I’ve been wondering why the death of Robin Williams, a man I never knew, is upsetting me so much. I’ve been emotional, on edge and fighting tears all week. Then I realized, it’s August. I’m reliving past emotions that I’ve never really been able to express or talk about. When I can’t talk though, I usually write.
The sting of losing someone you love to suicide always arrises at the most inconvenient times. For instance, when you find out you’re pregnant and the midwife wants to know about your family history.
“Are both parents living?”
“No, just my mom.”
“How did your father die?”
You learn to answer the question before it’s even asked. “No, just my mom” eventually becomes “My dad is dead. He killed himself.”
The silence and lack of eye contact you receive after saying the words is the worst part.
And when you say it that way, it sounds like you’re laying blame. Maybe sometimes you are. You think “I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my life. I’ve thought about how nice it would be to ‘check out’, but couldn’t leave my husband and son with the aftermath.” So how he could leave you here, in the doctors office, with another kid that will never know what life is like with a “papa”?
I spent a long time in the anger phase after my dad took his life. I didn’t cry at his funeral, which didn’t go over well with a lot of people and left me feeling like something was wrong with me. I also called him selfish for leaving us behind to pick up the pieces.
Then I was sad. Not for me, but for him. His manic depression ate away at him like cancer, only the disease itself couldn’t kill him. He was so sick that death felt more comforting than life.
Then I relived everything. How I knew what had happened as soon as I answered the phone and heard my aunt crying. How I hung up on her before she could even muster up a word and she called back immediately. The drive from the office to my apartment. The Copeland song I listened to repeatedly on the plane ride; the lyrics I eventually got tattooed on my foot. The messy house left by a once OCD-level tidy man. The pile of dog food he left to make sure no one went hungry. The blood stained pillow that the HazMat team forgot.
Then I went through blame. How I just know he thought about our last argument when he followed through with his decision. Why didn’t I go stay with him when he stopped calling as often? Why didn’t I take him seriously when he called my aunt and asked that she make sure I get everything if anything ever happened to him? I always knew he would die in a dramatic fashion. Why didn’t I stop him?
Then fear. I see so much of him in myself.
Most of these phases are reoccurring. I don’t know that I will ever reach acceptance. I still call his number sometimes just to see if anyone answers. I took his ashes with me to see Elton John once and sometimes cry when I sing along to his music with the windows down.
However, today I got some understanding when I came across this blog. I was originally intrigued by the title. It’s the name of an Elton John song and he was my dad’s favorite. This quote, in particular, gave me more of a grasp on suicide than I’ve ever been able to find:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”― David Foster Wallace
To this day, it’s all so vivid. I remember the note he left. He had always blamed his father for his own depression so he told me not to let this decision determine my life. In a way, it did though. From his death, I decided that I’d never stay in a circumstance, job or situation that made me less than happy. I’d be aware of my emotions. And when I felt overwhelmed by them, I’d be willing to seek help.
If you or someone else you know are battling this beast, please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone before it consumes you. And if you are a survivor of suicide, don’t keep your emotions in. They will eat at you like a cancer, just like the depression. We all need help walking back through the flames and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.