More than once, someone has asked me, “How did you forgive yourself for your father’s suicide?” My short answer is that my battle was not so much with letting myself off the hook. I was only thirteen at the time of his death. I wondered, for a brief amount of time, if I’d done something “wrong” and caused my dad to end his life. But, the feelings that dominated my life after his death included more anger toward him for abandoning me than any guilt.
When someone ends their life by suicide, those of us left behind will more than likely feel as if the rug we once stood on, has been yanked out from underneath of us. As a result, we can’t help but lose our balance, stumble and fall. Someone’s suicide makes all of us all feel awkward, inept, and uneasy.
Unlike death because of an illness, an accident or the natural process of aging, suicide stands alone, and in its own category.
I remember the events leading up to my father’s funeral. Not once was suicide ever mentioned as the cause of his death. It was an unmentionable topic and yet, avoiding the obvious made it all the more uncomfortable. When suicide occurs and the obvious is left unsaid, those of us left behind are left to wonder and for some, the wondering never ceases.
There are those “markers” so to speak, that only looking back on, can we see them as clues leading up to someone’s suicide. For example, as a kid I’d witnessed my dad’s drinking and knew that in some ways, it was not normal for him to drink alone and to such an extent. Though I did not know that his abuse of alcohol led to his job losses, I got the sense that our frequent moves made our family feel unsettled.
I suppose the most obvious clue to my father’s troubles was when I discovered the bullet holes in my brothers’ bedroom wall. But as a kid, I could not connect the dots of his actions to his emotional distress until much later in my life.
There are those in my family, who were older than me at the time of Dad’s death. Conversing with them as adults, they’ve shared with me their varying levels of guilt.
They wonder if they could have personally “rescued” dad. They ponder the possibility of the “if onlys.” They replay scenarios of their last words and actions with Dad. But in reality, none of us could have saved Dad because Dad’s hope was all gone.
Why bother letting ourselves off the hook? As heart wrenching as it is, when someone decides to end their life they do so because they do not see any other way to release themselves from their mental anguish. Those of us who are left behind cannot blame or shame ourselves because we are the ones who are left to remember the best things about those who decided to leave.