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One Year

It’s been a year. My dad died by suicide on September 3, 2014, his 65th birthday. It’s taken me this long to say that out loud to more than a handful of people who didn’t already know this to be the case. I didn’t find out until September 5th which has been recorded as his death date on the death certificate. For me, those details further complicate an already complicated situation. As the one year anniversary approached, I dreaded the date(s). I dreaded the anticipation of the date(s) even more. The calendar seemed to drag on endlessly. I begged for October to come. 

I was taken off guard this year when September 2nd felt harder than September 3rd or September 5th or August 11th (the last time I saw my dad) or September 12th (the date of his memorial service). September 3, 2014 was a Wednesday, which meant September 2, 2015 would fall on a Wednesday as well. For some reason the day of the week mattered more than the date on the calendar. That Wednesday, I found myself wondering about things that had never crossed my mind before. Wasn’t it ironic that I would be spending his birthday/death day in the same city where he’d been born sixty-six years ago? How did he spend his last day? Did he do something he enjoyed? Was it miserable? I spoke to my dad probably twenty minutes before he died. He sounded great. So much better than the shadow of himself he’d seemed when I’d seen him just three weeks prior. I now recognize that this was the very common sense of relief that washes over people when they know their pain will soon cease. The steady stream of questions that have been running through my mind for the last year were also present that day. What if I’d ask him to come stay with me or I’d gone to stay with him? What if I’d pushed him to try electroconvulsive therapy, check in to a hospital, or see a different psychiatrist? What if I’d said what I’d been thinking when we last talked and told him I was worried he was going to self-harm? What if? What if? What if? I know I’ll never get the answers to these questions, but that doesn’t stop them from coming. 

When I checked the mail on the evening of September 2nd, I had a lovely letter from my mom (who’d been divorced from my dad for twelve years when he died) waiting for me. Thank God I still have her. A few months ago, I trained to become a remote crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line and spent the rest of that Wednesday evening doing my weekly four hour shift, talking to people who were struggling, overwhelmed, or just needed someone to listen. 

September 3rd felt more like a celebration of my dad’s birthday than his death day, which I am so grateful for. I got an obnoxiously large sprinkle donut on my walk to work. I heard a man sneeze and laughed about how annoyingly loud and long my dad’s sneezing fits could be. I went to mass at lunch. I shared stories and pictures of my dad with my mom, uncle, and cousins. I got a manicure with my best friend. I raised a martini to my dad at dinner. I listened to as much Huey Lewis (his favorite band) as I could stand. I would have rather been doing (most of) those things with him, but all in all it was as good of a day as I could have hoped for. 

I spent Labor Day weekend in the Phoenix area, my childhood home and the place where my dad died. I visited the memorial garden where his ashes are placed and found it comforting to have a physical place to go and spend time with my dad. I drove by the house where I grew up. I ate at some of our favorite places. I thought fondly of my dad cheering me on at volleyball and basketball games, quizzing me on vocabulary and spelling words, taking me horseback riding, giving me money to go to the mall, staying up with me until 3am as I finished a paper I’d left until the last minute, convincing him to pack me Lunchables, blue jello, and cake for lunch when my mom was out of town for a week in 4th grade, bringing home a puppy, rating my mediocre dives and handstands during the endless hours we spent in the backyard pool. It was bittersweet and cathartic. It was the right way for me to mark the milestone. 

And now it’s over. Nothing magical has happened now that a year has passed, though I do feel much less anxious and that maybe I’ve progressed some in my grief. I’ve read that it can take as long as five years to integrate the grief related to the loss of someone to suicide. That isn’t a pleasant thought, but it does seem appropriate for how much I love and miss my dad and how shocking his death was. Now that I’ve relived the lasts with my dad and experienced the firsts without him, I hope I at least know the baseline for how this is all going to work moving forward. And I suppose that’s the most important part – moving forward.

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Comments

Sept 26th will be 1 yr since my very besy friend to her life. Although it feels I am alone in the very deep pain I am feeling- thank God for social media and your profound words. It really helps to know that we can reach out.

My step-father killed himself last Dec. 14, but wasn't found until Jan. 15, so my mom and I have 2 anniversary days coming up. Please pray for her as this time approaches.

its so sad read that my daughter she suicede on may and its very hard for me

I cope by knowing how I feel sometimes. How I feel when I can't shut down my mind - it is just tormenting. So I have to believe that the torment overshadows everything else. The person just want to quiet their minds and mental illness is a brain disease and as with other diseases there isn't always a cure. No one knows better than the person suffering. Some people hide their torment so well others are shocked. I don't believe it is a selfish act. We don't walk in their shoes and now they are at peace.

Eileen, to read those words pulled out my own feelings, I suffer from bi polar and everyone tells me to stop, calm down, stop being selfish when I talk about relieving the torture of the thoughts, just racing and it destroying not only my life but those around me. Every relationship or person I interact with some how this debilitating disease finds its way to destroy them as well, they can't handle it. I myself have thought to relive this pain and how it hurts those around me and be free of it. I still push through but I have lost and destroyed everything and everyone in my life with this, I hope one day I have the courage to free myself and the world from what it would seem I inflict on them and it. I pray alot to give me strength but I know heightened religious feelings and these drastic highs and lows are just my illness and nothing stops it ever. I can't find the help or the right way to manage. One day I will have to relive this. Torture. Just torture

Wonderful piece. So very sorry for your loss. You ARE on the road to just "living with it" by passing some major milestones in your grieving process. Grieving is such a personal matter....I wish you peace.

I know the pain, too. Mine is March 15, 1992. It was the day my brother's body was found. Overdose. I try to remember this, "Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day. Unseen, unheard, but always near; still loved, still missed and very dear."

Sarah, thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I'm sorry to hear about your beloved dad. He ended his suffering, just as my brother did THIS September 14th. I'm still numbed by the thought that I'll never see him again. Some of your thoughts recorded here were similar to thoughts I had immediately after hearing about my brother. Like "If only I'd invited him to come and visit me for awhile... or if I'd gone to stay with him for awhile. Even a short visit more often might have saved him."

Six weeks after my brother jumped, my Dad died. So the grieving process for the two most cherished men in my life is all entangled. Anyway...it's been good to read about your process. I hope you are well as can be now!!

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