I can’t shake this malaise, and I can’t stop staring at the date on my laptop and phone. One week. One week until the 4 year anniversary of my Dad dying.
I hate this countdown, and yet I do it every year. Perhaps I’ll never stop; I don’t know. I have what one psychiatrist called “Complicated Grief”, as if a diagnostic label could somehow quantify what it’s like to simultaneously love and hate someone so much, and then lose them. No more answers. No new stories. Just, over. And what was is suddenly all there ever will be.
My Dad was a broken man. A lifetime of shame following horrific abuse, never acknowledged, never treated. A brilliant, talented man who was stifled every day of his life by burdens he never asked for or earned.
He used to jokingly refer to his over-eating as his long term suicide plan. The joke lost much of it’s humor after his first heart attack. And then the second. And the third. And the joke that had never really been a joke was still there, even if it was said less frequently, as the fear of succeeding in killing himself began to set in.
There were more heart attacks. Hundreds of diet attempts (long before the first heart attack as well as after). It occurred to me after he died, that, given that binge eating was his suicide plan, each diet attempt was really an attempt to not kill himself, and I felt a new grief. I had of course empathized with his desire and attempts to lose weight, and I hurt for him when he would slip back into old patterns. But it was so much worse when I realized that they weren’t simple diet attempts, they were the only way he knew to try to fight that insidious thought that he was worthless and better off dead, and each time he slipped back into old patterns was really him deciding again and again that life wasn’t worth living.
That I wasn’t worth sticking around for.
As someone who has attempted suicide, and has lived with suicidal ideations for over 20 years, I know that the above statement wasn’t true. I know that he didn’t do it because I wasn’t worth sticking around for. But that insidious thought that he didn’t know how to fight lives in me as well, and that’s what it feels like: I wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t worth the struggle and the effort.
I mentioned in a previous post that while I have had suicidal thoughts for more of my life than not, I refer to myself as suicide proof. Obviously there is a certain amount of hyperbole built into that label; if something happened to my son, I honestly don’t know what would happen to me. But almost four years ago, I became sheltered from ever following through with my urges. My Dad’s suicide plan worked, and he passed from his 11th and 12th (not a typo) heart attacks, at the age of 58.
He had the 11th in the parking lot at his work, at 6 in the morning, and called 911. The ambulance arrived 2 minutes later, but he had a larger heart attack in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and was pronounced dead on arrival.
My mom and I got a call around 8:30, saying that he had a heart attack and was in critical condition, and we needed to hurry there. We flew to the hospital, making the hour drive in about 35 minutes. Every other heart attack or hospital event with my Dad, I would always hold it all together until he was settled in comfortably and I had all the information I could siphon out of his doctors, and wouldn’t shed a tear or break down at all until after the immediate crisis was averted; that’s always been the way I react to serious emergencies. But this time was different. I couldn’t stop crying the whole drive, as if part of me already knew.
When we got to the hospital they took us to a private waiting room, which seemed odd to me, because they had stressed on the phone that we had to get there as fast as we could. I found out later that they don’t tell next of kin about a death over the phone if possible, because they don’t want them driving in that emotional state.
A doctor came in and told us that he had passed away. He kept talking, but I heard none of it. Suddenly I was sitting in a chair about ten feet away, with a nurse forcing a glass of water on me, and trying to keep me from falling out of the chair. I didn’t want her water or her help or his words. I wanted to scream and cry and fall apart, and they weren’t letting me, and it seemed a harsh injustice at the time.
When I had calmed down a bit (at least enough that I wasn’t basically blacking out), they took us to the room where his body was. I was sobbing so hard the nurse kept continually asking me if I was okay (as if I possibly could have been in such a moment), and asking me if I wanted a clergyman to come in. I told her no. Despite my faith, in that moment, I wanted no comfort, no solace, and certainly no diluted condolences from a stranger.
My mom left the room briefly to make a few calls, and the nurse thankfully went with her. I was alone in the room with his body… his shell. And that was the moment that it happened. I suddenly knew, in my bones, as much as I know anything, that I would never go through with committing suicide, if for no other reason than I will never feel a hopelessness or despair that is stronger than my desire to not make my son feel the torrent of emotions that I felt then, looking upon my broken, fallen father, who had succeeded in ending the torment that was his life.
I rubbed his forehead, the way he always asked me to. I held his hand. And then I nestled up against him, sliding under his arm, hugging his body for the last time, and in a moment where no other words had been able to come to me, I whispered “I’m glad you don’t have to suffer any more. You can rest now.”
Both my Dad and I were always musically-inclined people, and there were many songs played and sung at his funeral. But there was one song that I felt throughout his entire visitation and funeral process. So many people who came were people who had judged him at one time or another, whether for his weight, his (deplorable) adultery, the way he had treated my mom and I. I wanted to blast this song throughout his entire funeral, to scream it in each judgmental face I saw until I had no more voice left in me. But it was too accusatory, and would have hurt too many people who were there for the right reasons, and so it stayed with me, in my head.
Not anymore. It needs to be shared, it needs to come out. So I ask that if you have read this entry this far, if you have gotten through over 1000 words about a stranger’s grief, that you would do one more thing for her in return. I ask that you would listen to the song that never got to be played, but fit my father more than I think any other song could. I just want it to be heard, and for him to live again, however briefly, as someone who never met him understands him better than most of the people who knew him could not.