I wrote this piece in 2006 as a newspaper column. I was scared, at first, to share my story with my readers. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I’d be doing them – and more importantly, my father – a great disservice by keeping quiet, and letting the stigma of suicide continue to speak louder and louder.
Well, my secret is out. I’ve spent the last week debating this column. Throughout the week, the questions rang in my ear. Should I write about this? Should I avoid the subject altogether? Thankfully, a little daily newspaper called the Chicago Tribune (maybe you’ve heard of it) gently took me by the hand and made the decision for me. They ran my essay, “Emerging from the grief of suicide,” in the Sunday Commentary section on Oct. 29. Being published in the Tribune has been my writing dream for as long as I can remember, but more important than the byline is that it lifted a weight off my shoulders. This weight has been pulling me down for the last three years, perched atop my shoulders like a boulder that you can’t seem to move. You try to walk around it. You try to walk on top of it. But it’s no use. You’re stuck right where you are.
But you know what? My feet aren’t glued to the ground anymore. The column set me free. I suppose that’s where you come in. You’ve let me come into your life every Sunday morning, and I’ve appreciated your willingness to listen, which is why I’d like you to come into my life. I feel a sense of purpose with this weekly column, so I feel like not sharing this story would be doing a grave disservice. In fact, it would go against everything I’ve been working toward since March 10, 2003. There are some stories in the world that need telling – that scream to be given a voice. This is my story.
Yesterday was National Survivors of Suicide Day. Sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the day is a time for thousands of people to come together to reflect and remember those they’ve lost to suicide. Thousands are left in the murky swirl of dust the loved ones leave behind. I never thought I’d be one of the thousands, but suicide touched me with all its might. My father committed suicide on March 10, 2003. I’ve been through the ups and downs and the twists and turns of the last few years, and along the way, I’ve learned more about grief than I’ve learned in the entire quarter century I’ve lived on this earth. To other survivors – and anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one – I offer these words:
It’s most important to realize you’ll never feel the same emotion twice, at least not in the beginning of your grief. It’s not uncommon to feel waves of confusion, sadness, loneliness, guilt and, especially, anger. Trust me, for a good two years, anger took center stage in my life. You know me, I’m usually a golly-go-lucky person, so feeling this anger proved quite unsettling. I tried to push it aside, pretend like I was invisible to anger, but it stuck in the pit of my stomach, its little tentacles grasping firmly. So I started writing. I filled up pages and pages in my journal describing the intense anger I felt toward my father. How could he do this to us, the family he loved so dearly? Did he even know what he was doing? I asked countless questions, and, even now, I still don’t have all the answers. The word “why” implants itself in your mind, and this word replays itself over and over like a broken record. You’re trying to make sense of this tragedy, so desperately trying to find answers to your pain and suffering. But asking why is OK. It’s healthy.
Keep asking the questions until you feel secure in knowing you may never come to any conclusions. You will know when that time has come. Grief is unique. With suicide, I’ve found that people do care, but if they’ve never experienced the suicide of a loved one, they simply don’t understand what you’re going through. You will undoubtedly feel alone in your grief at times. That is 100 percent OK. I, Miss Center of Attention, craved silence and solitude during those lonesome times. You need that time for reflection and to be alone with your emotions. It doesn’t mean you’re sinking into a black hole of despair. And it certainly doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate the people around you. It simply means you need to give your mind and your body a chance to rest and start down the road of healing.
Those in the midst of grief also feel this intense drive to talk about their loved one. If you’ve been an avid reader of my columns, you know that my dad has been a central figure in many of them. He’s tied to all my memories. He’s still such a strong force in my life. I’ll admit I felt a bit guilty bombarding you with all my memories, but then I realized: I need to talk about him, just like all survivors need to talk about what’s happened. We not only want to talk about the grief, but we want to share the stories of our loved ones as a way of keeping their memories alive. This is so important, so I urge you to seek out those trusted souls who will listen with an open ear and an open heart.
So by now you’re probably wondering: What’s the good news in all this? There is light on the other side of the darkness. It’s the brightest light I’ve ever seen. When you’re in the midst of your ugly grief, it’s hard to imagine a world where you laugh and smile. But you will come out on the other side, I promise you. You’ll never forget what happened. But each day that you live, some of that gloom will be replaced with sunshine, and you’ll notice more of those happy times peeking through the clouds. In the end, you can’t discretely push grief under the rug like a small piece of dust. You can either deal with it or let it eat away at you for years. Part of breaking the stigma attached to suicide is not being ashamed of what happened. Don’t hide from it. I’ve chosen to face the demon of grief straight in the eyes.
I got an e-mail message last week from the Commentary editor at the Tribune who accepted my piece. She said that I should fight for happiness because it’s worth it. I intend to go forth and fight for every bit of happiness.