23 years ago tonight, sometime between the darkness and the dawn, my precious father took his life. His voice silenced to me for the remainder of my days here on earth. In a moment of desperation, he was gone. Not only was the pain of losing him unspeakable, but the horror of suicide made every breath excruciating.
The shock and pain of his death was just the beginning of what would be a road of torment and depression of my own for the next 15 years, living a life of silent pain, working to hide my shattered heart, wishing I could disappear and slip away. Time was cruel as the days kept rolling one into the other and the social push to 'get past it' and 'move on' gutted me continuously. It was as if people needed me to be 'okay' so they could be 'okay' and this messy situation could just get swept under the carpet.
The truth is I wasn't 'okay' and I didn't want to be 'okay' and I certainly didn't want it swept under the carpet because his death made others uncomfortable. I wanted my dad back, I wanted my life back. I dreaded waking up to another day and putting on the 'mask', showing up, pulling myself together and most importantly 'not losing it'. It was the pressure to perform to meet the norm, and inside it was killing me too.
No one knew how to help me steward the pain of losing my father to suicide.....it would be a gut wrenching journey for 15 years of hanging on by my fingernails before I could raise my head and meet the dawn with hope in my heart and a smile on my face.
As I write this blog in the early morning on the anniversary of his death, my heart is filled with gratitude and tears of missing a man I so dearly love. Missing him has never gone away, but what has miraculously disappeared out of my life is depression, shame, guilt, rejection, unworthiness, isolation and grief. I am so grateful to God for the extraordinary ways He has moved in my life and given me the ability to minister His transformational love to others....especially those battling depression or many who have lost a loved one from suicide. On this side of Dad's tragedy, I get to bring love, hope and healing. Miracles I never thought I was worthy to receive or even could receive in October of 1993 and many years afterwards. During that period I concluded I was the problem, I was the mistake, I messed everything up and I wasn't worth living for....all clear messages of a heart in serious condition.
Depression and it's partner in horror, suicide, are not defined by social class, wealth, gender, race, age.......they are defined by heartache, pain and the feeling of being locked in torment. Sadly, I meet too many people who are reeling from the loss of their loved one due to suicide. The frequency of suicides and the rise of depression are clear markers of a society struggling with identity and starving for authentic love.
My thoughts this week have been: how can I turn a day of quiet remembrance into a day that may have the potential to impact someone who is hurting or lost? How can I share what I know from losing my father to suicide and battling my own depression in a way that encourages and brings hope? How can I take this day and declare payback for what was stolen from me...my dad and 15 years of my young adult life? And, how can I help others who want to bring comfort to the hurting who are faced with suicide?
As I began unpacking these questions, I realized how much the Lord has truly placed on my heart to pull back the darkness on this painful and stigmatizing topic.
In my experience the following is what I felt I could address when individuals and communities are faced with suicide:
Suicide is ALWAYS unexpected. No one is ever prepared to handle the death of a loved one from suicide. It doesn't matter how long the deceased battle depression or didn't 'seem' depressed, when suicide happens it is unexpected. Families are unprepared for the wake of shock and trauma it brings. Suddenly, their worlds are stripped of whatever they perceived as stable or predictable, and they are left traumatized and vulnerable.
Suicide creates unwanted publicity that strips survivors of privacy and dignity. Stumbling for answers from unwanted questions, they can hardly function much less respond to others' curiosity. The public, the media, even close friends do not steward the details of a loved one's suicide well, further creating pain and isolation for the hurting family.
The question of 'why' is never appropriate. No one truly knows 'why' someone chooses to end his or her life and speculation is never helpful. Being asked 'why' my dad committed suicide only made me feel like I was supposed to stop him and how careless of me not to take notice of his pain. I honestly had no idea he was in such horrible pain. To this day I do not know why, other than I can relate to being in such immense pain that you just want the voices and condemnation to cease.
Survivors need loving community to show up for them. When Dad passed away his death created what I termed 'social leprosy', as if somehow his death would infect others so they chose to keep their distance. They didn't know what to do with us so distance was the best option. Suicide doesn't spread like a disease, but social, careless gossip does. Being ostracized and shunned left scars I never thought would heal.
A loving hug goes much further than a rambling message laced with pity. Survivors already feel pitiful, go tell them 'they are loved and not alone'. Those are the most important words they need to hear.
Celebrate their loved by focusing on the joyous moments of his or her life versus the last, agonizing minutes. It was a great relief to me when friends gathered and shared their favorite memories of my father and the various positive ways he impacted their lives. I didn't want him to be remembered by his last minutes of struggle because that wasn't who he truly was. He was a remarkable man inside and out with compassion, intelligence, wit and love. I didn't want the darkness shadowing his goodness.
This is not the end....losing a loved one to suicide is not the end. Love will prevail, I am walking, breathing proof of a daughter who was at a dead end with no hope, no desire for life who had an encounter (that many call miraculous) with the one, true loving Father.
It is possible to courageously stand in the face of suicide.
(Part 2 to be released next week)