Almost 4 years ago, I was sitting at home, enjoying the quiet of my empty house while my husband was out with our young son. The phone rang unexpectedly, rang and rang and rang until the voice mail picked up. On a normal day, I’m not one to jump up and answer the phone so this evening of quiet stillness was no exception. Not one minute later, my cell phone rang and rang. When I didn’t answer, the home phone started ringing again and I knew it was something important.
“Dad’s dead,” my youngest brother, Tyler said when I answered.
While my dad had over the past several years had 2 open heart surgeries, he was doing well in his mid-60s. In my mind, it just wasn’t possible he was dead.
But he was. And Tyler went on to tell me that Dad had shot himself in his home office earlier that day, and been found by our dear sister and her husband who’d snooped around his house, looking through windows when no one answered the door.
This was the major event almost 4 years ago that started my life of surviving.
In the days before his suicide, we learned Dad had called all of his children and stepchildren. Everyone except me.
While Dad and I had been close in my tweens and early teens, his secret binge drinking and remarriage changed our relationship for the worse. We went from having regular weekend and holiday visits with him and long evening phone calls after school to not even being welcome in his home. He had a “new” family with his new wife and we were rarely invited along. Then began the long phone calls of drunken lectures, being blamed for all that had gone wrong and criticized for all my choices. He was so disappointed with me. Unable to cope with these dramatic changes, I spent years in therapy and ultimately chose to sever communication with my father.
During the years of silence, my siblings let me know Dad was sober so I contacted him again. He was surprisingly receptive and even apologized for the effects of his drinking on me. For awhile it was great again. We spent time together, went out to lunch, I was back in his life. But it didn’t last long. He started to withdraw and when asked why, he suggested if I just had a good relationship with his wife, then everything would be better. Yet after repeated efforts to mend my relationship with his wife, it was clear she had no interest. But I kept trying because I loved my dad and wanted him in my life.
Our relationship continued to deteriorate and when I breached the subject, he blamed me. It was all my fault, he would say, because I didn’t try hard enough to have a relationship with his wife.
Only once did he ever actually take responsibility for his own actions, in an email I wished I’d saved, because I felt so relieved to know he really didn’t think it was all my fault after all.
After years of taking the blame and bending over backward to make up with my stepmother, something had to give. Trembling with fear, I told Dad I didn’t want to be blamed anymore, I was done trying to mend things with his wife, but I wanted him in my life, I would always love him, and he was always welcome in my home.
I didn’t expect to hear from or see him again, and that is pretty much how it went. I had 2 very short phone conversations with him in the 6 months before he died, he never called me again and I never saw him alive again.
After getting over the shock, I’ll be honest and say Dad’s dying has been a relief. No more manipulation. No more criticism. No more heartbreak. I’m sorry to say that our relationship had come to that. It’s certainly not what I wanted.
Since his death, we’ve learned some things… Dad’s wife had been extremely possessive and very jealous of ANY time he spent with us. She had made his life VERY unpleasant when he went against her wishes and saw us. (Maybe all those years not seeing us were breaking his heart too)… Dad’s wife was having an affair and he was initiating divorce but he didn’t really want it… And he had started drinking again… All these things have helped me understand some of my father’s despair.
I’m sharing this because this is something that happened to me. I’m tired of being ashamed about it and my creativity has dwindled while trying to hide my shame. I am not the only one in the world affected by suicide of a parent. It wasn’t my decision or my behavior that caused it. And so there is nothing to be ashamed of.
I’ve wondered how to sum this up. I think what I’d like to say is that I had a lifetime of heartbreak being my father’s daughter. And his suicide was the last break. Using my father’s own frequent words to me, I’ll say I am disappointed in him… I’m just really disappointed.
In spite of this, he will always hold a special place in my heart. I loved him and I wanted him to be happy.