Nobody knows how to tell you about the passage of healing.
Sure, we can throw out platitudes about ‘time heals all wounds’ or some shit, but healing isn’t this perfect Utopia in which years pass and the pain disappears, never to be seen again.
Healing means going days, even weeks, without thinking of him. Healing means seeing an old blue Crown Vic and smiling instead of crying. Healing means remembering with bittersweet fondness how he called you Chickie, and not falling apart at the memory.
And when you’ve survived the suicide of one of the strongest foundations in your life, healing also means forgiveness.
My stepdad of fifteen years took his own life on October 20th, 2014. He slipped into a hotel bathroom, locked the door, and shot himself in the heart. He was gone before his friends were able to break in and reach him.
The most frustrating layer to the story is WHY. In August 2014, only two months prior, Robin Williams died by suicide. Coincidence? Probably not. My stepdad was kind and funny and always telling dumb jokes and making everyone laugh. He obtained happiness by making other people happy. For helping other people.
Robin Williams’ suicide shocked the nation. My stepdad’s suicide shocked his world.
My heart and soul shattered when he died.
If you look deep enough, you will see the thin rivers of scars just beneath the surface of my skin, where I have slowly healed piece by piece in the three years since. You’ll also see the gaping craters where my grief still burns like fire, searing me from the inside out.
Look harder, and you’ll see the wounds where my faith once resided. The hole rests in my heart, beside the place where he should still be alive. Because how can a girl survive her stepfather’s suicide without a little existential crisis to bear?
When my cousin died in a car accident, I was 23 years old. He was one of my best friends. At the graveside service, I sobbed so hard I couldn’t stand on my own feet. Mike held me up. He stood behind me, wrapped my shaking body in a bear hug, and kept me on my feet.
THAT was the man he was. That was the kind of father he was. If my life fell apart – in all the ridiculous ways a girl’s life can fall apart before she understands true tragedy – he put me back together.
When he was dead, and my life was crumbling, I didn’t understand how I could ever be whole again. Not without him to piece me back together.
For the first time, it was me. I had to pick up the pieces. I had to find a way to fight, to survive, to get through the broken shards and panic attacks and debilitating grief that came with being the daughter of a suicide.
I’m not strong. I wish I was. I trip through life, and I fake it pretty well on the good days. On the bad days? Not so much. I call them my Dark Days – my personal battle with depression and anxiety. It’s always been there, but the crash and burn of surviving his suicide made me so much worse.
Surviving his suicide shocked the optimism out of me. Surviving opened my eyes to the horror that is this world and this humanity. Where I should see sunshine, I see darkness. Where I should see goodness, I see only what can go wrong.
Is that healthy? Of course not. But it’s how I exist right now. It’s how I keep from getting hurt when the world falls short of my hopes. So don’t fucking tell me to ‘be optimistic’ or ‘look on the bright side.’
If your parent hasn’t shot himself, you don’t get to say a damn word to me about my battles.
Some days, I am myself. I am happy and content and optimistic. A lot of days, I’m not. I won’t apologize for that. Every morning, I get up, I put on my armor, and I step into a world I don’t understand or like.
And that, my friends, is bravery.
Three years later, my grief has lessened.
The lessening grief has been accompanied by an ache inside me, as if my grief converted to a deep feeling of I MISS HIM. Is there a word for that? Longing could work, but it’s such a romantic word. I need a word that describes an awkward pre-teen aching to hold her stepdad’s hand one more time. To hear his laugh, to hear him call her Chickie.
To tell him she loves him.
Three years later, I’m alive. I’m moving forward. But I know, for sure, this is baggage I will carry with me for the rest of my journey through this existence.
So each day, a step forward. Each day closer to becoming more wholly myself. It’s not gonna happen overnight. Over a year.
Over three years.