*Trigger warning, I will be discussing suicide
Today is the 20th anniversary of my father’s death. He jumped off a building with a picture of me in his pocket, and just like that, my life was split in two – the beforetimes, and the time after my father’s suicide.
I’ve written about dad a few times, most notable here.
Loss like this leaves a gaping hole in one’s heart, and agonizing questions, the Why did he do it? What could I have done? How could I have not known? and in this case, Why was my picture in his pocket?
Several years after his death I was on an Amtrak going from NYC to Buffalo, and I struck up a conversation with a philosophy professor at NYU on his way to Chicago. It was snowing hard that day – 20 inches, eventually – and the track became impassable (this says more about Amtrak than the actual snow, BTW). We were stuck overnight on a darkened train, somewhere in Upstate New York. The professor had brought a case of wine with him to share with his Chicago family, so he cracked open a bottle and we started really talking.
I eventually told him about my dad, and the endless pool of sadness and confusion about the picture in his pocket, of me and my dad together on my wedding day, right before the ceremony.
How wonderful, said my professor.
How wonderful that he chose you to help usher him into the unknown, that he took strength from you as he embarked on his journey, he said. You must have been a source of great comfort and love.
The ache of suicide is that those of us left behind will never know, and that we have to find our own answers, or find a way to tolerate the discomfort of open questions. I don’t know if I believe my professor, but I think that may have been beside the point. He reminded me of my own strength, my own compassion, and I drew comfort from that.
They say it gets easier as time passes, but every March 29 I feel grief anew, and I’ve decided that I’m ok with that – it’s a form of self-compassion, I suppose. It’s not easier, simply not as front-and-center as it used to be in the landscape of my life. It will always be there, and I’ve made my peace with it.
I know suicide touches more people than most of us imagine, and tonight I’m sending out my love.