There’s so much repetition in our lives. We wake up and go to bed every day. We drive past the same scenery to get to work, where most of us do the exact same things every day, week to week, to earn a paycheck. We see the same people, eat a lot of the same foods because they’re our favorites, and we go to all the same places for leisure because of the same reason. So much sameness everywhere.
But the impact of losing one’s parent to suicide casts shades of gray over the normalcy. You’re still getting up, still driving, visiting places and friends, eating foods you love, but through it all, you know nothing is the same and it never will be again. Those same people, places, and things have lost color. You wonder if the real world was the rose-colored rainbow of life before suicide, or if this hazy, over-exposed image, like the brilliant negative painted on the sky by an atomic bomb, is the way life really is. Maybe their suicide opened your eyes to an alternate world. One where you’re different and always will be because of a gun shot you didn’t make.
Grief isn’t a choice. It’s a passage. It’s the one true sign that you loved deeply and still do. No one is immune to grief, and there’s no “wrong way” to grieve. Everyone does it differently; everyone experiences it on different levels. People will tell you don’t let your grief define you; don’t take up residence there and stay. I think they have it backwards: grief takes up residence inside us. Once it’s in your heart, it’s there to stay: a bittersweet flavor to everything you’ll experience every day thereafter. Grief DOES define us. Losing someone we love never goes away. It’s finality. It’s forever. It changes us on levels we don’t understand. I’ve lost grandparents. Great-grandparents. Cousins. But nothing ever prepared me for losing a parent.
I never knew until that October day that suicide grief is different. It’s like a club that you never wanted to join, but once you have, you realize how true that statement is. Death is inevitable. I will die one day. Everyone I love is heading on a straight line towards death. It’s the natural order. Maybe it will be a disease, maybe it will be an accident, or maybe it will be a sleep that never ends. Either way, it will happen.
Suicide is none of these things. Suicide is harsh and cold. It’s that a person you loved with all your heart CHOSE to leave you. A person you loved with all your heart hurt so bad they couldn’t imagine living any longer. It’s an abandonment, but it’s like a whole fucking new level because it wasn’t that they ran away. They extinguished their own existence because their light was too dim in the darkness surrounding them.
There’s so much anger in this club, and it’s not anger at death. It’s not anger that human bodies are fragile or that your version of God took them away too soon. It’s anger at the person you love. And you hate yourself for being so mad at them. You cry for their death, but you cry for how mad you are, too. Because that isn’t fair to them. You can’t stay infuriated when the pain they must have felt makes your chest ache.
It’s an abandonment you have to understand. An abandonment you have to forgive because you love them too much to hold onto the fury.
Suicide grief is such a layered thing. The questions haunt you endlessly. Did he think of me and my brother and my mom before he did it? Did he love me? Does he know how much I loved him? Was I a horrible daughter? Did I contribute to the demons he could no longer fight? Does he know how proud I was to know him? To be his daughter? How proud I STILL am, knowing now the darkness and inner pain he faced in silence? Did he hurt? Did he cry? Did he pause, did he consider staying at all?
Does he regret it?
This isn’t a game show. No smiling host is going to reveal answers and compliment my perceived notions, my desperate guesses. I don’t win anything for guessing correctly.
I will spend the rest of my life with these questions. Strange bedpersons.
From the outside, it might look like I’m moving on. I’m working. I’m writing. I took a vacation where I laughed and played with my husband as if we hadn’t a care in the world. I shower and do chores and shave my legs. But I’m not ‘moving on’ so much as I’ve contorted my heart and soul to fit his suicide and my grief into the fissure where it will live forever. I’m learning to live my life with the grief instead of letting it control me wholly. When I smile, the grief is there just behind the action where it doesn’t quite reach my eyes. When I laugh, it’s there in the tightness in my chest: the rock hard knot of grief and pain right where I imagine the bullet ended his life. I go through the motions, but he and the grief he left behind are always a physical ache inside me. They live behind every single thing that I do, every word that I say.
I’ve adjusted my existence to allow for those shades of gray. The veil of his life and sudden death; the questions, the hurt, the anger, the love I will always have for him, the pride of being his daughter and making sure his memory is honored as the great man he was, not that final moment or that final decision made in the depths of his despair.
It’s a particular tattoo that brands me eternally the daughter of a man who committed suicide.
I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not ashamed of him. No one should EVER be ashamed of this. You do not know the pain that lives inside others; you do not know when your OWN actions bring pain to others. Be kind. Be compassionate. Love others, flaws and all. I am blessed with a large family. I have three parents left who love me and who I love more than anything – more so now than I ever thought possible. Not everyone is so lucky, so we should all be good to each other.
And if you are in pain, please reach out. I will spend the rest of my life wishing he had asked for help, wishing that we’d been given a chance to heal him. Don’t make your own loved ones suffer this same fate. There are so many programs out there, so many people willing to take your hand.
Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind.