Remembering My Father on Father’s Day

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June 7, 2017 – My dad. My hero. My strong, compassionate, hardworking yet stubborn father. I never would have expected to lose someone I love to suicide.

I lost my dad, Dean, Sunday, February 8th, 2015. He was one of 137 people who died by suicide in North Dakota that year.

It couldn’t possibly true. Yet it heartbreakingly was.

I will forever remember the day as if it was yesterday. It was cloudy and bitterly cold. He was supposed to come to my house for supper that night. We were going to have chili and caramel rolls – one of his favorite meals. I knew shortly after I woke up that morning that he was not okay.

My dad had been struggling with mental health issues since 2008. He had started drinking, and gave up his half of his father’s construction business. He and my mom divorced after 26 years of marriage and after having been together for almost 30. My once strong, independent, fun loving, sweet father had changed from a man who would do anything for anyone to a man who could do nothing for himself. I lost him long before February 8th, 2015 due to his battle with depression. I fought every second of every day to get him back. His depression masked the man we all knew he was.

I had talked my dad into getting help. He had tried counseling and numerous medications. He even went to outpatient treatment for alcohol for a short while. I thought things were looking better.

I was wrong.

I had been terrified of losing him. He was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, and the last thing I thought about before I went to bed. I never turned my back on him and fought hard to get him the help he needed. I just wish he would have believed me when I told him he was going to be okay.

He is missing out on so many amazing things now. My oldest daughter, who is almost four, was only one and a half when he passed. She vaguely remembers him. I remind her all the time of how proud he was to be a grandpa. When she was born he said it was the best day of his life. In his own words: “I never thought I could feel this way again. My life now has meaning again.” I now have another beautiful daughter who is five months old. It makes my heart ache every single day knowing she will never get to meet him, and that he won’t get to see my daughters grow up and teach them all the things he taught me.

I was a daddy’s girl. He was my favorite person. He is the reason I am who I am today, and why I love all the things I love to do. He shared with me a love of the outdoors, and taught me how to hunt and fish. He had been the coach of my softball team. I got my love of playing cards from him, and my understanding of how to be a hard worker. I will miss him forever.

Going through this life-altering loss has made me more compassionate, and more understanding of what people may be going through. I’ve always been a fixer and a nurturer. It’s hard for me to realize I can’t fix everything, but I am sure going to keep trying as long as I am living.

We need to erase the sense of shame surrounding suicide and mental health conditions. We need to educate people on the warning signs and how to help those who are thinking suicide is their only option. We need to let people know that it’s okay to ask for help.

I hope that by advocating for suicide prevention, I can help save lives and raise awareness for mental health conditions.

I am hoping that in some way I can make a difference in this world in honor of my dad and all he stood for. I want him to always be remembered for the man he was. I have never denied the fact that my dad struggled with depression and anxiety. I am not ashamed to say he died by suicide – I just wish it wasn’t so. I want to talk about his story and I will continue to talk about his story. I believe it will help raise awareness for debilitating struggles of mental health issues.

There are parts of my life that will never be the same for me. I know my dad would want me to help others. In the letter he left behind, speaking partly in the past tense, he wrote, “Depression is a disease and it had a hold on me. One I don’t think would ever let go. I’m sick of the tears. I’ve cried a river. Sometimes even when things were going good for me I would cry for no reason.” I think of this letter whenever I feel myself struggling to understand why this happened to our family. The pain he spoke of was unbearable enough to make him give up on everything and everyone.

I can help. I will help, and I will fight. That is a promise.

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