"Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad." – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Jul. 31, 2018 - The shock of losing someone to suicide is life-altering. It's as if your life is a vase that has been shattered into a thousand tiny pieces: you spend the rest of your life putting it back together, and somehow always find another little piece of glass to pick up.
I lost my dad to suicide on August 21, 2014. Our now well-rehearsed family explanation to people who ask if we had seen it coming is that, “it was a shock, but not a surprise.”
My mom explained to me and my older brother that Dad had started showing signs of depression once the two of us had started school. He had multiple stays in hospitals throughout my childhood and teenage years; it seemed as though the older my brother and I became, the worse my dad felt. He was very withdrawn. People rarely knew I lived in a two-parent household; often, my friends didn't get to know him, or even see him.
Dad sometimes spent weeks in bed with very little interaction. It was difficult to watch, because the person I knew my dad was, was funny and goofy. He loved sci-fi movies and amusement parks, and hiding behind the corners in our house to jump out and startle me and my brother.
After we lost him, I found myself envious of people who had lost loved ones due to reasons other than suicide. These people were typically able to speak of their “lively,” “active” relatives who had had great jobs, and were missed by lots of friends. I wanted my dad to be missed just as much as these people. I was jealous of the outpouring of love for those whom everyone seemed to realize were amazing. In contrast, it felt like I had to convince people my dad was amazing.
All of the support we received seemed focused on my family's loss, instead of in remembrance of my father. In the days following my dad’s death, no one seemed able to say what a great man he was, or share memories they had of him.
His funeral took place exactly a week after he passed. We gathered at a small, family-owned funeral home to say good-bye. The majority of the people who showed up seemed to come in support of us, rather than to grieve my dad.
A couple of hours into the time we had booked at the funeral home, I heard a commotion just outside the door. I immediately assumed they had double-booked, and that a larger, louder gathering was using the bigger room, just down the hall.
I was furious, and stomped out to the common area, only to find my mom with the biggest smile on her face. She was hugging people I didn't recognize.
We had gone back-and-forth about putting an obituary in the paper, and eventually decided to go ahead with it. An old coworker of my parents had seen the tiny note in the paper, and had e-mailed it out to all of their former colleagues from the 80s and 90s. Suddenly, I realized that the number of people in attendance had doubled.
People my dad had known when he was my age, when he had played in softball and bowling leagues, and who he had eaten with at the local BBQ joint after games – these people my parents had been surrounded by as they had started their family, had shown up to remember my father.
I sat down, and for the next couple hours was approached by person after person telling me how funny my dad was, that he was a prankster, and finally, summing it all up, the simple statement, “Your dad was a great guy.”
I try not to dwell on people in my life who never got to know my dad. Instead, I try to use the memory of my father as an opportunity to educate: people are not their mental health. You never know what's going on behind closed doors. Be kind to others, because despite appearances, everyone is battling something.
The world moves on. For me, this has been one of the hardest aspects of grief to process. It isn’t fair what my dad had to battle through, but no loss will ever be fair, and one loss does not outweigh another.
I still wish friends, then and now, could have seen where I inherited my sense of humor from. Dad truly was a great guy.