Like many survivors of suicide loss, I have spent the majority of time following my dad’s death invested in the way he died over the way he lived. For six years, I’ve analyzed his last few months and questioned if I could have done things differently.
Recently, I was sitting with a friend when she said something that struck me… Navigating a strained relationship with her own father, she said, “I’m envious of how close you were with your dad and wish our relationship was more like that.” She went on to say how amazing it is that I continue to honor my dad this long after his death through the blog and in my efforts to help other survivors. We’ve only known each other a few months, so all she’s really seen is my commitment to him through my writing.
To the outsider, I can absolutely appreciate this perception that we must have had a perfect relationship and that THIS is what’s driving me to continue talking about our lives so many years later. But, what I immediately rushed to tell her is that this is not entirely accurate. We had our ups and downs – like any family members do. As a judge, he could be pretty tough and strict. This didn’t always sit well with me and often led to conflict. Granted, I know all of this was intended to keep me safe and on track for a successful life, but it felt a bit stifling. To give her an example, I told my friend that as I was cleaning out my childhood bedroom, I found a letter he wrote me in high school for class retreat. Parents were supposed to write an inspiring and heartfelt note for their child to read during sunrise on the beach. I don’t know what anyone else’s letter contained, but mine was layered with critiques about my teenage behavior and how my selfishness affects him and our family. I was deflated. I’ll admit, I wasn’t (and am still not) anywhere near perfect. I still have that nearly 20-year-old letter – mainly because I want to hold onto pieces of him and like to see his handwriting. I understand that was a very long time ago and not a total representation of our relationship, but still – it illustrates a point. I could go on.
What I realized through this conversation is that the trauma of suicide and losing someone in such a violent and unexpected way overshadows every element of your living relationship. Experiencing this is SO bad that it forces an eternal connection to your loved one built around the way they died and trying to heal from it.
There are survivors who have had a long, argument-free relationship with their loved one and so their suicide death hurts badly. Others may have had their ups and downs – and the suicide death hurts badly. Yet even more survivors may have had a downright awful and unhealthy relationship with the person who died – and the loss still hurts badly.
The complexity of our respective relationships can certainly complicate the way we grieve, adding varying levels of guilt, remorse, and regret. No matter the nature of the relationship, we all have the right to grieve and be affected by this for the rest of our lives. You might think people are wondering, “How can you be so upset? You didn’t even get along?”
Suicide loss can be just as traumatizing if you were close or far apart. You suddenly become A SURVIVOR and that’s all that really seems to matter in the end.