The summer of 2011 will always be defined as the best and worst of my life. Two months after saying “I do” to my husband in a quiet lakeside ceremony, my honeymoon-fueled joy would be turned to indescribable sorrow following my dad’s suicide. I still find it impossible to believe that our father-daughter dance on that warm June night would turn out to be the one of the last times I would ever hear his laugh or joke about our uncanny similarities. I remember sitting around a campfire after our beautiful reception thinking to myself that life could not possibly get any better.
Then, on one sunny August morning, my world collapsed when, upon returning to my desk following a work meeting, I was met with a sea of shocking and confusing messages from friends in my inbox– each bearing the same simple sentiment, “I’m sorry for your loss.” With no further details, I began wonder – “is this some sick new virus?” “Is someone playing a cruel joke?” I frantically called family members to try and dispel my concern. When no one answered, I turned to my small hometown newspaper’s website in a desperate search for answers about what all of these people could possibly know that I didn’t. My worst fears were realized with a slow-loading headline that read my father had been found dead in a local park with the revelation “officials say suicide.” His official workplace photograph appeared beneath it. We had just talked days prior and exchanged e-mails about dividing up his package of baseball tickets so we could each attend our coveted games. In trying to reach my mom again, I learned that she was actually on her way to share the news with me in person, 90 miles away. Despite pleas from her and the local sheriff’s department, our newspaper decided to publish the story before my brother and I were notified.
Suicide is not something I would have ever fathomed for our family. We grew up in a lovely Midwestern city in a red brick house with a white picket fence, a boy, a girl and a dog. My parents were happily married more than 30 years and were still together at the time of my dad’s passing. He was there for every one of our sports games, recitals and concerts and helped proofread our homework. Even in my adult years, my dad would always think to call me before and after each airline flight to make sure I arrived at my destination safely and was the trusted coordinator of family dinners. In a few words, I could characterize my dad as being my biggest cheerleader, but also a chronic worry wart. If he wasn’t worrying about the chaos of his day in the field of law, he shared concern about the problems of those he dealt with. He worried about the health of his parents as they aged. He worried about our grades and our safety on the roads. If he didn’t have his own problems to worry about, he would take on those of others or even come up with irrational things to worry about. For the better part of my life, I brushed this trait off as just plain silly. But, in his older years, the burden of all of these worries seemed to become too much for him to bear. In the weeks after my wedding, this became more and more apparent as he withdrew from activities he once loved and the laughs became less and less frequent. I thought he was just in a slump – something he was always so great at coaching me out of – and figured with a little time and the approaching winter holidays he would be back to himself. He never even uttered the word suicide, let alone led on it was a remote possibility for him. The worry just seemed to overtake him.
“How could you go on after something so terrible?” people will ask me. The will to do so was faint in those first few days, weeks and months. I lost my trust in humanity and society. We cancelled our subscription to that newspaper, but I don’t think I could ever forgive them for their lack of sensitivity or empathy for a grieving family. But, in understanding how painful my dad eventually found life to be, I made a promise to myself that I would fully embrace everything I could in mine and carry on being the best person I could be for him and for others who cannot. Over time, I was amazed that positive things could arise from this unspeakable tragedy – the outpouring of support from those around me, the reminder to take the time to watch a beautiful sunset, the friendship I would find in fellow survivors…
I chose to open up about my story because I want anyone who has experienced a loss like this to know they are not alone. While I wish no one would ever be in a position to relate to my reflections, I hope that you find comfort in what I share. The sting of losing a loved one to suicide will never go away, but while you’re here with us, I do hope that you can begin to find beauty in life again.