried to speak to my heart. I did not comprehend stigma. I didn’t care about sin. I did not want to learn how to grieve for anyone else’s sake. I wanted the world to stand beside me and not shun me. I wanted to love my father for who he had been. I wanted to miss him without worrying about making others uncomfortable. More than anything, I needed the world to allow me to continue to love him because he was still my father.
I will always love you, Dad.
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Chapter of Understanding (C.O.U.) is a New York based collaborative arts platform for youth suicide prevention. We create social projects aimed towards engaging youth through dialogue surrounding self-harm. Each project is focused on the promotion of the arts as a sustainable medium to discuss suicide. We firmly believe the arts can provide healing and growth for our youth.